To duck, or not to duck: that is the question. Whether 'tis nobler to suffer low doorways and short beds - or perhaps, by design, to replace them with 8-foot doors, 20-foot ceilings and beds 8 feet long. Is this the stuff basketball players (and other vertical achievers) dream of?
The answer is yes, a towering, sky-bending yes.Not all the dreams come true, of course. In fact, even for some stars, reality can be uncomfortably foreshortened. Consider, for example, the standard-size dormitory room where Kara Wolters, a center on the women's basketball team at the University of Connecticut knots up when she's resting and studying.
But judging by the experiences of Herb Williams, a 6-foot-11-inch reserve center for the New York Knicks, and Benoit Benjamin, a 7-foot-1-inch center for the New Jersey Nets, it's easier today for tall people to search out or design a home where they can stand tall without dimpling their foreheads.
Both athletes have found accommodating roominess in the wide-open spaces of Texas. Williams hopes to start construction soon on an 8,500-square-foot Mediterranean-style villa of white stucco and stone north of Dallas, and Benjamin has found his ideal, with 8-foot doors and 20-foot ceilings, in San Antonio.
For Williams, not having to keep his head down in the doorways will be a relief. "I'm used to ducking," he said as he walked through the back door of his rented house in Stamford, Conn.
Williams has spent half a lifetime ducking doorways and sleeping on too-short beds. Until he went to college, Ohio State University in Columbus, he slept on regular-size beds.
At 37, Williams is approaching the end of his basketball career, although another center, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, played until he was 42 and Robert Parish and Moses Malone, both in their 40s, are still playing. Williams has been asked by people like Pat Riley, the Knicks coach, to consider coaching, but he is also a partner in an asphalt paving company and could devote full time to that business.
His wife, Deborah, who is 5 feet, 8 inches tall, set aside her career as a clinical psychologist to tend to their children, Erica, 8, and Jabrille, 2. She met Williams in 1983 at a party in Houston, where he was "this big, tall guy with a big boyish smile - and braces on his teeth," she said. They married in 1987, and she followed him from Indiana (the Pacers) to Dallas (the Mavericks) and then to Connecticut, calmly renting houses, furnishing them and moving on.
"You hope against hope that you'll settle down in one place," Deborah Williams said, "but as long as he's playing, we'll stay intact, and follow him around. Once he gets into coaching or whatever, we'll settle in Dallas." Their rented house in Stamford is 5,000 square feet, but last June they bought 40 acres of land north of Dallas - rolling hills, three ponds, a lively creek and eight longhorn steer - and hired David A. Viosca, a Dallas architect, to design the perfect house, which they want to start building this summer. It exists as a blueprint.
Thus, the Williamses now have two houses: the real and the imaginary.
The real house foreshadows the imaginary house, with the prerequisites of a very tall man. The entry foyer is double-height, with a 22-foot ceiling. Ceilings in the other rooms are 10 feet high, and in the master bedroom there is a king-size bed. On the sofa that is used most often, the one in the den, off the kitchen, cushions are 36 inches deep rather than the standard 27.
So it will be in Dallas, where the new home is expected to cost $1 million to build. "They like everything tall," Viosca said of the Williamses.
The front door will be 10 feet high and 7 feet wide, and the new foyer will also have a 22-foot ceiling. The main house will have a guest wing attached, a swimming pool - and a sense of openness, with limitless views.
For Herb Williams, however, a home, whether real or imaginary, is not about architecture. "This house, basically she picked it out," he said, looking around the Stamford breakfast room, his legs sprawled beneath the dining table. "My house is about peace of mind," he added. "I just like being around my family."
When he's home, he shoots baskets with the children and takes them to the movies and to workouts at the Knicks' training center at the State University of New York at Purchase, where Jabrille likes to ride around on his big-wheeler. Although John Starks, a Knicks guard, lives only five minutes away, Herb Williams rarely socializes with him or the other Knicks on nongame nights. "I'll see them the next day," he said. "Besides, most of us have families."
As for Benjamin and his family, last summer they had an epiphany: it was a house they found in San Antonio, fell in love with and bought immediately.
"He was looking for high ceilings, always Jacuzzis, big recreation rooms, everything big, everything tall," said Zina Benjamin, his wife, who is 5 feet, 3 inches tall. "And when he roamed through the 8,000-square-foot house, he said, `This was just made for me.' "
He walked through the front door, which is 8 feet high, and then into the foyer, where he looked up. The ceiling was 20 feet high. Throughout the house, every door was 8 feet high, and in most rooms, the ceilings were at least 10 feet.
In August, Benoit Benjamin bought the house for $1 million and began to add the details.