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Salley's castle in the city; pro-basketball player makes his home in 62-room mansion.

Salley's Castle

YOU might say that at 7 feet tall, Detroit Piston John Salley surveys the world from a vantage point. But even height, a God-given gift, does not fully explain why those large, roving eyes prefer to focus on the big picture.

ATt 25, in his fourth season of professional basketball with the holders of the world NBA championship, Salley could limit his obsessions to looking good on the court and luring beautiful women to some bachelor's crib in the suburbs. But he hasn't. The Brooklyn-born forward is more inclined to spend an off day searching for African-American art for his 62-room mansion, located within city limits. The castle-like structure, peering down from a knoll in Palmer Woods, was home for cardinals and bishops until the Catholic Archdiocese of Detroit placed it on the market in 1988, following the death of Cardinal John Francis Dearden.

"I was looking for a big house," says Salley, his extra long legs sprawled in front of the huge fireplace in his bedroom. "The first time they told me it would be $1 million, straight up. I told them they were on drugs, that they needed to seek help," he says, living up to his reputation as a comedic wit and still gleeful at having gotten the place for half that price. "My brother Ron is a skillful negotiator," he explains, referring to one of his four brothers, three of whom are business partners in Sal-Sal Enterprises, Inc. Others who, from time to time, share the 15-bedroom, three-story house, complete with a chapel, elevator, four-car garage and servants' quarters, include Ron's wife, Nina, and their new baby, Regan Jasmine; Salley's daughter, Giovanna, 2; brothers Jerry and Michael, who attends Tulane University; and cousin Sabrina. In order to maintain the estate, Salley hired a staff consisting of a chef, personal maid, houseman, security officer and a caretake who also served under the late cardinal.

The "Cribbo," as Salley affectionately refers to his spacious residence, is the second house he has purchased since turning pro. The first, though modest in comparison, made him a happy man, for the seven-bedroom house built in Atlanta was for his parents.

Building his parents' home was making good on a promise he'd made to his mother, Mazie, years ago. Back then, Mrs. Salley, John's father, Quillie, and John, the youngest of four sons (John adopted brother Michael), were sharing a two-bedroom apartment in the Canarsie section of Brooklyn. Whenever Mrs. Salley discouraged her son's pursuit of a basketball career (she wanted him to become a Jehovah's Witness minister), John would say, "Ma, when I get enough money, I'm gonna buy you this house and move you out of Brooklyn. I tell you, there is no feeling like it [no, not even winning the championship]--doing something I had promised my mother," says the ascending son.

Greatly influenced by parents who saw to it that all four of their boys graduated from college, Salley says he has them to thank for his sense of humor, discipline, family values of a strong work ethic. For personable, articulate Salley, adhering to hard work has meant taking his star status as far as it will go. He has done more than a half dozen telvision commercials for Chrysler Corp., has endorsed Pepsi, and has his own gym shoe on the market, stamped with his unique spider and web insignia. He was dubbed "Spider" by a childhood friend because of a defensive style from which escape was as difficult as from a spider's web. The enterprising athlete also does a weekly radio show and is spokesman for an inner-city program that tunes youngsters into cultural awareness and academic excellence.

A man who has traveled from the Bay View Projects of Brooklyn to a life of ease and privilege because of his basketball prowess, Salley clearly believes that pigeon holes are for pigeons. Visitors will encounter no trophies on display at the mansion, and there are few clues as to what he does for a living, other than a lineup of size 15-1/2 basketball shoes in his closet. What you will see is Salley's "Keep the Dream Alive Award" in honor of Dr. Martin L. King Jr., bestowed annually by a local church and for the first time on an athlete. You might also engage in a fireside chat touching on the philosophies of Malcolm X and Marcus Garvey. Eventually the conversion will get around to his friend Spike Lee, and Salley's desire to act in movies in the very near future.

"Chuck Daley [the Pistons' coach] once asked me if I wanted to be a basketball player or a celebrity," says Salley. "I told him that in this town basketball players are celebrities," says the big thinker. "You know why athletes get paid to much? Because we're the number one classification of entertainer in the world," he adds with his most serious smile.
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Title Annotation:Detroit Pistons' John Salley
Author:Brown, Roxanne
Date:Apr 1, 1990
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