Saturday, May 28, 2005

1965 New York Times Piece on Lew Alcindor Deciding to Attend UCLA

Via JD's UCLA Basketball Blog, I came across an online version of a New York Times article from 40 years ago reporting on Lew Alcindor's announcement of his choice to attend UCLA (Alcindor, of course, later changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar).

Although the Bruins had already won two NCAA titles (1964 and 1965) before Alcindor's arrival, his impact still played an incalculable role in propelling the UCLA dynasty further upward (remember also that he could not play varsity ball at UCLA until his sophomore year, 1967, under the rules of those days).

In fact, it's probably a reasonable conjecture to say that, absent Alcindor at UCLA, the Game of the Century might never have taken place. Without him, a UCLA-Houston match-up could not have pitted the two big men, Alcindor and UH's Elvin Hayes, against each other. Perhaps there could have been a game between Houston and whatever other school Alcindor (hypothetically) would have gone to, but that probably would have required the "other school" to win the 1967 NCAA championship (which UCLA did), to lay the groundwork for a Game of the Century in 1968.

Friday, May 13, 2005

1998 L.A. Times Article on GOTC's 30th Anniversary

Picking up from the immediately preceding entry, I wanted to talk briefly about a 30-year retrospective article on the Game of the Century in the January 20, 1998 Los Angeles Times, written by Robyn Norwood. Like other retrospectives, it covers the "usual" bases (e.g., the attendance, Elvin Hayes's big game). However, there were a few elements in the article that were new to me:

*Norwood quotes a clever line by Sports Illustrated that, given the heavy illumination, "the Astrodome 'very nearly became the first place in the world where a player lost a rebound in the lights.' "

*The ticket prices were extremely cheap, at least by today's standards. Wrote Norwood, " paid $2 to sit in the highest reaches of the Astrodome and only $5 for 'front-row seats,' still 100 feet from the action..." According to an online inflation calculator, today those same tickets would cost $11.07 and $27.66, respectively.

*Although then-UCLA Coach John Wooden is well-known to have been skeptical about entering into the whole Astrodome spectacle, his words in the Times retrospective article were particularly blunt:

"The television people won't like hearing me say it, but I said it before so I'll say it again: I think television is one of the worst things that ever happened to intercollegiate basketball," he said. "It's made showmen out of the players and that hurts team play..."

*Two possible contributing factors to Houston's loss to UCLA in their rematch in the NCAA final four at the L.A. Sports Arena were discussed:

An overlooked fact, in [former Cougar guard Don] Chaney's eyes, was that Houston was without starting guard George Reynolds, a transfer ruled ineligible before the final game of the season because of his junior college academic record.

"Someone had done some research -- I think it might have been the California side," Chaney said.

Besides that, the Cougars had gone Hollywood. Hayes and Theodis Lee appeared on "The Joey Bishop Show" days before the game, and center Ken Spain went on "The Dating Game" as the players soaked up the California scene.

What's becoming increasingly clear to me in researching these archival sources is that, as repetitive as some of these articles can be, one can still usually find some unique nuggets of information from them.