Saturday, March 05, 2005

Parallels of John Wooden and... Lawrence Welk

As part of my continuing research to compile as wide a variety of contemporary and historical documents on the Game of the Century and its participants as possible, I've been focusing on athletic websites, newspapers, and magazines. Today, I discovered a new source, namely academic articles.

A 2004 issue of the Journal of American Studies contains an article by South Dakota State University Emeritus Professor John E. Miller entitled, "Lawrence Welk and John Wooden: Midwestern Small-Town Boys Who Never Left Home" (the article is currently available free, full-text on the web -- click here).

While Welk may not be the first person to come to mind in connection with Coach Wooden, Miller provides a plausible linkage:

The life trajectories of bandleader Lawrence Welk and basketball coach John Wooden provide a case study of cultural continuity, reflecting the efforts of two small town boys from the Midwest to conserve and propagate values with which they were brought up and which to them were time-tested and true. Caught in the media maw of the city that represents the logical culmination of modern, secular, urban culture, they continued to adhere to a set of traditional values and practices that cast them, in the views of some, as throwbacks to an earlier era but which also won for them the respect of legions of admirers and supporters.

The article references the 1968 UCLA-Houston Game of the Century, albeit with a major typo concerning the year:

Most players were willing to go along with Wooden’s program, realizing that what he was doing was for the good of the team and, as time went on, that the team was the most successful one in the history of the game. Some, however, resisted or expressed their dissatisfaction to outsiders. Edgar Lacey quit the team in 1959 after Wooden sat him on the bench during the second half of the famous Houston Astrodome game in which the Elvin Hayes-led Houston team ended UCLA’s 47-game winning streak.

The Lacey incident is covered in some detail in Wooden's 1972 book They Call Me Coach. The incident appeared to have both a distal and a promixal cause. The 1967-68 Bruin team returned all five starters from the previous season's NCAA champions, plus two starters from a previous national championship team who had sat out 1966-67 (one of whom was Lacey). With at least seven players thinking they had a good chance (and perhaps even the right) to start, tension was perhaps inevitable.

The specific, direct trigger of Lacey's departure, as noted above, involved the game at the Astrodome. Wooden apparently envisioned a defensive scheme where someone other than center Lew Alcindor would guard Houston's Elvin Hayes, with Big Lew waiting under the basket in case Hayes broke loose. Lacey was assigned to guard Hayes, but, Wooden wrote, Lacey did not guard Hayes as Wooden had instructed. Wooden removed Lacey from the game. When Wooden wanted to put Lacey back in, Lacey seemed dispirited on the bench and did not appear to be following the game. Wooden ended up not re-inserting him. Lacey appeared to take exception to Wooden's characterization in his post-game comments and left the team.

Back to the main topic of Wooden and Welk, the two apparently were good friends:

It is not surprising to discover that the two men admired each other and enjoyed each other’s company. For a number of years, about the only vacation that Wooden and his wife Nell took was to drive down to Welk’s Welcome Inn resort at Escondido and stay for several days. The two men would play some golf, and then their wives would join them for dinner at the Welks’ home. Their cook, Wooden told me, always made the maestro’s favorite meal, chicken and dumplings, and blackberry or cherry cobbler. Famous and well established in Los Angeles, the West Coast’s apotheosis of suburban living, these two small-town boys from the Midwest found in each other kindred spirits. Wooden, longtime deacon at his Christian church, and Welk, pious Catholic layman, remained true to the moral values that had been instilled in them as boys, and all the blandishments of Tinseltown were not enough to dissuade them.

All I can say, in conclusion, is "A Wunnerful, A Wunnerful."