The dream--to wear the purple and gold of the Lakers--isn't unique among boys who grow up in Southern California. But Steve Trumbo put it in writing at an early age.
In a letter to the team penned in early elementary school scrawl, Trumbo promised that he would someday make people forget "Mr. Clutch," "Wilt the Stilt" and "the Big O."
Oh, yeah, and he'd sign autographs for anyone who asked.
But unlike most schoolboys, Trumbo got several shots at his dream.
Trumbo, who starred as a 6-foot-8 center at El Modena High School and was named The Times' Orange County player of the year in 1978, turned into a 6-9 power forward at Brigham Young and was selected early in the third round of the 1982 NBA draft by the Utah Jazz.
And although he was cut by the Jazz the day before the 1982 season started, he played for the Lakers' summer league team the next two years and each time was asked by General Manager Jerry West to come to preseason camp.
He declined each time in order to return to play in Spain, lured by something more concrete than a childhood fantasy: a guaranteed contract.
Now, nine seasons removed from BYU, Trumbo is thriving in Europe. He is earning nearly a million dollars in the second year of a three-year contract with a team in Barcelona. He and his Spanish wife, Carolina, have three boys--5-year-old twins Giovanni and Isaac and 2-year-old Axel--and a 6-month-old girl, Dakota.
National magazines follow his every public move--one, similar to People magazine, has done a feature after the birth of each Trumbo child. Like his Barcelona teammates, he cannot go to a restaurant without being recognized.
"Wilt the Stilt," it seems, would be treated with no more reverence in a country whose fans took to basketball with a vengeance in the 1980s.
And yes, he signs autographs as graciously as he predicted he would.
His team, four-time defending champion FC Barcelona, opens the five-game Spanish league finals with Juventud on Sunday. But Barcelona, which recently was defeated for the second consecutive year in the finals of the European Champions Cup tournament--the major prize in European professional basketball--is hurting.
Two starters have missed the entire season, but more importantly, the team has just learned that center Audie Norris, an American from Jackson State who played three seasons with the Portland Trail Blazers, will miss the series with an injured shoulder.
That means the team will depend more on Trumbo, who is usually the first player off the bench. But he doesn't admit to feeling extra pressure.
"I'm on a team where if I have a bad game, people are not going to say we've got to get rid of this guy, which is really important over here, because they change Americans really quickly," Trumbo said by telephone from his home in Barcelona.
Trumbo's situation is secure because he \o7 isn't\f7 an American anymore. The U.S. State Department revoked his citizenship after he became a citizen of Spain in 1984.
After two seasons averaging about 25 points and 14 rebounds--the best in the Spanish league--with Valladolid, he was offered a four-year contract with a substantial raise by FC Barcelona--if he would become a Spanish citizen.
European teams are allowed only two foreigners on their rosters. Trumbo was able to become a citizen almost immediately because he was married to a Spanish woman.
To discourage marriages of convenience, the rules of the Spanish and European leagues require that a naturalized citizen sit out a number of seasons. For two years, Trumbo mostly practiced with his new team, playing only as an "American" in a few playoff games.
Trumbo hadn't wanted to lose his U.S. citizenship, and when he contacted officials in the U.S. State Department to see if the action would jeopardize his status, he said he wasn't given an answer.
A couple of years later, he got one--a letter from the U.S. State Department saying that he had lost his citizenship.
"At first, I was upset," Trumbo said. "It was another thing to get over."
But the appeal of the salary raise and further job security soothed the wound.
"I consider myself an American," Trumbo said. "We own property in the U.S. I pay taxes in America. Our first two children are American citizens.
"I love Spain and everything but eventually I want to come back to the U.S. I've been told it won't be much of a problem to regain my citizenship."
Hardly a man without a country, Trumbo spends 10 months of the year in Spain and the rest with his family at the Orange home of his parents, Dale and Jo.
Trumbo, who will turn 31 this month, is the second-oldest of 12 children the Trumbos adopted. Frank Arnold, Trumbo's coach at BYU, remembers visiting the Trumbo home when he was recruiting Steve and dining at two Ping-Pong tables. The family piled into a small school bus for outings.
Trumbo left this tight-knit Mormon family for BYU after also considering Utah and Oregon.