Hector Bloom is a laconic, libidinous college basketball star distracted by obligations and current events: the misadventures of his volatile roommate Gabriel, a potential pro career, the draft, campus unrest, and a turbulent affair with Olive, the wife of Richard, a professor and friend. His coach pays special attention to him, given Hector’s abilities, but is unsure how to get him to focus and fulfill his potential. Hector’s attitude, and his coach’s frustration, is exemplified by a meeting before an important late-season game where the coach instructs him to “play it straight out there tonight, I don’t want any fooling around at all”; to his coach’s exasperation, Hector replies “Why not?”
Gabriel, a vulgar borderline psychotic, is far more troubled and committed to rebellion than Hector. He abuses drugs, disrupts a basketball game with a guerrilla theatre stunt, goes crazy during an induction physical, ransacks his apartment, espouses anti-establishment views about everything, and drifts aimlessly.
During a confrontation in a grocery store, Olive informs Hector that she is pregnant, implies he is not the father, and tells him their affair is over. Hector replies that he has “the clap”, which infuriates Olive; she warns him that if he follows her, she will call the police.
That night, Hector leads his team to a huge victory; the fans storm the court, and triumphantly carry Hector off. At the same time, Gabriel breaks into Olive’s house while she is bathing and physically assaults her. She fends off his attack, eventually running outdoors with Gabriel in pursuit just as Hector drives up. Gabriel, aware of Hector’s trysts with Olive, screams at Hector that Olive prefers him over Richard, then runs off when Richard arrives home. Hector confronts Richard, telling him Olive should be with him; a shaken Olive asserts her independence, saying, “I’m not going with anybody, anywhere”. Richard warns Hector “I’ll kill you”, then escorts Olive back into their house.
The next morning Gabriel, completely naked, runs into a biology lab and frees snakes, an iguana, mice and other vermin. Eventually campus police and white-coated attendants arrive with a straitjacket; Gabriel rebuffs them, insisting he is both “right and sane”. They cloak him in a blanket and lead him into a padded van. Hector, seeing this, jumps onto the back of the van, demanding they open it. As the van pulls away, he jumps off, yelling to Gabriel that his mother called.