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Be wary if you call him "Gary"
The Mage of Montlake
By: Richard Linde, 8 March 2004

I remember UCLA fans heckling Gary Payton when he played at Oregon State. A long time ago, we watched him play against Loyola-Marymount University, my wife’s alma mater, his brilliance being quite evident at that time in his young career.

This Huskies’ team spirit and quickness reminds me of the LMU teams led by Hank Gathers and Bo Kimble, then coached by Paul Westhead, the “Wizard of Westchester,” as I called him in a sports-viewpoint letter published in the LA Times.

Westhead sent me a note thanking me for that letter, even though I should have known better then playing a sobriquet off the Wizard of Westwood, John Wooden being an icon in Los Angeles. Besides coaching basketball, Westhead taught a Shakespeare class at LMU and is a fan of wizards and witches you know, “I Come Graymalkan! Paddock calls,” as two of the witches in Macbeth chant, one line apiece. It seemed so natural to call Westhead a wizard.

Hank Gathers, an incarnation of hustle, inspiration and spirit, collapsed during a game with the Portland Pilots on March 3, 1990 at Gerston Pavilion, which is located on the LMU campus in Westchester. He was 23 at the time, and pronounced dead a few hours later.

Westhead’s run and gun offense will always be remembered, while the ghost of Gathers still haunts college basketball.

In LMU’s subsequent games that season, Kimble shot some of his free throws left handed to honor the memory of his close friend, who did the same before, when his charity tosses refused to drop.

Life is so tenuous, unpredictable and miraculous that it deserves better treatment from us all. We should all shoot our free throws in the humbling off hand to honor our creation. Or better yet, watch Mel Gibson's sobering movie, “The Passion of the Christ.”

Denigrating the greats, such as Gary Payton, is like throwing a whisky bottle at Babe Ruth’s memory or a crutch at Lou Gehrig’s. Sometimes this “humor” goes too far and, really, it’s self-deprecating to the defamer, showing a lack of smarts.

As you would guess, likening UW guard Nate Robinson to the undersized, former child actor Gary Coleman has backfired on its protagonists, motivating Nate to jump to higher heights and spirit faster breaks.

We’re referring to the cardboard cutouts of Gary Coleman and the “Gary Coleman” chants rained down on Nate Robinson when the Huskies played Oregon at Macarthur Court early in the season and two nights later when they played Oregon State in Corvallis. The game in Corvallis, which the Huskies won in overtime, was the turning point of their season. After losing their first 5 games in the Pac-10, the Huskies won 12 out of their next 13 conference contests, starting with the win over Oregon State and concluding with a win over number one Stanford.

"You want to call him Gary Coleman? Good," UW guard Will Conroy said to a reporter. "He's going to get mad, and he's going to get his dunk or the rebound.”

It doesn’t matter what Robinson’s height is (5-foot-nine or 5-foot-seven); he can dunk and rebound with the tallest of them. If he has any limitation, it will be that he is too quick and has too much hustle to play in the NBA. “The Lakers are standing around,” the late Chick Hearn used to say. On the hardwood, the ubiquitous Nate was not born to stand around.

A multi-talented athlete, the born-to-fly Robinson can play football, as well as basketball. A member of the 2002 football team, the exciting sophomore bypassed football last year to concentrate on basketball. His father Jacque, who played tailback at Washington, is the only college player ever to earn MVP honors in both the Rose Bowl (1982) and Orange Bowl (1985).

From a selfish standpoint, I would like to see Robinson stay with basketball and forgo football altogether, because along with coach Lorenzo Romar, he’s helped revive Husky basketball. An injury in football could cripple his future.

Practically speaking, to secure his future, Robinson be wary if you call him Gary needs to follow the money trail, weighing the career options of football, basketball or both.

In this competitive society, when a gifted person is allowed to become the best he can be, he motivates those around him to become the best they can be. In 1990, LMU reached the sweet sixteen without Gathers, losing to the eventual NCAA champions, UNLV, in the March Madness tournament.

Fourteen years later, another Cinderella team, the Huskies, belong in the NCAA tournament the RPI ratings being so much BCS.

From above, I'm sure Hank agrees. He must love that Husky spirit and hustle.

----------------

Why not call Coach Romar the "Mage of Montlake?" There I go again.

The photo of Hank Gathers and Bo Kimble is taken from the Los Angeles Loyolan Online, 26 March 2003.

In 1990, LMU was the nation's highest scoring team. From 1985-90, ex-NBA coach Westhead was 105-48 with the LMU Lions. The Lions made it to the sweet 16 by beating highly favored Michigan 149-115, the highest score ever in the NCAA tournament.

Richard Linde (a.k.a., Malamute) can be reached at malamute@4malamute.com

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