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My thoughts on UCLA


Video Credit: Courtesy of UCLA

My eyes were seeing it, but I couldn’t believe what I saw. I had stumbled across my grade school graduation – autograph book and saw in the “favorite college slot” UCLA. This choice was made by me at a time that I couldn’t recall. A time before I was an accomplished basketball player with scholarships being offered at every turn.

My current memories of how I became a UCLA fan were connected to a time some three years later June 1961 --  when I graduated from grade school. It really made me stop and think about how I was to become a Bruin.

One evening stood out in my memory. I am thinking of watching the "Ed Sullivan Show" and Rafer Johnson was introduced on Ed’s show. Rafer had been a world renowned athlete at this time, but he was introduced to the audience as the student body president of UCLA. I was impressed by the fact that his athletic achievements were not given any emphasis.

At a time when violent demonstrations by racist white mobs were common on college campuses that were being integrated, UCLA was showing the world that a black man could be more than a “jock” at UCLA. This was an impressive statement that spoke of commitment to equal opportunity. Rafer was definitely not being exploited for his athletic talent. He was given the opportunity to achieve on the most meaningful levels at UCLA. I, for one, was very pleased to see this attitude by the university being shown on national TV. I’m sure this show aired before I even thought about attending UCLA as a student-athlete.

UCLA next got my attention during the '63-64 college season. They had a small team, no starters over 6-foot-6,  but they managed to win consistently against bigger teams. The name John Wooden became familiar to me by the time the NCAA Tournament rolled around. In those days you could only follow teams in various areas of the country by reading box scores. ESPN had not yet made its appearance, so reading box scores was the only way to follow any team, and I thought that Walt Hazzard and Gail Goodrich were pretty good, but I kept thinking they would lose to a bigger physical team. Lo and behold, UCLA entered the tourney undefeated -- its trademark being a suffocating full-court press and a quick fast-breaking offense featuring the deadly outside shooting of Goodrich and fast-break buckets created by the penetrating and quick accurate passing of Hazzard.

On the night of the Finals, I was supposed to attend the birthday party of a good friend, Lazette Suttles. Lazette’s dad, though, was a serious sports fan. And he allowed myself and two or three other fans to watch the game on his bedroom TV. The game was a rout, as UCLA ran Duke off the court in a dominating performance. At this time, I was an All-American center, but the speculation by many sports writers was that I was not hefty enough to be a dominant center in college. I saw that night how a team playing in the style of UCLA could beat a physical team with speed, finesse and tenacious defense. As skinny as I was, I felt I could be an important player on such a team. My high school senior year was one when my team as well as myself received a lot of attention, and we repeated as champs of the New York Catholic League. The NCAA Finals again were on during Lazette's next birthday party, and her dad was equally gracious again and let us fans watch the game on his bedroom TV. UCLA ran a larger, more physical team off the court … this time it was the Michigan Wolverines, who were led by All-American Cazzie Russell.

I had seen the Michigan team play in the Holiday Festival, which they won. The Final was a matchup of All-Americans, with Princeton’s Bill Bradley going against Cazzie head to head. Bill scored 50-something, but Michigan’s balance and Cazzie's leadership were too much for Princeton. Again, UCLA really got into it at the critical moments. I was very impressed with John Wooden’s approach to the game.

I went to visit only four schools that spring: UCLA, St. Johns, Michigan and Holy Cross. My high school coach, Jack Donohue, took the job at Holy Cross, so I paid them a visit. I had known St. John’s coach Joe Lapchick throughout my high school years and became good friends with his son Richie, who attended my coach’s summer camp in upstate New York. Michigan had done well in the Big 10 and NCAA, so that seemed to round things out in terms of potential choices. I received two letters from UCLA alumni which were influential with regard to my choice. One was from Jackie Robinson, who was certainly a hero to me. I was a die-hard Dodger fan as a kid, and Jackie was still very high on my list of great people. Dr. Ralph Bunche also wrote me, saying that UCLA would be a great choice for someone who had my aspirations as a student-athlete. My visit to the campus seemed to confirm my hopes about the possibilities at UCLA. It was a great school academically and it had a great basketball program run by a superior coach. When I left New York on my visit, there was ice on the ground. When I got to L.A., the palm trees were in all their glory. It was an easy choice to make and one that I have never regretted.

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Comments

Kareem,
Thanks for sharing the story of how you chose UCLA. When you were a senior in high school, I got a grade school magazine called Junior Scholastic. It featured an article about you, so when you went to our local UCLA, I was totally stoked. I kept that magazine, and when your house burned down, I sent it to Scott Ostler, then of the LA Times asking him to give it to you, figuring that you had lost your copy in the fire. I don't know if he ever gave that to you or not. These days, I read John Wooden books as if he were my guru.

When my sister-in-law joined our family over 35 years ago Cap, she had just graduated from UCLA. Her favorite story was how this one student in her class would sit behind her and his legs stretched past her desk. She talks about that now like it happened yesterday. Of course, she was talking about you.

You have such a good memory, and have such interesting blogs. I enjoy reading them, and the wise and informational opinions you give.

Ruby

Cap! What do you think of the new iPhone commercial that features your Wikipedia entry? I've noticed that your Apple computer in some of your videos.

Kareem,

On a day when we sadly mourn the passing of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. your words are inspiring. It is up to us who remain to continue moving forward with the aim of creating a more equitable society. As an alum of UCLA, I am proud that our university has been home to the spirits of Jackie Robinson, Ralph Bunche, Rafer Johnson and of course - Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Thank you for your leadership, talents and intelligence.

great article! I went to UCLA too for the best of everything. Academics, athletics, and being around quality people from all over the world. And it was the most affordable compared to other qialuty schools back in the day.
I enjoy reading your books anf your blog.

GO BRUINS!

Cap,

Great post as usual. I think it is sad that UCLA's African-American student body population has declined so dramatically. I don't have the figures off the top of my head, but at both UCLA and UC Berkeley, the flagships of the UC system and two of the best universities in the world, there are a ridiculously small number of African American undergraduates. What do you think can be done to improve this situation?

Kareem, thank you very much for the post. I email Times writers constantly about including at least some academic information about non-pro athletes, particularly high school athletes. It amazes me that great 17-year-old athletes get accolades but little academic or career guidance. So please keep the message going. I remember your days at UCLA vividly, I met you a few times at LMU when you were practicing with the Lakers, and I have always been impressed. Continued best wishes and with this blog.

Johnson, Bunche, and Robinson - Breat men and great Bruins. Very interesting blog. I just got your book and i'm going to read it. I'm excited.

Thanks cap!

I had a relatively similar introduction to UCLA: I was attending the University of Colorado as a freshman, and out-of-state tuition was kicking my butt. I came home to SoCal for Thanksgiving, but still had a paper to write. My uncle took me to UCLA to use one of their libraries, and on the walk (Bruin Walk) up to Powell, I noticed all of the ASUCLA Student Body Election signs were still up for the new President. Just then, a young brotha passed by me and said hello: it was ASUCLA President Elect Bobby Grace, on his way to class. I finished my research (on Kafka's Heart of Darkness) that afternoon and applied for a transfer the next day.

It's an awesome, inspirational and fun school in so many ways! And I might add, Bobby Grace is being honored for Excellence by the LA County Bar Association's Criminal Justice Division next month.

GO BRUINS!!!

Mr. Jabbar,

I wish I was here to only to talk about your great career at UCLA, but for the most part wanted your take on a pressing issue that has changed the dynamic of college basketball.

The NBA draft and its open door policy to draft underclassmen, has all but reinvented and made it more difficult for programs -to a degree- like UCLA, Duke and other powerhouses to sustain a dynasty as the Bruins did during your day. On the other hand, I believe, it has also equalized the playing field with the likes of Gonzanga and Xavier emerging as power-players, when in your day, they perhaps would not be...not consistently anyways.

I guess, I'm selfish. I long to see the day when UCLA would reel-off three straight NCAA titles, or even back-to-back titles, twice in six years. (Don't get me wrong, I applaud Coach Howland and what he has done the last three years.)

Do you think, an underclassmen declaring himself eligible for the NBA, especially as an "out-going" freshmen like K.Love, would be beneficial for him, in particular, and for all underclassmen, in general?

Despite the lures and monetary benefits going into the NBA, what would you consider general "downsides" by not playing collegiate ball for four years?

Although, I wish Love and Collison well at the pro level, it is a downer to only speculate what "would have been" in trying to size-up the 2008-09 squad. That is the tough part of Howland's job, albeit, with all things considered, has done a magnificent job bringing three -virtually different- squads to the final-four!

You were a great athlete, and a wonderful scholar. I greatly enjoy your atricles on the web, and I have read one of your books. You are a wonderful role model in demonstrating that our young athletes can aspire to be more than athletes.

I knew at the age of five I wanted to go to Ucla because my favorite player on the Lakers, a guy by the name of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, went to school at this fine institution. Some 13 years later that dream happened.

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Captain Kareem

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is considered by many fans and sportswriters to be the greatest basketball player of all time. The 7-foot-2 Hall of Fame center, famous for his indefensible skyhook, dominated the NBA for 20 years, first with the Milwaukee Bucks then with the Los Angeles Lakers. Before that he was the star of the UCLA Bruins teams that won three consecutive NCAA championships. Kareem was the NBA's MVP six times, a 19-time all-star and set the NBA all-time records in nine categories. He is the NBA's all-time leading scorer with 38,387 points, a record that may never be broken.

Since retiring as a player in 1989, Kareem has balanced his love of basketball with his love of history. In 2002 he led a USBL team, the Oklahoma Storm, to a championship. Since 2005, he has been the special assistant coach for the Lakers, working with Andrew Bynum.

In 2008 he was chosen The Greatest Player in College Basketball History.

Kareem also remains intellectually active, authoring six bestselling history books intended to popularize the contributions of African-Americans to American culture and history. His books include "Black Profiles in Courage: A Legacy of African-American Achievement"; "Brothers in Arms: The Epic Story of the 761st Tank Battalion, WWII's Forgotten Heroes"; "A Season on the Reservation," which chronicles his time teaching basketball and history on an Apache Indian reservation in White River, Ariz.; and the current New York Times and Los Angeles Times bestseller, "On the Shoulders of Giants: My Journey Through the Harlem Renaissance."

His audio adaptation, "On the Shoulders of Giants: My Audio & Musical Journey through the Harlem Renaissance," is a four-volume compilation read by Bob Costas, Avery Brooks, Jesse L. Martin, and Stanley Crouch, and features private and fascinating conversations with dozens of icons, including Coach John Wooden, Julius Erving, Charles Barkley, Samuel L. Jackson, Maya Angelou, Quincy Jones and Billy Crystal. He has also been written to L.A. Times, under the Sports section.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has been appearing on various radio stations and TV shows, as well as the most relevant websites talking about his life and his new audio book, On the Shoulders of Giants.

All images are property of www.iconomy.com unless otherwise stated. All info copyrighted and owned by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is not replicated without permission.

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