MOUNT VERNON, N.Y. -- On the streets, little boys barely able to speak English ran up to him calling out: 'Curtis Moore superstar.' His presence ensured a packed gymnasium. He was hounded by autograph-seekers.
But Curtis Moore, then playing professional basketball in Krakow, Poland, also had his mail opened and phone conversations tapped and once ate nothing but bread and eggs for three weeks.
Moore also was penniless when he came home to Mount Vernon. He said he had been promised a monthly salary equivalent to $50,000. What he actually received was 27,000 zloties per month which, to his dismay, converted to only $45.
Moore's basketball ability earned him a ticket to play professionally in Poland and get a glimpse of a country few Americans ever see. But after a few days behind the Iron Curtain, Moore knew he had been sold the ticket by a scalper.
'I felt like I was in jail,' said Moore, who abruptly left Poland in February, two months before his scheduled departure.
On the court, the 6-foot-4 Nebraska graduate scored 29 points a game and dominated play. A year earlier he had been playing against Wayman Tisdale and Danny Manning in the rugged Big Eight. In comparison, the Polish professional league, where players as young as 14 competed, was a breeze.
Off the court, the adjustment was not so smooth. Moore lived in a tiny apartment with a radio and a color TV that picked up one station. He spent his time reading magazines and newspapers sent from home that he had already read a hundred times. He was allowed to wander the country only with an escort.
'There was nothing to do,' Moore said. 'I'd go back to the apartment after practice and just look at the TV. I'd write letters and stare at the walls.'
The Polish people loved Moore. They stared at him in wonderment - the only black many had ever seen. They touched his clothes, made of fabrics they had never felt.
'I felt like a celebrity, a superstar,' Moore said during a recent interview in his hometown. 'Waitresses at restaurants would see me and they'd run to the back to tell the others I was there.'
Nevertheless, after just a few days in Poland, Moore longed for home. He couldn't get used to the Polish diet. Eggs were fried, not scrambled. The water was undrinkable. Pork, weak soup and starchless-potatoes were the staples. The food in the American hotels was no better.
'I asked for a hamburger. They said, 'What's that?'' Moore said.
Despite the negatives, Moore stayed and played. He wanted to collect the $50,000 monthly salary he had been promised. He could also earn another $50,000 a month in bonuses for games won, he said.
Then Moore's first paycheck came -- in zloties. He wanted to exchange the Polish currency for dollars, but was told that was not done in Poland. Western currency had to be hoarded by the government to help pay off the debt to Western nations.
'When they said that, I thought, 'Hey, I'll just buy everything here and ship it home,'' Moore said.
Then Moore learned that the salary he was earning each month in Polish zloties was not worth $50,000 but $45 or about $11 per week. He couldn't buy a car or a fox coat. He could barely afford orange juice.
'They lied to me,' Moore said.
Moore couldn't leave because he had surrendered his return plane ticket on arriving in Poland. So he boycotted. For three weeks he wouldn't practice with the team or play games. He wanted his money, he wanted sweatpants that fit, he wanted a VCR for his apartment.
When he decided not to play, team officials stopped taking Moore out to restaurants to eat. He bought eggs and bread from a nearby grocery. It was all he ate for three weeks.
Moore began playing again, thinking that was the only way he would eventually be given a plane ticket home.
'He could not adapt to everyday life in Poland,' Nowa Huta coach Jan Kasperzec told UPI in Poland. 'We liked him and we did our best to assure the best posssible living standards for him. Our club could not change certain aspects of the Polish situation.'
Kasperzac blamed Moore'sagent for the player's not being prepared for life in Poland.
'They tried to give me the world because they knew I was unhappy,' Moore agreed. 'They just couldn't give it to me.'
The people most sympathetic with Moore's situation were his teammates. They felt sorry for the American who helped their team but received little in return. Moore's teammates loved to hear stories about America.
'They wanted to know what America was like but after a while I stopped telling them because as I was talking their eyes would get teary and I could see they were sad that they were Polish,' he said.