Those behavioral scientists who argue for heredity over
environment, nature over nurture, ought to be able to make a
nice little case study of UCLA's Dynasty Dads. These fathers,
eight of the most prominent and gifted basketball players ever
to win NCAA championships, have produced more than two teams of
offspring, a virtual Bruin Baby Boomlet that, as it becomes
eligible for scholarships, is likely to establish once and
forever the notion of athletic inevitability.
By our count there are 11 boys and girls, either playing college
basketball or being recruited to play soon, who are descended
from players on those great UCLA teams of yore. Really, how
could it be otherwise? If the geneticists are right, then the
players who produced 10 NCAA championship teams from 1964 to '75
ought to have begotten some kind of genealogical
powerhouse--basketball's Jurassic Park, as it were--where cloned
champions scamper up and down the court. Why call it a dynasty
if the sons and daughters do not gain, by simple inheritance,
their own Final Fours?
You can trace the chromosomal links in a chain that stretches
from UCLA's 10th championship, in 1975, to its 11th, in 1995. If
Kris Johnson, a forward on the most recent Bruin title team, did
not contribute to the extent that Marques Johnson did in '75,
well, at least Kris's presence on the team confirms his
birthright. These kids may literally have been born to play
You can see it in the way they move, jump and even talk. What we
understand about heredity is pretty much confirmed when we call
Adam Walton in his dorm room at LSU, and the answering machine
says, "Funkify to the message," followed by perhaps two minutes
of funk and then the voice: "I'm still getting down." And more
funk. Oh, this would be Bill's boy!
Of course, you could argue that all this talent results more
from the law of averages than from heredity. There are a lot of
dads from those 10 teams, face it. And you could argue that all
this talent is not nearly as formidable as that of the previous
generation; so far there are no astonishing players to compare
to the originals, with the possible exception of Mike Bibby, son
of Henry, who is probably the best prep point guard in the
nation and has signed to play at Arizona next season. But past
the novelty of all these kids following in their fathers' huge
and frighteningly nimble footsteps, something more interesting
than heredity is revealed. In fact, if we look closely, heredity
seems almost beside the point.
Something has been passed down, all right, but it's not
contained in genetic coding, and it isn't being expressed in
slam dunks. Oddly, and sweetly, the principal influence at work
here goes back to the one basketball ancestor all these players
share, a gentleman of 85 who was decidedly unhip even 30 years
ago and who ought to seem entirely irrelevant now. Yet John
Wooden, the Wizard of Westwood, architect of sports' most
amazing winning streak, dominates these two generations. He's a
grandfather to these kids, just as he was a father to their
dads; his spirit informs their lives from across decades,
whether they know it or not. Strange, not that these kids play
basketball but that they play it the way their dads were taught.
Let any behavioral scientist study them. These children were not
privileged only by phenotype but also by their distant
association with an old-time coach, the kind of guy whose poems
and maxims and pyramids ought not to have worked on any
generation any more modern than, say, the Victorian.
Let's look at Bill Walton and his son Adam, a skinny 6'8"
redshirt freshman in Baton Rouge. The two Waltons are
determinedly modern in their own different ways, and you
wouldn't think either man would be particularly receptive to
Wooden's old-fashioned messages. History has it that Bill, who
played on the '72 and '73 championship teams, was an aberration
in Wooden's career, the rare rebel recruit, a redhead of fiery
temperament whose politics might not have been quite so
acceptable if he had been, oh, 6'4" instead of 6'11". In fact,
Wooden, who was in his 60's then, was quite tolerant of free
spirits. And Walton turned out to be surprisingly susceptible to
Wooden's conservative philosophies.
"I remember the first day I got there," says Bill, "and Coach
Wooden calls the six freshmen together in the locker room. We
figured he was going to give us the keys to success and let us
go on our way. He sits us down on the stools and says, 'Guys,
this is how we put our shoes and socks on.' We thought he was
nuts. He's showing us how to put our socks on so they wouldn't
wrinkle, how to make our laces perfect so they wouldn't come
undone. Then--and then!--he showed us how to tuck our shirts in so
they'd never come out."
It must have been a jaw-dropping session for these recruits. But
there was something about the old man's modesty, his attention
to fundamentals, his command of details, his confidence in such
minutiae, that earned his players' forbearance. And, besides,
everything he did seemed to work. "It was the greatest gift John
Wooden gave to me, once I realized it," says Walton. "The
ability to learn to learn. That day he was giving us something
to build on, a foundation. And through years of observing him,
his attention to detail, all his little things, I realized his
teaching was timeless, like a Grateful Dead or Bob Dylan song.
Everything went back to the foundation."
The foundation Walton got at UCLA has endured, and he has built
his life on it. His rookie season in the NBA was rough, and he
spent more than a few weekends consulting with Wooden. Really
Walton never stopped going to that well. "I still call him all
the time," he says of Wooden. "We talk about everything,
personal things, families, achievements, disappointments."
Adam Walton (who has three younger brothers in line, most
prominently Nathan, a 6'7" senior at the University of San Diego
High who is leaning toward attending either Oregon or Princeton)
has not received the tremendous basketball gifts his father was
granted. But he has at least heard the same themes of character
development. "I know every one of his quotes by heart," says
Adam of Wooden, noting especially the Pyramid of Success, the
old coach's 15 stacked blocks of principles (cooperation,
industriousness, self-control, etc.) that are the keys to
maximum performance. "The Pyramid of Success was plastered on
all our walls, still is," says Adam. "We'd go visit Coach
Wooden's apartment in L.A. The things he said--so brief, so
intelligent." And the shoes and socks? "Big Bill brought him
over when I was very young to show me how to put them on. I know
how to put them on better than anyone."
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar did not bother himself about reproducing a
legend. None of the Dynasty Dads were driven to replicate
themselves, and in fact, almost all of them went out of their
way to make sure their kids never played in their shadows. To be
sure, these kids all had advantages; Adam Walton remembers
teaming up with Larry Bird in two-on-two games against Big Bill
and Nathan in the backyard. ("They beat us every game," says
Adam, "because the court was too narrow, and Bird could never
get open.") But Abdul-Jabbar went further than others to make
his boy's adolescence maddeningly democratic.
The son, also named Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (but not the 2nd, not
junior), had to come by his enthusiasm for basketball on his
own. The elder Kareem did not encourage him in any way. "I was
very careful about that," the father says. "The only thing I
ever made him do was martial arts, him and my daughters. He had
to gravitate to basketball on his own."
Abdul-Jabbar's early role as father, never mind coach, could be
characterized as indifferent. In Los Angeles the son lived apart
from his dad for most of his youth, staying with his mother,
Habiba Herbert, while the father occupied an Art Deco manse in
Brentwood. It wasn't until the boy entered high school that the
father took him under his roof and wing.
Even so, the elder Kareem was not a hands-on father. The son
practiced at Brentwood High and took a bus home. And then do you
think the two had dinner and practiced a few skyhooks together
in Dad's custom-made gym? "I never did put a hoop up," says Dad.
"Anytime we worked on basketball," says the younger Kareem, "I
had to initiate it. But if I asked him, he'd give me tips about
ball handling. He came to some of my games."
The son improved despite this casual inattention, but he never
got much beyond 6'3" in height and 18 points and 11 rebounds a
game as a senior at Brentwood, which is not a basketball power.
Colleges did not come knocking on young Kareem's 7'6" door. The
elder Kareem kind of chuckles over this. "He thought he was
genetically entitled," he says. But the elder Kareem was a
better father than he looked, just as he had been a more driven
basketball player than he seemed. "It was something I learned
from Coach Wooden," he says, something he may have absorbed back
in 1967, as he led his first Bruin team to a title. "Now that I
think about it, actually, it's kind of scary how much I learned
from him. Most of what I know, what's made me a smart man, has
come from him. But the one thing I most remember, and is the
hardest to do, is give someone the opportunity to fail. As soon
as I became a parent, I acted that way."
After young Kareem's senior year, "when nobody was knocking the
walls down to get at him," says his father, something strange
happened to him. He developed a work ethic. Young Kareem
realized how important basketball was to him and sent himself on
a mission. "I made up my mind," he says. "Probably not as soon
as I should have, but I made up my mind." Without a scholarship
offer, he searched around for schools where he might walk on and
get to play. He eventually enrolled last year at Valparaiso, a
small Division I school in Indiana, and joined the team, but he
was ultimately redshirted. He hopes to play some this year.
The father is ecstatic about his son's development, though not
necessarily as a basketball player. "At Brentwood he didn't get
one A, not one his whole high school career," the elder Kareem
says. "He comes back from Valparaiso, and he's on the dean's
list. I'm very happy. I'm very proud."
Many of Wooden's players had longer pro careers than their
talents seemed to warrent. Some were genuine All-Stars, of
course, but many survived in the NBA on their smarts. They were
better coached, better disciplined, better grounded than their
rivals. And so they were often more valuable. They just seemed
smarter. And as fathers they still put that across. For some
reason the Dynasty Dads became levelheaded parents, no-pressure
guys who downplayed their own careers and never became anxious
over those of their sons.
Bakir Allen, a starting junior guard at UC Santa Barbara,
doesn't remember hearing much about his father Lucius's two NCAA
championships or his 10 NBA seasons. His older brother, Kahlil,
who played forward for the last three seasons at UC San Diego,
didn't hear much more. Says Bakir, who was four years old when
his dad retired from the NBA, "I wasn't aware at all until I
started meeting people who would tell me how good my father
was." All Bakir knows about his father's basketball career is
some grainy film he has seen on ESPN and, of course, the Pyramid
of Success that was plastered on his walls, too.
Former Bruin Mike Warren, who played on the same two
championship teams as Allen, was similarly low-key. "I wasn't
the type to put a basketball in the crib," says Warren, who
eschewed a pro career and became more famous as a regular on
Hill Street Blues. "Tell you the truth, I wanted a girl so she
wouldn't have to deal with the pressure. I didn't want to thrust
my dream onto a son." Early on, he was more influential to his
son Cash as a soccer coach.
Warren, whose major basketball asset growing up in South Bend
was the contact he made with a number of Wooden's disciples
there, couldn't help but wonder what he might have done if he'd
had the same advantages as his son. "I'd have died to have my
hoop in my backyard as a kid," he says. "My son never used ours.
Would never go out and shoot. Too boring." But eventually Cash
developed an interest in basketball and, in the seventh grade,
began pestering his dad for help. Mike took him to UCLA, gave
him a notebook with drills in it, kept stats in practice for
him. Cash, a 6'1" junior at small, private Crossroads School in
Santa Monica, Calif., has improved to the point where he
averaged nine points a game last year.
Walt Hazzard, from Wooden's first title team, in 1964,
understands as a parent and a coach (at UCLA from 1984 to '88)
how accidental athletic greatness is. "I had a blessing from the
Creator," he says. "Plus, I was put in great places. In
Philadelphia I joined a team [Overbrook High] with four
All-Americas. Second day I was there, Wilt Chamberlain [an
Overbrook alumnus then playing at Kansas] shows up and puts his
arm around me. For me to expect my children to repeat that
situation is asking a lot."
His four boys all played or are currently playing basketball.
The youngest, Rasheed, now a sophomore point guard at George
Washington, is the first Hazzard son to play Division I
basketball on a scholarship. "When I decided I wanted to follow
in the tradition my father started," Rasheed says, "he was on
top of me all the time. He was very patient with me, but if I
did something wrong, I'd hear about it. We talked basketball at
the weirdest times--at dinner, during a Mike Tyson fight. If
something popped in his head, he'd say it."
Rasheed finally beat his aging dad one-on-one during his junior
year in high school, even though Walt had become increasingly
desperate to forestall that rite of passage. "The one thing
about us UCLA guys," he points out, "is we're also experts in
gamesmanship. Fouls on every missed shot, calls for traveling.
You learn to start an argument that lasts exactly as long as you
need to catch your breath. You play them right up to the point
you smell trouble, then you have a sudden desire to play
Some of the dads, as you would expect in a society where
families are as often in disrepair as in harmony, have had to
rely more on nature than on nurture in the schooling of their
progeny. Henry Bibby, whose younger son Mike is a senior at
Shadow Mountain High in Phoenix, led a nomadic professional life
that, when it came to child rearing, only added to the
complications of divorce. This has been painful. Mike, who
averaged 35 points and nine assists a game as a junior, hasn't
played much in front of his father, hasn't practiced with him or
even been with him. "It hasn't been my dad," he told the Arizona
Republic, "it's been my mother. My mother's been influencing me."
Still, Henry, whose life as a pro player and later a CBA coach
(he's now an assistant at USC) kept him on the road during his
son's seasons, hopes that the residue of Wooden's teachings has
somehow been transmitted across this gap. "Coach Wooden believed
in discipline," says Henry, one of the stars from the title
teams that began the '70s. "His whole motto was, Discipline
yourself so others don't have to." Clearly, he hopes the values
are in place with Mike, but his defensive voice betrays his
anxiety. "You know," he says, "my own father only saw me play
one time, college and high school. But it wasn't a problem. I
knew he loved me."
Was there ever a more earnest disciple of Wooden's than Swen
Nater, the best player never to start on two championship teams?
(He played behind Walton at Westwood, then went on to play for
11 years in the pros.) Nater is so devoted to Wooden, in thought
and deed, that it is almost comical. "Coach, first time he saw
my dog, he says, 'You ever hit it?'" Nater says. "I answered,
'Sometimes.' 'Don't, it never works.' So I don't hit my dog.
That's Coach Wooden, always teaching you things."
It might be comical, except that Nater, who coached for 10 years
at Christian Heritage College in San Diego before recently
moving to Enumclaw, Wash., to take a managerial job with
PriceCostco, a wholesale/retail warehouse company, has applied
these teachings to less frivolous aspects of family life. His
two daughters--Alisha, a 6'3" freshman center for UC Santa
Barbara, and Valerie, a 6'3" junior center at Enumclaw High--have
also benefited from Wooden's advice.
"Once, Alisha wasn't talking to me, I was losing communication,"
Nater says. "I gave Coach Wooden a call. 'Do I force her to
talk? What do I do? I'm losing contact with my girl.' Wooden
said, 'Don't force it, just love her to death. She'll come
around.' And she did."
Nater, who talks to Wooden frequently on all matters, from
poetry to basketball, has honored the Wizard in song, making a
number of cassettes, including a personalized version of Wind
Beneath My Wings, and presenting them as gifts. "I always hear
his voice in the background, every day," Nater says. "When I'm
driving down the freeway, I'll be thinking of this poem he used
to recite." When Nater does think of these things, which is
often, he writes them down and submits them to his daughters,
whom he has given "life notebooks" for collecting these lessons.
His daughters do not think it especially corny.
"It's not just me, though," says Nater. "A lot of guys call him,
so many it's not funny. Why wouldn't you call him? He was always
helping us be better fathers, all along, if we just listened."
The circle was closed this year when UCLA, with Kris Johnson in
uniform and his father, Marques, on the sidelines, won its first
NCAA championship since Marques last played, in 1975. The circle
was mostly ceremonial, as Kris was injured much of his freshman
season and thus prevented from contributing much during the
tournament. But still, to see that kind of athletic legacy on so
grand a stage was powerful. Twenty years disappeared just like
But like the accomplishments of all the Dynasty Kids, Kris's
success in basketball was not automatic. If Kris had any desire
at all to duplicate Dad, he certainly lacked the physical
component. In the ninth grade Kris was, well, fat. Two hundred
fifty pounds of baby fat. "He was last in every drill," Marques
remembers, "slow and dumpy. My thinking at the time was, This
kid's gonna be a great lawyer."
Marques wouldn't have been disappointed if that's how it had
worked out. What was it Wooden taught? "Accept your limitations,
all you can do is your best, and when it's over you can feel
good about yourself." Kris wrote poetry and screenplays.
"There's more to life than basketball," says Marques. He even
went out of his way to lose to Kris one-on-one when the kid was
11 years old, just to get that out of the way. Father-son
relationships are tough enough. The family would probably be
better off without basketball, the father thought.
But then Kris decided he wanted to play the game, and play it
well. Between his freshman and sophomore years at Montclair
College Prep, a small private school in Van Nuys, Calif., Kris
worked out, lost weight, gained muscle and dominated his league.
It was about then that he began stumbling across his dad's
history. He found some old tapes in the den of their Bel-Air
house and, bored, watched a few. "I didn't know he was that
good, to tell you the truth," Kris says. "I watched one tape, he
scored 35 on Dr. J. Whoa! This guy's legit. And then I was
reading this story in SI about Michael Jordan, and there's this
picture. He has a poster of my dad in his dorm room. Again--whoa!"
Kris no longer wanted to be just the best player at Montclair.
"I sat down with my dad," he says, "and I asked him, 'What do I
need to do to be a big-time player?'" His dad made an absurd
suggestion: Transfer to Marques's alma mater, Crenshaw High in
the heart of Los Angeles. Kris took the advice and prospered,
becoming an all-city player and earning a scholarship to UCLA,
where the team won a national championship in his first season.
The only thing wrong with all that was Kris's disappointment
with his own play, plagued as he was by a stress fracture in his
left leg. He resolved to do something about his performance. He
spent the summer with his mother, Sabrina Sheran, in Atlanta,
where she works as a beautician. He bought into her diet and
workout program, lost 45 pounds (to 220) and has been the talk
of Westwood since fall practice opened. Again--whoa!
Wooden is not even mildly intrigued by the number of Dynasty
Dads and Kids. He's had many players who became lawyers and
whose kids followed in their footsteps. Almost as many of his
players became ministers as became pro players. You get the
picture. Looking back on his career, basketball seems the least
of it. He knew it would be so. Among the many sayings he
appropriated was Amos Alonzo Stagg's: "You won't know how good a
coach you are for 20 years."
At a recent gathering Bill Walton approached Wooden and told him
how much he loved him. So did Swen Nater. "Unusual for Bill,"
Wooden says, "not for Swen. I was always concerned about Bill.
He was always involved in antiestablishment things. Swen was not
that way at all, he just went along. Yet as time went by,
they've become more alike." Funny. It has been just over 20
years, and Wooden is getting his grade.
Strange that it takes so long. "We never realized how much had
been given to us," says Nater. "But there was this man, in a
time where everything was turned upside down, a man sitting in
his office, working on a practice, not wearing the latest
clothes. He's the one who had it all together. And we did not
Nearly a dozen children--his grandchildren, you could say--stand
straight and true. Look again at the picture at the beginning of
the story. Their fathers, Pyramids of Success in their wallets
and refrigerator-magnet sayings in their heads, suddenly
confident. Look at them, smug in the inevitability of their
wisdom. They'll be loved too. Takes 20 years.
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY DAVID STRICK [overhead shot of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (the younger), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Valerie Nater, Swen Nater, Cash Warren, Mike Warren, Rasheed Hazzard, Walt Hazzard, Nathan Walton, Adam Walton, Bill Walton, Alisha Nater, Marques Johnson, and Kris Johnson standing around John Wooden]
COLOR PHOTO: RICH CLARKSON Unlike his dad, Kareem the younger (42) wasn't hooked on hoops until late in the game. [Kareem Abdul-Jabbar playing basketball next to inset of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (the younger)]
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER (INSET) [See caption above--Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (the younger)]
COLOR ILLUSTRATION: MAP BY ANITA KARL THE BRUINS AND THEIR CUBS 1. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar2. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar3. Valerie Nater 4. Swen Nater5. Cash Warren 6. Mike Warren7. Rasheed Hazzard8. Walt Hazzard 9. John Wooden10. Nathan Walton11. Adam Walton12. Bill Walton 13. Alisha Nater14. Marques Johnson15. Kris Johnson [Key to photo on pages 140-141]COLOR PHOTO: HEINZ KLUETMEIER Kris Johnson (left) found that matching pop Marques would be quite a jump. [Marques Johnson playing basketball next to inset of Kris Johnson]
COLOR PHOTO: PETER READ MILLER (INSET) [See caption above--Kris Johnson]
COLOR PHOTO: RICH CLARKSON Though he was often absent, Henry Bibby (45) passed along Wooden's ways to Mike. [Henry Bibby playing basketball next to inset of Mike Bibby]
COLOR PHOTO: DAVE CRUZ (INSET) [See caption above--Mike Bibby]
COLOR PHOTO: SHEEDY & LONG Despite having teamed with Bird, Adam Walton (44) hasn't flown as high as Bill. [Bill Walton playing basketball next to inset of Adam Walton]
COLOR PHOTO: PATRICK MURPHY-RACEY (INSET) [See caption above--Adam Walton]
COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECK Lucius Allen displayed the Pyramid of Success for scions Bakir (left) and Kahlil. [Overhead shot of Bakir Allen, Lucius Allen, and Kahlil Allen hanging on to rim of basketball hoop]