"Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are." --John Wooden
The day before the NCAA sanctions against USC were released, the Los Angeles Times went into its Way-back Machine (we now know it as google) to give us yet another story on Sam Gilbert and his role in UCLA/Wooden basketball dynasty. I have no problem when people speak ill of the dead, if they must, but, goodness gracious, so much for letting Coach Wooden rest in peace.
If the Gilbert/Wooden story has legs, as they say, then bring it on. Give us new information or a new wrinkle to this 40-year old story that gets trotted out whenever someone wants to take shots at Wooden's legacy.
I have no doubt Sam Gilbert broke NCAA rules. Does that tarnish UCLA's basketball dynasty? If you want it to, I suppose. Or it's just sour grapes.
There's cheating in big time college sports. Shocking. Jerry Tarkanian, former Long Beach State and UNLV coach, used to say, “In major college basketball, nine out of 10 teams break the rules. The other one is in last place.”
Tark liked to jab NCAA by suggesting the organization would never go after UCLA or Wooden. Tark didn't offer a legitimate defense of the NCAA's allegations against him, but it was (and still is) a great punchline delivered with a profound truth: Yes, UNLV may cheat, but everybody cheats.
After I read the Times article and before I could translate my seething into coherent English, I received an email that Andy Hill sent to Chris Dufresne, who penned the Los Angeles Times story. Andy was extremely close with Coach and wrote Be Quick, But Don't Hurry about Coach's philosophies.
Here's Andy's email (reprinted with permission), which is not safe for anyone who prefers to forget about the past misdeeds of their sports heroes:
I am a former UCLA basketball player and a lifetime subscriber to the L.A. Times. Your column this morning made me sick to my stomach. While our city grieves the loss of the greatest coach of all time, you dust off this rumor-filled piece of innuendo-filled garbage and call it journalism. Do you call relying on 29-year-old articles reporting? Why didn’t you reach out and do some original research?
It was bad enough that I was completely misquoted by your newspaper in Coach’s obituary regarding Sam Gilbert and his influence on UCLA basketball (has there been a retraction and/or correction…maybe you or Mike James could follow up and let me know). Is it just about selling newspapers? Is there some point in time when your conscience will kick in and you will simply tell your editor, “No thanks, find someone else to write that one?”
So I guess I can look forward to your next column on Kobe’s rape problems in Colorado when the Lakers win the title. How about a rumor-filled column on Pete Carroll’s supposed young Malibu girlfriend for the next football preview? How about a piece on Mark Sanchez raping a girl when the Jets are in the playoffs? Really, is this what you think your readers want? And again, what about the timing...not even a week after Coach's passing, while so many people around the world are both grieving and paying their respects for a life well-lived? But of course, it's Journalism 101 and there must be "balanced" reporting...no matter the extraordinary circumstances, and that the information is old, tired and rehashed. Nice.
If you want to actually know what happened, why don’t you try finding out for yourself? It is truly astounding to me that the man in charge of UCLA athletics, J.D. Morgan, who told Coach that he would “handle” Sam Gilbert, is never mentioned in any story anywhere…not once. If you had contacted me, or lots of others who could have led you to me, we would have had that discussion, maybe even leading to some original information and some ultimate truths, which, after all, is what journalism is really about. What a concept!
If I wanted a rehash of old columns from your own paper, I can just use Google. Which, by the way, might be a good tool for you to use in helping to locate information and key sources for an original story about Sam Gilbert.
John Wooden obituary: The obituary on John Wooden that ran in Section A on June 5 and in a commemorative section June 13 included information attributed to former UCLA basketball player Andy Hill regarding controversial booster Sam Gilbert. The article reported that Hill had told The Times that former team trainer Elvin "Ducky" Drake was something of a watchdog for the team, and that Drake had apparently missed what was going on with Gilbert. Hill says that he did not discuss that with the reporter and that Drake would not have been in a position to do anything to detect Gilbert's involvement or stop Gilbert from any inappropriate action.