“To be, or not to be? That is the question. Whether tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.”
If Hamlet thought fifteenth century Danish politics was tough, he should have tried coaching basketball at UCLA. Pleasant enough place, conveniently located between Santa Monica Beach and the Bel Air gate. Nice weather, good pay, great facilities. Recruiting? C’mon. NBA GMs know that a couple years in Westwood is resume enough for a multi-million dollar bonus, so the blue chippers just sign on the dotted line. As if that was their real motivation. Some kid from the gritty streets of South Philly takes a look at those phee-nom coeds, and Villanova just lost out on the local power forward.
Steve Lavin, Sir Francis Drake High ’82, son of San Francisco, not to mention the son of former USF captain and Hall of Famer Cappy Lavin, has adapted to being the seventh successor to the Wizard and dealing with the “Media Mecca” of LA. Lavin spoke last week at the Olympic Club’s annual basketball dinner. The club has one of the best recreational leagues in the country, filled with ex-pros and college stars, and Lavin entertained them with some hard-hitting conversation. He understands that UCLA is not like others schools.
“Ben Braun does a great job at Cal,” Lavin says of the Bears’ coach, “but he can go to the NIT, have a losing year, and keep his job long-term. I’m in a high-risk, high-reward job where I recruit pampered, spoiled, high-maintenance stars, but if I don’t get that kind of guy I’m out of a job, lop-chop. If Cal keeps getting guys like Jamal Sampson and Sean Lampley, though, they’ll be good. It’s win big or your out at Westwood.”
Lavin is fond of saying that he handles the pressure because he “has great parents, and it’s not life or death.”
To be, or not to be? Lavin has been forced to contemplate his existence more lately than he would like. It turns out that it might just be life or death. He has had to deal with death threats and extortion from not one but two crazed UCLA “fans.”
“I just figured it was some kook,” says Lavin, “until the death threats started to involve my Dad. That’s when I hired a lawyer to look into it. He was saying things like, `Bump off Steve, then Cap,’ and `Cap Lavin’s not welcome in Pauley Pavilion.’ He was a stalker, too. Somebody else said I’d die if I didn’t quit within five years.”
Apparently, the identity of one of the Internet terrorists became known when law enforcement, including the FBI, went into the LA Times’ archive of email letters (most of which are never printed). They traced vociferous email demands for Lavin’s firing, linking the emails to the chat room person. He turned out to be a Pasadena resident.
“It’s the New Frontier of sports media,” says Lavin. “Chat rooms. Talk radio. You have to understand the `King Lear’ nature of Tinsel Town sports. Print journalism is now `gotcha journalism.’ Everybody feels entitled to anything and everything. It’s Machiavellian stuff.”
Lavin talks like this because he was raised by a Renaissance Man. Cap taught English at Drake for 43 years. Sports should not be like a Shakespearean tragedy, however. Sometimes, though, real life does interfere with the fun and games.
Bernard Malamud’s “The Natural” was based on Philadelphia first baseman Eddie Waitkus, who was shot on the field by a female “admirer.” All-time slugging great Henry Aaron endured death threats while chasing Babe Ruth’s record. Reggie Jackson did some of his best World Series work while the FBI kept their eye on the stands because of a letter threatening to kill him.
“Two guys are behind bars for 12 months,” says Lavin, “but I can’t give out actual names because there’s an ongoing lawsuit. <UCLA Athletic Director> Peter Dalis said that what was happening was `clearly extortion,’ and the guy then came back at us with a defamation of character suit, claiming that he was called an extortionist.”
Is this akin to Gray Davis suing because somebody called him a politician? Right now, the best advice for Lavin is the one Cappy has told him since childhood: “Keep praying, don’t stop rowing.”
Causes Steven Travers Supports
Conservative, Christian, USC, American patriotism