Basketball Short Stories - 4
Origin of Basketball
24 Seconds to Shoot, Leonard Koppett (1968)
All other popular games - baseball, football, hockey, tennis, boxing, wrestling, fencing, and all the various types of races and field events - evolved gradually, through generations of informal practice. The final, familiar rules were distilled from countless trial-and-error experiments, long after the popularity of the activity had proved itself.
Basketball, on the other hand, was invented from scratch by James Naismith in 1891 in Springfield MA. He had a very specific, and limited, purpose: to provide an athletic activity, more enjoyable than calisthenics, that could be engaged in during the winter months, indoors, when it was not possible (in New England) to play baseball or football ...
Naismith's needs were specific, too. He was an instructor in physical education, attending the International Young Men's Christian Association Training School at Springfield MA. His orientation was towards physical fitness. The competitive side of athletics was, for him, a stimulant that made exercise more pleasurable and attractive, not an end in itself - and certainly not the raw material for entertaining spectators. His ideals were those of the participant and the amateur,and his search was for an indoor game that groups of men could play with a great deal of exertion in a small place.
So, in his little gymnasium which had a running track circling the floor like a balcony, he hung two peach baskets, one at each end; he got a soccer ball; and he divided his class (18 men) into two teams. The idea was to throw the ball into the basket. The rules of play were almost automatically determined by the conditions. Purposeful blocking and tackling couldn't be allowed on a wooden floor, and would make progress impossible anyhow; but unopposed running with the ball in such a small space would make the offense unstoppable.

L-R: James Naismith, YMCA basketball team c. 1900
Therefore, the ball had to be either bounced (dribbled) or passed to another player; and defenders had to devise ways of "guarding" that still permitted the offensive player enough freedom to throw the ball to a teammate or at the basket. Thus, the basic characteristics of the game - that undue interference by the defense was a "foul," and that artificial means (dribbling or passing) had to be used to advance the ball - were built in from the start.
The problems were built in from the start, too: exactly how much body-contact constituted a foul? When did a legal dribble slip over into "traveling"? When was the offensive player responsible for contact and a foul, and when the defensive player? These intrinsically borderline judgments, always affected by angle o vision and the subjective reaction of the observer, put a tremendous burden on the referee. His decisions, inevitably had a greater effect on the outcome than in other games, and this feature of basketball has never been overcome with complete satisfaction.
However, as an exercise activity, with not too much attention to the score, it proved to be ideal, and an immediate hit with the participants. Within three years it had been introduced from coast to coast, by graduates of the Springfield classes and by active letter writing. Many who tried it immediately became addicts, and rules were quickly put into stable and standardized form.
By 1895, various YMCA teams were holding regional tournaments, and basketball players were taking the game into high schools and colleges. To the participants, the sugar-coating had become the main course.
And it was this instant popularity that generated serious difficulties. Naismith had done far more than he had imagined. The game was so fascinating that its competitive aspects could not be kept under control. The good athletes who tried it became, like all good athletes, intent on winning, and tournaments added to the incentive. With victory prized so highly, the game became rough, since there were few experienced referees and no effective ruling body. It became too rough to be looked upon, by YMCA administrators, as healthful exercise; nor could the presence of an increasing number of spectators, reacting passionately to their rooting interests, be fitted in to the YMCA program. ...
The YMCA, therefore, embarked on a campaign of de-emphasis, only a few years after popularizing the sport it had invented. It discouraged the formation of club teams, and the conducting of tournaments.
Early Pro Basketball
The First Tip-Off: The Incredible Story of the Birth of the NBA, Charley Rosen (2009)
The first professional basketball league was formed in 1898, seven years after James Naismith invented the game. Many others sprang up in the Northeast in the next 30 years.

These ephemeral leagues were plagued with profound difficulties, mostly arising from poor organization and insufficient funding. For example, in the absence of binding contracts, players routinely jumped from team to team, selling themselves to the highest bidder, oftentimes right before a game. Within the same league, some players performed for as many as five different teams each season. Nor was it unusual for entire teams to jump from one league to another. The most damaging result of the unstable rosters was that fans were unable to maintain a rooting interest in their local ball cllubs, and attendance inevitably dwindled as each season progressed.

Pawtucketville Athletic Club in the New England Professional Basketball League
The early pro rules allowed two-handed discontinued dribbles, which enabled players to simply bull their way to the basket. Head-butting a defender was deemed a savvy move. Also, with the aim of speeding up the game and preventing hometown fans sitting courtside from abusing visiting players with cigar butts and hat pins, most venues surrounded the court with some type of wire enclosure - either a self-supporting fence or a metal or rope "cage" that hung from the ceiling. Shoving an opponent into the fence was standard operating procedure. And since the ball was therefore always in bounds, the action was continuous and continually brutal - so much so that the lone referee who worked these games often chose to remain outside the cage, entering only to hand the ball to free-throw shooters before making a hasty exit. In lieu of handling the ball for center jumps after each score, the ball would be tossed into the cage just as a zookeeper might throw a chunk of meat to caged lions.

The first basketball "cage" was in Trenton's Masonic Temple.
Adding to the mayhem was the fact that free throws were awarded only if a player was fouled while shooting. All other fouls resulted in side-outs, with the player who was inbounding the ball being compelled to have his back against the cage while making his pass - a risky undertaking for visiting players.
Overall, the pro game was mostly an exercise in brute force and dirty tricks that appealed only to the most bloodthirsty of sports fans. Old-timers compared it to ice hockey played on wood and without skates. The college game, on the other hand, was cleaner and, because of the emphasis on finesse, was considered to be much more skillful than the pro version.
Gotta Have Him
The Last Pass: Cousy, Russell, the Celtics, and What Matters in the End,
Gary Pomerantz (2018)
It is 1957. Red Auerbach, the Celtics coach, is trying to decide whether to draft Bill Russell.
If Russell was everything he seemed to be, he could remake the Celtics, in particular the team's fast break. Long, lean, and springy, Russell on defense became like a Venus flytrap, thwarting shots that flew toward him. In college, Russell's defense and shot blocking proved game altering. His University of San Francisco coach, Phil Woolpert, said that in one game against Cal-Berkeley, Russell blocked 25 shots. By the second half of many games, opposing shooters weren't the same; Russell's psychological warfare reduce them to dupes, their shooting confidence gone. Auerbach understands this, just as he understood that he needed a center to battle the Knicks' Harry Gallatin and Sweetwater Clifton and Syracuse's Johnny Kerr and Dolph Schayes. Ed Macauley couldn't win those battles. He was too thin. The Celtics had lost in the playoffs for six straight seasons to those two teams in large part because Auerbach didn't have a rugged big man. He also needed someone to get [Bob] Cousy the ball on the fast break.
Auerbach had friends watching Russell, and he strafed them with a thousand questions. As a rebounder, he heard, Russell had long arms, inside quicker. A master of positioning, Russell always seemed in the right spot for a rebound. Auerbach listened to the criticisms as well: Russell was not a good shooter or ball handler, and he seemed moody ... It was widely known that Abe Saperstein wanted Russell for the Globetrotters, reportedly offering as much as $50,000, but Russell wasn't interested.
Russell was not a conventional center; he wasn't a primary scorer. Not everyone was convinced he would became an NBA star. Auerbach brushed aside such thinking. Russell, he believed, was a winner: He had just won consecutive NCAA championships and, at the moment, was riding a 56-game winning streak at USF. All eight NBA teams knew Russell was available in the draft. Even though he played beyond the media spotlight in the Far West, he would not slip through any cracks, not at nearly 6'10". Auerbach told [owner Walter] Brown the Celtics had to have him. The trouble was, Boston had the sixth pick in the draft, much too low to get Russell. Besides, the Celtics intended to give up that first-round pick to select Tom Heinsohn of Holy Cross, the NCAA's fourth leading scorer, as a territorial selection; in this way, the NBA allowed teams to select a popular college player in their region, within a radius of 50 miles, figuring that would help at the gate. ...
Auerbach could never undo what Harry Frazee had done to Boston sports by selling Babe Ruth in 1920, but by acquiring Russell in the 1956 NBA draft he would bring to the Hub a luminious new star whose effect on his sport would be nearly as dramatic as the Babe's on his. What Ruth did for baseball with his offense, Russell would do for basketball with his defense. Both became the foundational piece of a dynasty.

L-R: Red Auerbach, Bill Russell, Walter Brown, Tom Heinsohn
No one knew for certain what was to come on draft day, April 30, 1956. Rochester had the first pick. Auerbach knew that Royals owner Lester Harrison was bleeding money, and that his team already had an excellent big man, Maurice Stokes, an African-American all-star who as a rookie had averaged nearly seventeen points per game. Russell was said to be seeking $25,000 per season, probably too rich for Harrison's blood, Auerbach thought. Besides, Harrison needed a guard and privately told Brown that he wanted Duquesne’s Sihugo Green with the draft’s first pick. St. Louis picked second. Here, Auerbach thought, was his opportunity. He knew that Russell didn't want to play for the Hawks, an all-white team in the league's southernmost city. Auerbach negotiated a deal with his old boss, Ben Kerner, who had moved his Hawks from Tri-Cities to Milwaukee to St. Louis: Auerbach would trade Macauley, a seven-time all-star, popular with Boston fans and with Brown, in return for Russell, who would be selected with the draft's second pick. Much as he enjoyed playing for the Celtics, Macauley, a St. Louis native, wanted to play for the Hawks because his young son had been diagnosed with spinal meningitis and Macauley needed to be closer to home. Kerner pondered the offer. He wanted more. He wanted Macauley and Cliff Hagan, an all-American from Kentucky who had been fulfilling his military obligation and had yet to play for the Celtics but now was ready to go. Auerbach nearly choked on his cigar. Macauley and Hagan? That's a kick in the head! He desperately wanted Russell, and Kerner knew that, so Auerbach and Brown agreed to it. Preparing for all possibilities, a few weeks before the draft Auerbach and Brown secretly met at Boston Garden with Kerner and his coach, Red Holzman, and agreed that if Rochester changed its mind and took Russell with the first pick, then St. Louis would choose another big man and send him to the Celtics. On draft day, Auerbach's insides churned. But when Rochester took Green, the Celtics' coach reveled in his great fortune: Russell was his. Then, in the second round, with the thirteenth pick overall, the Celtics chose Russell's USF teammate guard K.C. Jones. In one draft, Auerbach obtained three future Hall of Famers, a feat that hasn't been equaled by an NBA team in the more than sixty years since. Of course, in so doing, he traded away two future Hall of Famers in Macauley and Hagan. "A shrewd maneuver," the Globe's Herb Ralby wrote of the Russell acquisition. In the Boston Evening American, Larry Claflin went a step further, praising the Celtics for "shocking the basketball world.” Preparing that fall with the U.S. Olympic team for the Melbourne Games, Russell played an exhibition at the University of Maryland. Auerbach and Brown showed up to see their new game changer for the first time. Russell played terribly. Auerbach thought, What did I do? If this was the real Russell, he decided, I’m a dead pigeon. That night, after the game, Russell apologized to Brown and Auerbach, saying he had never played so poorly. "I am much better than that. It will never happen again," Russell promised. Auerbach pulled aside Brown and told him that he'd never heard a young player apologize in this way. A classy kid, Auerbach thought. He recalibrated his thinking, telling Brown, "Maybe there is something here."
Worst Team Ever?
You Lose Some, You Lose Some, Eric Furman & Lou Harry (2004)
One of the greatest arguments in sports is the MVP argument, and it goes a little something like this:
On the one side, you've got the folks who oly want to know: who is the best player in the league? That's it. That's your answer. When you find him, you've found your MVP. No matter how good or bad his team is.
On the other side, the criteria is a bit different: which guy, if taken off his team, would cause his team to absolutely crumble? This side believes you must take into account the team's position in the standings. If said team is horrendous, then its best player isn't all that valuable. ... They're the people who believe there's a reason why it's MVP and not MOP (Most Outstanding Player). That V stands for Valuable, and to figure out who that is, they've got to go a little below the surface.
And for all their efforts, we'd like to present them with this treasure of a should-have-been-MVP example: Billy Cunningham.
Any good argument needs background info, and here's ours: In 1970-'71, the Philadelphia 76ers went 47-35, good for second in the NBA's newly formed Atlantic Division. Clearly the team's best player was Cunningham. He averaged 23.0 ppg. He led the team in rebounding ... and he was second on the team in assists ...
The following year, the Sixers traded G Archie Clark to Baltimore for Kevin Loughery and Fred Carter. They also obtained Bob Rule and Bill Bridges in trades. With all the new faces on this team in transition, the record suffered at 30-52. But the future looked bright, especially with Cunningham shining brightly. ...
This is where you will start to see how this situation is so appropriate to the argument: Billy Cunningham abruptly left the 76ers after the 1971-'72 season to join the ABA's Carolina Cougars, and whatever part of the dam he had been holding together was suddenly a leaky - no, gushing - mess. The 1972-'73 Sixers - sans Cunningham - were a disaster.

L-R: Billy Cunningham, Roy Rubin, John Q. Trapp
The bad stuff was in full effect when a new coach arrived in town: Roy Rubin, who had no previous NBA experience (although he spent eleven successful years at Division I University of Rhode Island). "It was a joke, like letting a teenager run a big corporation," team leader Fred Carter told Sports Illustrated some years later. The biggest complaints against Rubin were that he was in over his head; he wasn't familiar with the NBA style, nor did he know the players around the league. "We had [Hall of Fame G] Hal Greer on that team, and Rubin had no idea who he was. After we went 4-4 in preseason, Rubin said, 'I don't think Boston will be so tough.' We just looked at each other and laughed," Carter said.
Rubin's Sixers lost their first fifteen games, and put themselves into a bigger hole than the Grand Canyon. From those First Fifteen, "it was clear we were the league's universal health spa," Carter explained. "If teams had any ills, they got healthy when they played us."
As you might be able to gather, the team didn't have much respect for Roy Rubin. Still, what John Q. Trapp did on December 20 was way over the line. In a 141-113 blowout loss, Rubin was trying to keep his troops fresh as they were run up, down, around and over by the Pistons. But when he sent a substitute in for Trapp, John Q. refused to come out of the game. He apparently wanted his garbage-time minutes. Badly. When Rubin insisted that the forward heed his instructions, Trapp told the coach to look behind the Sixers' bench. There, the legend goes, one of Trapp's consorts opened his jacket to reveal a handgun. Rubin gulped, turned back to the court, and left John Q. Trapp in for the rest of the game. No use getting killed just to hold a team under 140 points. ...
At the All-Star break, Philly got rid of Rubin. They named Kevin Loughery player-coach, and one of his first orders of business was to release John Q. Trapp. Which didn't change things too much - except for the coach's on-court safety level.
Still, the city of Philadelphia watched while its team struggled almost as much without Rubin as it did with him. It couldn't have happened to a more impatient bunch of fans. Philly sports boosters are known for their "What have you done for me in the last third seconds?" attitudes. They boo without must provocation; they curse with even less. ...
Maybe it's not all bad that these are the people who had to sit through an entire season that had the rival Celtics finishing fifty-nine games ahead of them in the standings. ...
Somehow, in February, the Sixers reeled off five wins in seven games. It's hard to come up with an explanation for it, so let's just move on. Because immediately following that five-of-seven streak came the thirteen losses to run out the year. ... Final record: 9-73.
And there's the real story. Billy Cunningham was so important - so valuable - to his franchise, that when he left, the rest of the players regressed into the Worst Team in the History of the NBA.
Tiger Basketball ... a New Dawn
This article appeared in the program for LSU's first football game of the 1972 season.
That was also the first year of the LSU Assembly Center.
Dale Brown teaches a fast break style of basketball. And, it's his way of life also.
Named last March to guide the Tigers back to national basketball prominence, Dale has utilized every available waking moment toward that goal, and his pace is somewhere between a brisk jog and an all-out sprint.
"I jumped at the challenge here at LSU," Brown explains, "and I knew we would have to get out and promote. Once we get into practice in October, our time will be limited in getting out to meet people, so we have gone to them every chance we have had since arriving. We want the players, the coaches, and the people of Louisiana to know us, to know what we are striving for, and to join with us in our task to make basketball at LSU a success again."
Brown has coined his effort the "Tiger Safari," and along with associate coach Jack Schalow and assistant coach Homer Drew, the legion of followers grow daily. They held a clinic for the youngsters, a free throw contest for all ages, and in their journeys have given away over 800 nets throughout the state. All while recruiting Louisiana talent to play for the Purple and Gold.

Dale Brown and the Assembly Center in 1972
You might come upon the coaches anywhere, strolling through the campus introducing themselves to students and faculty, at your front door where they give you a net for that goal you have in your driveway; or at any number of civic, fraternal, or church gatherings where they have gone to tell of their goals for LSU basketball and asking you to be a part in it.
"We know we have the finest facility in college basketball in the Assembly Center; we have tradition of great basketball in seasons past; and we know from talking to the wonderful people of this state they want LSU up there at the top," Brown points out, "so we are very pleased with the reception we have been given, and we know in time the goals will be attained. When that comes about, it will have been accomplished with the help of the people throughout the state, and we will all share in it."
Brown is a 110 percenter, and he promises his teams will be too. "I can't promise victories and success right off the mark, but I promise when people come to see us play, they will leave saying to themselves, 'that LSU team hustles every moment, they play with desire, and they are unselfish.' We won't be ashamed of any effort if the people can say that," Brown vows.
"Support this young team we will have this winter, stick with them in the tough times we will face, and the taste of success will be that much sweeter when it comes," adds Brown.
You like a challenge? Then come aboard and "Join the Tiger Safari."
Paris, October 1997
Playing for Keeps, David Halberstam (2019)
In the fall of 1997, Michael Jeffrey Jordan, once of Wilmington, North Carolina, and now of Chicago, Illinois, arrived in Paris, France, with his team, the Chicago Bulls, to play a preseason tournament run by McDonald’s, one of his principal corporate sponsors, as well as a very important corporate sponsor of the National Basketball Association. Even though it featured some of the better European teams, the tournament was not, in terms of the level of play, likely to be competitive for a top NBA team like the Bulls. Nor was it supposed to be: It was a part of the NBA’s relentless and exceptionally successful attempt to showcase the game and its star players in parts of the world where basketball was gaining in popularity, particularly among the young. It was also done in no small part because it delighted the league’s corporate sponsors by opening up and solidifying critical international markets. Not surprisingly, the American players did not take the competition very seriously. (Nor did their announcers. When the Celtics played in the tournament a few years earlier, their longtime announcer, Johnny Most, a man who did not always have an easy time with the names of American players, gave up completely, and fans back in Boston were treated to, “And so the short guy with the mustache throws it in to the tall guy with the beard. ...”)
The Bulls arrived to play for the hamburger championship of the world, as they often did these days, with all the fanfare of a great touring rock band. They were the Beatles of basketball, one writer had said years before, and in fact they flew over in the 747 normally used by the Rolling Stones for their tours. There had been a time when Michael Jordan had regarded France as a kind of sanctuary, a place where he could vacation and escape the burden of his fame, sitting outdoors in front of a cafe and savoring the role of anonymous tourist. His appearance on the Olympic Dream Team five years earlier and his subsequent mounting international fame had ended that. His gross income had more than doubled, but he had lost Paris; he was as recognizable and as mobbed here as anywhere else. Huge crowds waited outside his hotel all day long hoping for the briefest glimpse of the man French journalists called the world’s greatest basketteur. At the games themselves, the French ball boys seemed unwilling to serve their own team and wanted to work only with the Bulls. Some of the French players inked Michael’s number, 23, on their sneakers as a means of commemorating their brush with greatness. At Bercy, the arena in which the games were played, copies of his uniform jersey sold for the equivalent of a mere eighty dollars.

L-R: Michael Jordan, Dennis Rodman, Scottie Pippen
JORDAN AWAITED LIKE A KING read the headline announcing his arrival in the sports daily L’Equipe. The games had been sold out for weeks, and the French press seemed ready to give Jordan head-of-state treatment and cut him some slack — when, during a press conference, he confused the Louvre, a great museum, with the luge, a dangerous winter sport, no one came down hard on him, though it was just the kind of mistake an American might make that normally the French would have seized on with great enthusiasm, to show the barbarity of the new world. MICHAEL HAS CAPTURED PARIS said another newspaper, and a writer added, “The young Parisians lucky enough to get into the Bercy must have dreamed beautiful dreams, for their hero had been everything they could have hoped for.” Noting that Jordan was wearing his celebrated beret, journalist Thierry Marchand enthused, “We shall be able to call him Michel.” France-Soir went even further: “Michael Jordan is in Paris,” it said. “That’s better than the Pope. It’s God in person.” The games themselves were not, in fact, very good; if anything, they were just short of an embarrassment. The Bulls performed sluggishly but managed to beat Olympiakos Piraeus of Greece in the Final. Jordan’s celebrated teammates Dennis Rodman and Scottie Pippen were not there, and Toni Kukoc, once the best player in all of Europe, scored five points. Jordan scored twenty-seven, but was not pleased to have to play without two critically important teammates. Staying home would have been more restful, as his toe was infected. Jordan was well aware that the true triumph of Paris belonged less to him than to David Stern, the commissioner of the league. The tournament was not merely a reflection of the growing internationalization of the sport, which Stern helped engineer, but a celebration of the NBA’s connection with McDonald’s, one of America’s blue-chip companies.
Stern, surrounded by most of the NBA executive staff and all sorts of McDonald’s executives, had a wonderful time. Almost everybody in the basketball structure who was anybody had come. There was one notable exception, and that was the absence of Jerry Reinsdorf, the Bulls’ owner, who rarely showed at things like this. Stern had pushed Reinsdorf to come and enjoy some nachas, a Yiddish word for pleasure, but that kind of nachas did not seem to appeal to the Bulls’ owner, a man who seemed to prefer his privacy to the semi dubious glitter and adulation that even an owner could be a part of at occasions like this. In addition, there had been a good deal of speculation at the last moment among the NBA people as to whether one other VIP, Dick Ebersol, the head of sports for NBC, would come. There was a powerful rumor sweeping Paris that even though the McDonald’s championship coincided with the start of the World Series, Ebersol, whose heart was said to belong to basketball rather than baseball, would come to Paris instead of sitting in some highly visible box seat being seen by his own cameras at the Series. Appropriately, given the symbiotic relationship between television and big-time sports, Stern and Ebersol were very close. Ebersol was wont to call Stern his boss, and Stern was wont to call Ebersol his. Stern was the most passionate and sophisticated of modern imagemakers, and it was Ebersol’s company that determined which images went out to the nation. Stern understood, as not everyone in the world of sports did yet, that image was more important than reality in their business. He monitored the league’s coverage of his sport very closely, and often seemed to take quite personally any departure on the part of the broadcasters and their cameras from what might be considered an image upgrade. In fact, when he had first ascended at the NBA, at a time when the league’s image was still largely negative, he had been famous for calling network executives on Monday to complain about any image downgrade that might have taken place on Sunday.
Both Ebersol and Stern had a shared stake in the good name and the public image of basketball, especially in the public behavior of its best players, and the two men had worked closely in a collaboration that had seen a dramatic rise in the popularity of the sport, and in time in its network ratings as well. That the question even arose of whether Ebersol would bag the World Series for exhibition basketball games against weak opponents in a foreign land for a cup handed out by a hamburger company showed how much the fortunes of the two sports had changed in recent years. This World Series, between Cleveland and Florida, did not, as it was about to begin, seem to the average fan a particularly tantalizing one; it seemed to lack the sense of a traditional rivalry, or at the least, some degree of geographical animosity. It pitted a Miami team, one that few fans knew very much about, against a Cleveland team that was talented but not well known. Neither team, to the general sports public, had yet created any kind of persona. There was no rivalry, neither historic nor geographic, between the two teams. Eventually Ebersol had stayed in America to watch the Series. Stern had teased him about that—“Dick, if you want to stay back in the States and watch the lowest-rated World Series in history, feel free to," he had said. (Stern was wrong: It was not the lowest-rated World Series; the one in 1993, when for the first time the NBA Finals had been rated higher than the World Series, was.)
College Basketball Scandals - 1
The Last Temptation of Rick Pitino: A Story of Corruption, Scandal,
and the Big Business of College Basketball
, Michael Sokolove (2018)
The 2017 scandal involving apparel companies was not the first scandal in college basketball.
With his ten NCAA championships in the 1960s and 1970s, his innovative methods, and his mentorship of such stars as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bill Walton, the late UCLA coach John Wooden is college basketball's most revered figure. The John R. Wooden Award goes to the nation's top player each year. The basketball court at UCLA's iconic Pauley Pavil­ion is named for Wooden. In 2003, President George W. Bush honored Wooden, then ninety-two, with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor.
But in addition to being the greatest coach in the game's history, Wooden is the prototype for every coach since who has tried to cover himself in a cloak of deniability. On the day after he died in 2010, the Los Angeles Times wrote, "If Wooden was the father figure of UCLA basketball, Gilbert was its shadowy one." The reference was to Sam Gilbert, a build­er in Los Angeles who was close to Wooden's players. An investigative series the paper published in 1981 called Gilbert a "one-man clearinghouse" who helped players get cars, clothes, airline tickets, scalpers' prices for tickets, and even, on occasion, abortions for their girlfriends. A former NCAA investigator said he had looked into Gilbert's involvement and "could have put UCLA on indefinite probation" but was told to drop his case.
Even back when the story was published, it was not exactly news to the basketball cogno­scenti—Gilbert's relationship to the UCLA program had been an open secret—and the allegations were not startling to Wooden. The newspaper wrote that Wooden was wary of Gilbert but generally turned a blind eye. (Gilbert was indicted in 1987 on racketeering charges by prosecutors, who were not aware that he had died four days earlier. The case centered on a marijuana smuggling ring and was unrelated to his involvement with UCLA basketball.) "Maybe I had tunnel vision. I still don't think he's had any great impact on the basketball program," Wooden commented a half dozen years after he had retired. He seemed to argue that it may be better not to know certain things. "There's as much crook­edness as you want to find. There was something Abraham Lincoln said—he'd rather trust and be disappointed than distrust and be miserable all the time. Maybe I trusted too much."
The two reporters who worked on the series, Mike Littwin and Alan Greenberg, would later write, "Wooden knew about Gilbert. He knew the players were close to Gilbert. He knew they looked to Gilbert for advice. Maybe he knew more. He should have known much more. If he didn't, it was only because he apparently chose not to look."

L-R: John Wooden, Sam Gilbert, Clair Bee

It is hard to imagine now, but in the years before World War II and into the early 1950s, Long Island University was a national power in college basketball, the UCLA of its era. Its team won the National Invitation Tournament, in Madison Square Garden, in 1939 and 1941, when the NIT was a far more important event than the NCAA tourney, and LIU had one winning streak of 43 games, another of 38. Its coach, Clair Bee, wrote the introduction to James Naismith's only book on basketball, mentored a young Bobby Knight, and was an early proponent of the NBA's 24-second shot clock. When he died in 1983, the New York Daily News sports columnist Mike Lupica wrote, "The story of the old man's life is merely the history of basketball in this country."
But Bee's career, fittingly, is also the history of basketball scandal. Three members of his 1950–51 team were convicted for conspiring with gamblers to shave points. One of them was his best player, Sherman White, that season's consensus player of the year. The LIU captain from the previous season, Eddie Gard, helped set up the scheme, and White, who would serve nine months in prison at Rikers Island, said that point shaving had been endemic at LIU for a generation and that players were schooled on how to get the required result. "You don't do it on offense," he said. "You had to keep your rhythm on offense. You had to do it on defense. You had to turn your head or you had to slide and let a guy go in to make a basket."
First, the scandal touched other basketball powers in New York at the time—New York University, Manhattan College, and City College of New York—and then what was termed the "fix virus" swept into the Midwest and all the way to the West Coast. It hit Adolph Rupp's famed Kentucky team, and the school shut down his program for the 1952–53 season. LIU would drop its basketball program for a half dozen years; the team never returned to national prominence.
The judge in Sherman White's trial, Saul Streit of the New York State Supreme Court, "blamed Bee, other coaches, and college administrators for creating a highly commercialized climate that contributed to the young men's corruption," wrote Dennis Gildea, a biographer of Bee. The judge made those remarks almost seventy years ago, when the level of money and commercialization in college sports was a trickle compared to what it is today. Then, as now, very little of the money ever flowed to the players. If they got anything at all it was usually not much more than pocket change—but it was enough for them to give in to the temptation and more than enough to wreck their futures.
There are parallels between that era and almost every aspect of college sports today. The money was smaller, but the essence of the transactions—young players used as pawns in the grand schemes of their elders—was the same.
Like today's recruiting scandals, point shaving in the 1940s and 1950s was an open secret. Insiders knew exactly how it worked and sometimes recognized it in real time. Gildea writes of a scene after LIU defeated Bowling Green at Madison Square Garden in 1951 but let an 18-point lead dwindle to a 6-point victory, which was inside the point spread. Clair Bee met a couple of sportswriter friends at a Midtown bar afterward, their custom back then, and one of the writers said to him, "Your team just dumped a game."

Continued below ...

College Basketball Scandals - 2
The Last Temptation of Rick Pitino: A Story of Corruption, Scandal,
and the Big Business of College Basketball
, Michael Sokolove (2018)
The 2017 scandal involving apparel companies was not the first scandal in college basketball.

In the post-Wooden era, the money and benefits directed to young basketball players began to be systematized. There were still sugar daddies on the scene, well-connected boosters like Sam Gilbert, but much of the largesse directed to top prospects now had a common source: Nike and the other shoe and apparel companies. Some of it is doled out in ways that, at least technically, are permissible under NCAA guidelines—for example, the boxes of shoes and athletic gear that begin flooding into the homes of promising young players while they are still in grade school. Or the generous donations that flow to their AAU programs—to teams that are sometimes run by their fathers, uncles, relatives, or close family friends.
There is no disagreement about who put the shoe companies in control of so many levers of the sport. That person is Sonny Vaccaro. If Wooden is the most venerated figure in the history of college basketball, Vaccaro is the most complicated. He has been at various points in his career a corrupting influence and a clarifying one. A bullshitter and a truth-teller.
Vaccaro was born about a year before the United States entered World War II ... He was briefly an assistant basketball coach at Wichita State, a rock music promoter, and a card player in Las Vegas. The authors of Sole Influence, a book published in 2000 on the impact of shoe companies in basketball, described Vaccaro in Las Vegas as a "small-time sharpie." ...
Sonny Vaccaro made his way back home and taught phys ed at his old high school. An annual all-star game he organized for the nation's best high school basketball players, called the Dapper Dan Roundball Classic, became a big hit locally—Pittsburgh at the time didn't have much going on, and the game packed the Civic Center each spring to capacity—and it put Vaccaro on a course to becoming a kingmaker in college recruiting. He was a salesman at heart, and he had found his product.
In the early 1980s, he went to work for Nike, which was then a company dedicated to selling shoes to elite track and field athletes and recreational runners. The company's founder, Phil Knight, wanted to get into the basketball business, but the sport was dominated by Converse, and had been going all the way back to World War I, when the company began producing its iconic Chuck Taylor model. Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, and Jerry West wore "Chucks" when the tops were still made of canvas. When Vaccaro went to work for Nike, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and most of the rest of the NBA's stars were still wearing Converse.
Phil Knight wanted a prominent young player to become Nike's hoops ambassador, and Vaccaro convinced him that it should be Michael Jordan—over the objections of some in the company who thought the choice should be Charles Barkley or Hakeem Olajuwon, both of whom, like Jordan, came out of college and entered the NBA in 1984.
Jordan, of course, validated Vaccaro's acumen as a talent scout. On the court he was electric; off it, he was a charismatic pitchman with a made-for-TV smile. The commercials produced for Nike, especially the early ones made by Spike Lee, with "Mars Blackmon" as Lee's alter ego, permeated the culture. The Nike-manufactured Air Jordans were a triumph as a performance basketball shoe and a style tour de force. It all worked magically. Without Vaccaro, Jordan might just be another basketball star, and Nike a company that made running shoes.

L-R: Michael Jordan and Sonny Vaccaro, Phil Knight
Vaccaro is best known for bringing Jordan to Nike, but two other of his innovations have had an equally powerful impact, and they relate directly to the current recruiting scandal. Nike and other companies had been giving away free shoes to prominent college programs as a way to boost the company's profile. Vaccaro suggested to Knight, his boss, why not pay college coaches to have their teams wear their shoes? It wouldn't really cost much, and since their rival companies were also giving away shoes, it would tilt the competition in their favor.
He went after the biggest names in coaching—John Thompson of Georgetown would end up on Nike's board, with several million dollars in stock—but the initial deals were modest, just $5,000 or $10,000 a coach, depending on the size and prestige of the program. Vaccaro paid the coaches out of his own pocket and then got reimbursed, because Nike had no budget for it, but the contracts were the basis for every big-money apparel deal with colleges that followed.
The deals made college basketball "bigger," a goal of all coaches and athletic directors — and it put more money in the game's pipeline. ("Bigger" in sports almost always translates to more money — and in college sports, it means more money to coaches.) The tournaments and all-star games now sponsored by the shoe companies amount to one-stop shopping for the coaches. Instead of flying from high school to high school to see one or two prospects at a time — in almost all cases, matched up against inferior competition — they attend a limited number of big events where the best players compete against one another.
And the events take place in major metropolitan areas, where the coaches can stay in five-star hotels. It was another stroke of genius by Vaccaro, who like any salesman was acutely aware of his clients' needs. He put money in coaches' pockets and made their lives easier.
The logic of partnerships between the shoe companies and college basketball coaches was established. They had a legitimate role on campus; all they had to do was buy their way in. Anyone who questioned it was quickly drowned out by a chorus of happy insiders, and even now, that remains the case. "Let's not go crazy here. Shoe companies have been great for our sport," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said in October 2017, not long after news of the federal charges broke. "Many colleges have shoe deals that fund all their student-athletes. We wouldn't have all that. They fund programs, grassroots things that help thousands and thousands of kids. Just because we've had a few things go wrong here, you can't get rid of all that."
A big part of what the shoe companies bought was obeisance. In 2012, Adidas outfitted its client teams in unconventional new uniforms for postseason play. Rather than honoring the school's traditions, they called attention to the company. Louisville, in place of its classic red, played in what Adidas called "InfraRED" jerseys, which were infused with pink and orange. "We look like highlighters," Louisville basketball player Peyton Siva said. Baylor's "Electricity" uniforms were neon yellow down to their socks and shoelaces. Adidas announced that its "Adizero" uniforms were also going to be worn by players at the McDonald's All-American Game, the annual marquee event for the most coveted high school performers.
The attention-getting uniforms brought exactly what Adidas hoped for—a flood of free media, much of it consisting of the nonsense that the tricked-up threads conferred a performance advantage. ... An Adidas executive said, "The most important reason why we come to work is figuring out how we can give athletes a competitive advantage — make them one step quicker, jump one inch higher, and give them extra confidence." He added that he had commissioned a survey of some younger players, kids playing on an elite AAU team, and they all liked the uniforms, and every one of them had used the word "swag" in describing them.
The following season, Adidas outfitted six schools, including Louisville and Kansas, in "camo" jerseys. They looked absurd, nothing like basketball uniforms, and the spectacle of them seemed to toughen up some of the media coverage, including in the previously fawning USA Today, which noted that "in the relationship between college athletics and apparel companies, the Nikes and Adidases of the world hold the cards."
Kansas coach Bill Self got right to the heart of his program's bond with its shoe and apparel sponsor. He did not enthuse over the uniforms, but explained, "Sometimes you've got to be a team player, and Adidas has certainly been good to us, there's no question. And this is something that was important to them, that they are able to market it with some other schools that they feel that can help them in this area. Certainly, we're going to do that to try to help them."
Vaccaro's other idea was to radically ratchet down the age at which he started wooing players. Why wait till the players are in college, or even high school? It doesn't take a lot of money to win the love of a middle or grade school player and his family. Just regular shipments of shoes, which might have a retail value of $100 or more but cost only a fraction of that to produce. Nike probably spent more money shipping them to young prospects than making them.
Vaccaro had zeroed in on Jordan as he was wrapping up his career at North Carolina. In 1996, after Vaccaro had split with Nike and moved on to Adidas, he signed up Kobe Bryant, who was entering the NBA directly from Lower Merion High School in suburban Philadelphia. "I knew the family. They knew me," he explained, making it clear that he had been laying the groundwork for several years.
Vaccaro is a colorful figure, and journalists, even ones troubled by the influence he yielded, have always loved to quote him. He has a way of speaking that can make it seem like he walked right out of The Godfather, and he is smart and self-aware enough that it is safe to assume he has workshopped that aspect of his persona. ...
When I talked with Vaccaro, he expressed shock at the gullibility of everyone involved. "The most obvious thing is you never use phones," he observed. "And if you're going to do these things, don't do them with people you don't know."
There were limits, he said, that had not been observed and caution flags that must have been missed. He had stepped down from his post at Adidas in 2007, and it looked to him that in the time he was gone, the money had gotten even bigger and the competition meaner. "Everybody forgot the boundaries of what they could do with their deals. No one stopped and thought, ‘What are the legal ramifications?'"
That Louisville's program was wrapped up in the federal case surprised Vaccaro. He has known Pitino for more than forty years. "Rick is Rick," he said. "He's the cute sharp dresser, the first guy to put the Armanis on, and he could coach like no one else. It would have been a hell of a lot easier if he had better guys, but he won, and he figured out how to do it with whatever talent he had."
To be continued ...
College Basketball Scandals - 3
The Last Temptation of Rick Pitino: A Story of Corruption, Scandal,
and the Big Business of College Basketball
, Michael Sokolove (2018)
The 2017 scandal involving apparel companies was not the first scandal in college basketball.
Read part 1 | Read part 2.

As (Athletic Director) Tom Jurich worked to finalize Louisville's new contract with Adidas, Rick Pitino was still putting his team together for the 2017–18 season. By his own high standards, he was in a slump. The previous year was a rare moment when his squad underperformed. Louisville had an excellent regular season, winning home games against archrival Kentucky and vaunted Duke. They prevailed at Syracuse, an accomplishment for any visiting team. But after earning a No. 2 seed in the Midwest region, the Cardinals could not survive the first weekend of the tournament, losing to seventh-seeded Michigan. The year before that, Louisville was ineligible for the tournament—fallout from Strippergate. The university declared that it would not compete in the postseason in hopes of avoiding even stiffer penalties from the NCAA, a common tactic known as a "self-imposed ban," but one that irritated Pitino. He thought it implied that he had done something wrong. In the upcoming season, however, five of his top players were returning, a good base in an era of college basketball when talented underclassmen on highly ranked teams routinely enter the NBA draft. In addition, Pitino had a top-ten recruiting class coming in, one of his best in years—and that was even before Brian Bowen Jr. began to look like a possibility. Pitino, in fact, thought he was done recruiting for the year. "We've got the best recruiting class we've had in sixteen years," he said. "We got everybody we wanted."
Bowen is the son of a white mother and an African American father, Brian Bowen Sr., a former high school basketball star who became a cop in Saginaw. Bowen Sr. trained and mentored his nephew, Jason Richardson, when he was a promising young basketball player coming up in Saginaw. ...
When Richardson went off to start his freshman season at Michigan State, the Bowens moved from Saginaw to East Lansing to be near him. ... East Lansing was where Tugs was born and where he became his father's next basketball project. ... Jason Richardson stayed two years at Michigan Statee, helping lead the Spartans to a national championship in his freshman season, before setting off on a long and lucrative NBA career. He played fourteen seasons and earned $105 million in salary. ...
Brian Bowen Jr. never presented as the next LeBron James—that's a much smaller subset—but it was apparent from even before he hit his teens that he was a college prospect and possible NBA player. ... When he played locally, he was always the best player on the court, bigger and faster than whatever competition he faced, and he could easily weave his way past defenders on the dribble or just shoot over them. He scored 48 points in his first game in middle school. ...
Bowen cracked the starting lineup at Arthur Hill High School in Saginaw as a freshman, which no one had done for years, and attracted intense attention from college coaches and the media. ... After his sophomore season, Bowen left Saginaw and enrolled at La Lumiere prep in La Porte, Indiana. Michigan's state high school athletic board has some of the most restrictive rules in the country concerning where and when players can compete, and he wanted to be able to play in the made-for-TV games that ESPN and other commercial interests staged between the best high school teams. La Lumiere was a national power, but not what is sometimes referred to as a basketball factory, or a "pop-up basketball school"—schools created for basketball that sometimes do not even hold classes. (They outsource their academics to some nearby institution, or have their students take classes online.) ...
If Bowen (or his father) were looking to increase his national profile and make himself an even hotter basketball stock, his transfer to La Lumiere accomplished that. But so did a couple of his other moves along the way. One was making it clear that despite his cousin's legacy at Michigan State, and the fact that he had a long-standing scholarship offer from coach Tom Izzo, the Spartans did not have an inside track. ... Like every player of his stature, Tugs was almost solely focused on what college program would best showcase him to the NBA and prepare him for pro success. ...
But by the spring of any given year, most of the best players are formally signed. Bowen kept extending the process. The more players who committed, the more interest there was in him. He indicated he would make a decision by the end of January 2017, either in a press conference to be televised by ESPN or in a special video for the website Bleacher Report. "They've hit me up about it," he said, but there was no announcement and he remained on the market. ...
The site FanRag headlined a post in late May: "Where will Brian Bowen—the last uncommitted 5-star recruit—land?" It pointed out that he was the last of the top twenty recruits left and that there was only one other uncommitted prospect among the top hundred. "So what's the holdup for Tugs?" the story asked. "Simply put, no one knows." It listed five possible landing spots—none of them Louisville—and threw in Texas as a long shot because he had lately been retweeting a lot of Longhorn players.

L-R: Rick Pitino and Tom Jurich, Brian Bowen Jr.
As some of the nation's most famous college basketball coaches called him, texted him, sent him letters, and attended his games, Tugs let his father respond to his suitors and help him winnow them to a list of contenders. The family also brought an advisor into their circle: Christian Dawkins, a Saginaw native whose own father had been Draymond Green's high school coach. Dawkins was young, still in his early twenties, but he knew dozens of college coaches, and even NBA scouts and general managers. Tugs trusted him. He figured Dawkins could guide him—let him know how to sort out the good guys from the bad guys. ...
Tugs let his recruitment drag on for a very long time, way past when other top recruits had committed, and then finally revealed his choice in a more low-key way, on Twitter. "Happy to announce my commitment to The Ville," he tweeted under his handle, @20Tugs, signaling that he was signing with the University of Louisville. His father followed up with a tweet of his own. "Congrats, Tugs," he wrote. "God has blessed you." ...
Louisville figured out how to monetize basketball better than any other university in America. It sold hard liquor in its NBA-quality arena and marketed high-dollar premium seats and luxury boxes to affluent Louisvillians. The U. of L., as it is known locally, not only made more money on its basketball team than any other school in the NCAA, it wasn't even close: Louisville was out in front by $7 million. A visionary athletic director, Tom Jurich, leveraged the success of the basketball team and its charismatic Hall of Fame coach, Rick Pitino, to elevate the rest of the athletic program. He raised money with ease and built stadiums, arenas, ballparks, and practice facilities ...
Louisville used a series of middling conferences as stepping-stones to climb all the way up into the powerhouse Atlantic Coast Conference, alongside bluebloods Duke, North Carolina, and Virginia. ... Louisville was an example of how to build an institution of higher learning out of an athletic program. ...
Rick Pitino, in the summer of 2017, was on the cusp of his seventeenth season as Louisville's basketball coach. He is a New Yorker by birth, which you could still clearly hear in his accent, and a wiseass by personality type. ...
Pitino touted his control over the Louisville basketball program, down to the smallest detail, and claimed to be aware of every morsel of information. "If one of my players has a beer in Louisville," he once said, "I know about it." ...
There's not a coach in big-time college basketball whose program is totally pure. It's not possible. But Pitino came to Louisville relatively clean, with just one blemish on his record—NCAA violations from way back in the mid-1970s when he was an assistant, and then briefly the interim head coach, at the University of Hawai'i. At Louisville, though, he survived two tawdry, embarrassing scandals. The first one was personal in nature: a sexual assignation in a restaurant, after closing time, with a woman he had just met for the first time earlier in the same evening. The episode came to light, in great detail, after she tried to extort him and was prosecuted in federal court—with Pitino in the role of star prosecution witness. The second scandal was even worse because it involved his players. In what became known as "Strippergate," a local escort revealed that one of Pitino's assistants had paid for parties at the basketball dormitory, where she and other women, including her daughters, danced and had sex with high school kids on recruiting visits as well as with some current players. Even though the parties went on over the course of four years, Pitino insisted that he had no knowledge of them. Not many coaches could have emerged from the first scandal without being fired. It's possible that Pitino is the only one who would have survived two affairs that sordid. But he was winning games and packing Yum Center to its 22,090-seat capacity. His team was the engine of the athletic department, and to a large extent, the university itself. ...
Like most successful sports figures, however—coaches or players—Pitino was a champion at compartmentalizing, blocking out distractions, even ones he may have been responsible for himself. He had reason to be excited about the upcoming season. His roster was stocked with talented upperclassmen as well as a rarity, a five-star recruit—Brian Bowen Jr. Tugs was the very last of the premium high school prospects in the class of 2017 to commit to a school, and he seemed to enjoy the speculation about where he might finally land. No one guessed Louisville, because it had not been on his list and was not among the schools Bowen traveled to in his five official visits permitted by the NCAA. ... When he finally announced his choice, one headline read: "Bowen Once Thought Headed to Michigan State or Arizona, but Louisville Comes out of Nowhere."
Even Pitino said he was shocked. He couldn't believe his good fortune! In his telling, Bowen's decision was a gift that fell from the heavens, like one of those letters informing a recipient of some large sum of money left by a distant relative. "We got lucky on this one," he said. "They had to come in unofficially, pay for their hotel, pay for their meals. We spent zero dollars recruiting a five-star athlete who I loved when I saw him play. In my forty years of coaching, this is the luckiest I've been."

To be continued ...