"Dwight Chapin and Jeff Prugh are legends, all-time greats," says Bill Walton, managing to sound like he is endorsing a Cadillac dealership.
"He didn't talk to us for a number of years after the book came out," says Prugh.
"The book" was "The Wizard of Westwood", written by Prugh and Chapin in 1973.
Hall of Fame basketball legend Walton was a college student possessing massive intelligence and radical political views. He also held to the mantra of his era: "Don't trust anyone over 30."
Chapin and Prugh were over 30, albeit just barely.
As a kid growing up in Marin rooting for Cal, the A's and the Raiders, "the book" opened my eyes to the outside world. "The Wizard of Westwood" was not just a sports book, but also a book about American society during the turbulent 1960s and early 1970s. It just happened to be written through the prism of UCLA basketball.
It is ostensibly a biography of legendary UCLA coach John Wooden. It is provocative, where Wooden's autobiography, "They Call Me Coach", is vanilla. I recently had a chance to speak to Chapin and Prugh.
"I was going to write a book <I>with</I> Wooden, and he had agreed to," says Chapin. "I was sitting in his office with him and my book agent, and had actually signed the contract. When he had the pen in his hand, he stopped, and said, `No, I think I want to wait until I'm finished coaching to do this.'
"When we started digging deeper into things, we heard that John got scared of what he heard we were going to say, and decided to write his own book."
"Digging deeper" meant going into the subject of Sam Gilbert, an infamous Bruin booster who arranged abortions and payoffs for players.
Did Wooden know details about Gilbert?
As a former Los Angeles sportswriter, I dug into this subject myself. An impeccable source, very highly placed in the UCLA Athletic Department and in a position to know, told me flat out, "Wooden knew. He had to know."
* * *
"I took Bill Walton to lunch at a steakhouse on Wilshire Boulevard," recalls Chapin. "He was so self-conscious about his height then that he insisted we get a table way in back of the restaurant, where it was very dark and we wouldn't be noticed. We talked for a couple of hours, off the record. A few days later, Vic Kelley, the UCLA sports information director, told me he was not going to do any more interviews."
Obviously, somebody "got to" Walton. His natural distrust of authority did not make it hard to convince him to clam up with the press.
"I think Sam Gilbert told him not to talk to us," opined Chapin. "I never talked to him directly again at any point in his UCLA career. Later, when Walton played for Portland, I was at a UCLA-Oregon State game, when I felt a hand tap me on the shoulder. It was Walton, who said, `How are you doing, Dwight?' I said, `Fine, Bill, but I don't have time to talk to you right now.' Amazing that you can't shut the guy up now."
* * *
"UCLA was not insulated from the outside world," says Prugh. "When you stepped on campus you were exposed to all the socio-political cross-currents of that era. Wooden was a man from rural Indiana, and of an older generation, but he had a social conscience.
"Lew Alcindor <later Kareem Abdul-Jabbar> discerned that about Wooden," continues Prugh. "Lew said no white American could know what it is like to be black, but Wooden had as close an understanding of the issue as he could.
"Curtis Rowe said Wooden did not see color, just players. The players of that era were the first to express other than one-dimensional views of the world. Therefore, we no longer saw them as just stats, but as humans with frailties. TV forced newspapers to show us the `how and why.'
When Prugh walked the Berkeley campus during road trips, his short hair made him look like an FBI agent to the Cal students.
The draft was going on, but the UCLA players did not talk about it, according to Prugh, although they were "almost all opposed to the war. From 1968-73, there was mounting dissatisfaction with the way institutions were run. Woodstock was big, Nixon went to China, then Watergate happened.
The radical Walton clashed with his coach in those days. Now he is part of The Establishment and calls him "My hero John Wooden." Chapin and Prugh, meanwhile, represent fascinating windows into the most interesting and important period in American history since the Civil War.
Causes Steven Travers Supports
Conservative, Christian, USC, American patriotism