The Gilded Saints of UCLA and Sam Gilbert ~ A Collection of Articles

Below are a collection of Scandals that never broke.  These incidents were covered up and swept under the rug by the NCAA.  Never to be investigated.  Today, John Wooden is replaced by the likes of Coach K at Duke, Pete Carrol at USC, Roy Williams at UNC.  All programs that are surrounded by loving boosters who somehow are never caught giving homes and jobs and anything else they can roll past the NCAA compliance offices as the NCAA averts their eyes and pretends not to notice.

The National Communist Athletic Association.  They should be disbanded and ushered out of the country straight to Potemkin with the other morons who purposely fail to see the obvious.

Bill Walton sets fire to his Alma Mater.

By Dan Wetzel

INDIANAPOLIS – UCLA has the greatest, grandest tradition in college basketball: 11 national championships, 34 first-team All-America selections, an 88-game win streak and on and on. All run by perhaps the most wonderful gentleman the game has ever known, John Wooden.

But then it has this:

“UCLA players were so well taken care of – far beyond the ground rules of the NCAA – that even players from poor backgrounds never left UCLA prematurely (for pro basketball) during John Wooden’s championship years.

“If the UCLA teams of the late 1960s and early 1970s were subjected to the kind of scrutiny (other schools) have been, UCLA would probably have to forfeit about eight national championships and be on probation for the next 100 years.

“I hate to say anything that may hurt UCLA, but I can’t be quiet when I see what the NCAA is doing (to other coaches) only because (they have) a reputation for giving a second chance to many black athletes other coaches have branded as troublemakers. The NCAA is working night and day trying to get (them), but no one from the NCAA ever questioned me during my four years at UCLA.”

Those quotes come from none other than Bill Walton, maybe the greatest Bruin of them all, in his 1978 book “On the Road with the Portland Trailblazers”, which went on to detail how Sam Gilbert, a Los Angeles contractor the feds allege made millions laundering drug money, bought a decade worth of recruits for UCLA.

“It’s hard for me to have a proper perspective on financial matters, since I’ve always had whatever I wanted since I enrolled at UCLA,” Walton wrote.

That is the conundrum of UCLA and college sports as the Bruins go for their 12th NCAA title here Monday against Florida.

On one hand, UCLA has a tradition rich with success, class and glory. Good people, great stories, wonderful memories. On the other is the fact the Bruins eviscerated the rule book like no program before or after, but went largely unpunished by a NCAA that wanted no part of taking down its marquee team.

And the truth is, neither image is wrong. And neither one is right. This is college athletics, yesterday, today and probably forever, no matter how sweet the package, now matter how pretty the bow.

It is how Wooden, universally hailed for his remarkable grace and humility, has wound up seemingly beyond reproach. No matter how dirty his program, today he sells books, speeches and financial planning commercials based on his image of trust and honesty.

The question is always why would UCLA have to cheat, what with its tremendous academics, beautiful campus and proximity to talent. But it is telling that it took Wooden, arguably the greatest coach of all time, 15 seasons to win a national title. Before Gilbert got involved and the talent arrived, the Bruins weren’t the best. Which ought to tell you what the competition was up to.

Maybe it is Wooden’s class that has kept talk of tainted titles to a minimum. But none of this is a secret in basketball. In the late 1970s, after Wooden retired, the Los Angeles Times did an investigation of Gilbert and the NCAA was forced to sanction UCLA, but never vacated any championships. Then there is Walton’s book, which couldn’t be more damning.

The NCAA never bothered to investigate UCLA during Wooden’s time, part of its history of selective enforcement. During the 1960s and ’70s, the organization, run by old white men, was too busy going after small, upstart programs that dared to play too many African-Americans, launching inquiries into Texas Western/UTEP, Western Kentucky, Centenary and Long Beach State.

Apparently a team capturing 10 titles in 12 years, putting together undefeated season after undefeated season, recruiting high school All-Americans from all over the country to sit on the bench, yet never having them transfer or declare hardship wasn’t enough for it to dawn on anyone at the NCAA that, gee, maybe they’re cheating?

But that is your NCAA.

And that is your college athletics, where corner cutting doesn’t make a guy a bad person; it makes him a successful coach.

In Wooden’s defense, some, including Walton, have argued that he wasn’t aware of Gilbert’s largesse, or at most just looked the other way. But other coaches in Southern California at the time, most notably Jerry Tarkanian, laugh at that, claiming Gilbert proudly boasted of his payouts. Tark claims Gilbert once offered to pay one of his Long Beach State stars, Robert Smith, just because he liked the way he played.

“You couldn’t be more obvious than Sam,” said Tarkanian. “He just laughed about it. Everyone in America knew.”

Moreover, in a striking 2004 interview with Basketball Times, Wooden described confronting players Sidney Wicks and Curtis Rowe in 1969 about expensive new clothes he suspected Gilbert had purchased. “Did you get this from Sam Gilbert,” he asked. “I don’t like this.”

“People want to say this is tainted,” Wooden told BT, before folding his arms in a rare bit of anger. “I don’t care. I don’t believe that.”

The truth of college athletics is that winning, let alone at the championship level, without rule breaking is nearly impossible. Fans and apologetic media don’t want to admit this about the icons of the games, but nothing about this has changed for decades. And it probably never will.

There are no angels in this business, no white hats and black hats as the NCAA would like people to believe with its public relations campaign of a rule book. Everything is a shade of grey. Everything is situational ethics. Everything is pick your poison.

Even the great UCLA legacy. Even the great John Wooden.

Sam Gilbert

While he never finished earning his degree at UCLA in the 1930s, Sam Gilbert became devoted to the school, especially its athletic program. By the 1960s, Gilbert had become a millionaire contractor in the Los Angeles area and had decided to give back to UCLA. During this time, he donated millions of dollars to UCLA academic programs and also began to form ties with the basketball team.

According to many UCLA players during the 1960s, Gilbert was known as Papa Sam. His home was always open to the Bruins and it was not uncommon to see several players lounging near his pool with him and his wife Rose on a weekend. The players trusted him as a confidant and a mentor. Players such as Sidney Wicks, Lew Alcindor, Larry Farmer, Bill Walton, and many others all came to Sam for friendship and counsel.

Sam was known to push the NCAA rules to the limit. If a player did not have money for books, he would arrange for the books to be purchased and delivered to the player. If a player needed an apartment, Sam always knew of an available one. Sam helped the players find the best deals on anything they needed.

Many people around the college basketball world have argued that Sam Gilbert committed infractions far worse than those above. Former Long Beach State and UNLV basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian has stated how he believes that the only team in Los Angeles with a higher payroll than the Bruins in the 1960s and 1970s was the Lakers. Tarkanian, along with a slew of others, believe that Gilbert provided the players with cash, cars, and whatever else they needed. Tarkanian’s program at UNLV came under suspicion of NCAA rule infractions and he constantly brought up that UCLA never faced as much pressure from the NCAA in regards to Sam Gilbert’s supposed infractions as his program did because John Wooden was untouchable. It was often noted that John Wooden knew that his players hung out at Sam Gilbert’s house but he had no personal relationship with Sam himself.

In 1981, the UCLA basketball program was placed on probation and UCLA was ordered to disassociate Sam Gilbert from the recruiting process. UCLA was told to disassociate Gilbert from the recruiting process because his name was used to co-sign a loan for a player’s car along with several other infractions.

Government officials report that a year after being forced away from the UCLA Basketball program, Gilbert began laundering money for a known drug runner in a scheme that supposedly made him $36 million. Coincidentally, when federal agents finally had enough evidence to arrest and went to his home on November, 24th 1987 in Pacific Palisades, they learned that he had passed away two days earlier of cancer.

Sam Gilbert remained a man of mystery all the way to his grave. Some former UCLA players say he helped the team out but did nothing to explicitly violate NCAA rules, others say he bought them whatever they needed. Some people claim the university was fully aware of what he was doing, other say he was doing nothing wrong. The same sense of uncertainty regarding Sam Gilbert was true with his alleged involvement with a drug runner. Many claim that Sam would never get involved with such people when he already had enough money while others remain skeptical of who his acquaintances were.

Regardless of Sam Gilbert’s involvement with the UCLA basketball team, nothing should be taken away from the spectacular accomplishments of the players and coaches.

Sports of The Times; The Ghosts and Goblins of Westwood

Published: March 14, 2003

BIG-TIME intercollegiate athletics has taken a beating this month. But for all the criticism that college basketball has absorbed, the beauty of competition and of the 19- and 20-year-olds who play these games is that they are so unpredictable.

The news media came to the Staples Center yesterday to see Steve Lavin’s final game as the U.C.L.A. coach. Lavin’s impending dismissal has become so public that even his players had discussed it. This should have been easy: the lowly, demoralized Bruins versus an Arizona team that had won the two regular-season meetings by a combined 71 points.

But in one of the improbable outcomes of the postseason, the eighth-seeded Bruins upset No. 1-ranked Arizona in overtime in the opening round of the Pacific-10 Conference tournament.

Arizona, leading by 12 points in the second half, was up by only 3 when Ray Young, U.C.L.A.’s senior point guard, hit a 3-point shot with 4.9 seconds remaining in regulation time.

The Bruins dominated in overtime and pulled off a stunning 96-89 victory.

U.C.L.A. lives. Lavin survives.

Now what?

What happens if the Bruins win today, and again tomorrow? Do Lavin’s fortunes reverse? Does he keep his job? Or does Dan Guerrero, the first-year U.C.L.A. athletic director, pull the trigger anyway, citing the need to get the Bruins going in a new direction?

This is the most likely possibility: the resurgent Bruins will lose one of their next two games and go through yet another men’s coach. U.C.L.A. will fire Lavin and continue one of the most bizarre legacies in Division I athletics.

John Wooden, the most revered coach in college basketball history, retired as the Bruins’ coach in 1975.

Nothing in college sports approaches U.C.L.A.’s difficulty in grappling with the shadow cast by its men’s basketball program. Six coaches followed Wooden. All tried. All failed to walk in his shoes.

Since 1977, U.C.L.A. has had seven coaches. Gene Bartow, Gary Cunningham, Larry Brown and Larry Farmer resigned. Walt Hazzard and Jim Harrick were dismissed. And now Lavin is expected to walk.

When is U.C.L.A. going to stop this dance with its past and move forward? Why has it been so difficult to sustain continuity at U.C.L.A.? Is it the idea of following a legend? We know about the legend: Wooden led U.C.L.A. to 10 N.C.A.A. titles.

Now let’s talk about the myth. What we didn’t know back then is that the Wizard of Westwood had a helper. His name was Sam Gilbert.

According to N.C.A.A. investigations and published reports, Gilbert, a multimillionaire contractor and adviser to U.C.L.A. athletes, arranged and paid for abortions for players’ friends and helped athletes get discounts on cars, stereos and airline tickets.

Jerry Tarkanian, who coached Long Beach State from 1969 to 1973, accused U.C.L.A. of turning the N.C.A.A. on his program. ”It would be like the U.C.L.A. guys are all in Mercedes and our guys are all on bikes and the N.C.A.A.’s coming in saying, ‘Hey, we’ve got to take these bikes away from these guys.’ It was the damnedest thing you’ve ever seen. I mean, the time they came after us was the Sam Gilbert era. Everybody knows what went on during the Sam Gilbert era. The only team with a higher payroll was the Lakers.”

Wooden said he had been aware of the closeness between his players and Gilbert and warned them to ”be careful.”

The N.C.A.A. ultimately hit U.C.L.A. with a two-year probation in 1981 and ordered the Bruins to sever ties with Gilbert. But that was six years after Wooden retired.

In the absence of winning championship after championship, part of U.C.L.A.’s tradition since Wooden’s retirement has been to replace coaches, a ritual that in a perverse way keeps alive a legacy that is impossible to live up to. No coach on earth is going to win 10 Division I college basketball championships again. The Wooden era will not be duplicated. Guess what? Wooden couldn’t duplicate that era today.

In an Internet era of players jumping from high schools to the pros, chafing at discipline and generally running the asylum, Wooden would have to be a wizard to negotiate one college season without a scandal or a public controversy.

How does this relate to Steve Lavin’s impending dismissal? Whether Guerrero dismisses Lavin or not, the university needs to take a reality check. U.C.L.A. should take its time and make it clear to whoever is hired that he will not be fired simply for losing games. This time the university should hire someone it can live with — for a long time. The new coach doesn’t have to be a Wizard.

Just a keeper.

The inscription on the framed photograph of Milwaukee Bucks Center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar reads: “For a true friend in all seasons.” The legend on the picture of Bruce Walton (Bill’s brother) says: “Maybe it’s corny, but I love you.” The object of such unabashed affection is a millionaire Los Angeles building contractor, Sam Gilbert. His own three children are grown, and for Gilbert, 61, U.C.L.A. athletes—past and present—are now his family. Gilbert is their confidant, business adviser and surrogate father. Hence the nickname:  “Papa Sam.”

A U.C.L.A. alumnus, Gilbert attends most home games and occasionally travels with the team. Gilbert’s luxurious Pacific Palisades house, with 50-ft. swimming pool and well-stocked refrigerator, serves as a second home for the athletes. “The kids are hungry for a bit of home life,” explains Gilbert’s wife Rose, who teaches English at Pacific Palisades High School. “They love having this hangout.” Bill Walton would agree. At last year’s Thanksgiving dinner, a basketball team tradition at the Gilberts’ that ranks next to Sunday bagels-and-lox brunch, Walton (on a dare) gleefully wolfed down an entire pumpkin pie smothered with a quart of ice cream. When Bill came down with a severe strep throat last season, he went to the Gilberts’ to recuperate. Says Walton of Sam: “He’s just a great dude.”

Gilbert’s study, filled with photographs and trophies that Walton has won (“Bill’s not much for trophy collecting”), also serves as a counseling office for troubled players. The problems?

“You name it,” Gilbert says. “Everything from pregnant girl friends, failing grades, deep disappointment in not playing either regularly or well, problems with their parents, uncertainty about their futures.” Father-like he also nags his charges about their grades, and last year helped to arrange the wedding of Walton’s back-up center, Swen Nater. The wedding was in conservative Orange County, and Gilbert suggested that Keith Wilkes’ father, a Baptist minister, perform the ceremony. “We all loved the idea of blowing some minds in Orange County by having a black clergyman officiate at the marriage of a white couple,” says Gilbert.

-Papa Sam began his relationship with U.C.L.A. basketball in the mid-1960s, when former All-America Willie Naulls brought two disgruntled sophomores, Lew Alcindor (now Jabbar) and Lucius Allen, to him for some counseling. Alcindor and Allen in turn brought their teammates, and Sam eventually negotiated the professional contracts of Alcindor, Allen and other Bruin stars, such as Sidney Wicks, Henry Bibby and Nater. Like all his other services, Gilbert’s agentry comes free. “I do it because I’m a friend and also a savvy businessman who knows most of the tricks and clauses that the kids have no knowledge about.”

When—and if—Bill Walton decides to negotiate a professional contract, Gilbert will call the financial shots. The San Diego Conquistadors, hoping to capitalize on the father-son relationship, recently approached Gilbert about buying the club. Gilbert rejected the deal. “I want to be Bill’s friend, not his owner,” he said.

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