LA Times: That Wooden Obituary Smear? Sorry!

Sad retraction today from the LOS ANGELES TIMES correcting the obituary of John Wooden that the newspaper published on June 5.

John Wooden

John Wooden obituary: The obituary on John Wooden that ran in Section A on June 5 and in a commemorative section June 13 included information attributed to former UCLA basketball player Andy Hill regarding controversial booster Sam Gilbert.

The article reported that Hill had told The Times that former team trainer Elvin “Ducky” Drake was something of a watchdog for the team, and that Drake had apparently missed what was going on with Gilbert.

Hill says that he did not discuss that with the reporter and that Drake would not have been in a position to do anything to detect Gilbert’s involvement or stop Gilbert from any inappropriate action.

Here’s the passage attributed to Hill in the Wooden obituary:

Sam Gilbert was a former UCLA student and wealthy contractor who opened his Los Angeles home to players beginning in the late 1960s and liked to think of himself as their surrogate father.

In 1967, when Alcindor and guard Lucius Allen were dissatisfied with life in Westwood and thinking seriously of transferring, Gilbert counseled them and was instrumental in persuading Allen to stay.

In a 1981-82 Los Angeles Times investigative series, several UCLA players said that Gilbert had helped athletes in ways that violated NCAA rules.

The improper benefits allegedly ranged from buying players’ game tickets at inflated prices to helping them buy cars and arrange for loans at steep discounts. On occasion, Gilbert also reportedly helped arrange abortions for their girlfriends.

Former Notre Dame Coach Digger Phelps called Gilbert the “Sugar Daddy” of the UCLA program. After the Times series ran, the NCAA placed the team on probation.

None of the violations were tied to Wooden, but the retired coach acknowledged harboring suspicions about Gilbert during the 1960s and ’70s, and former players spoke of Wooden’s see-no-evil relationship with the booster.

Andy Hill, a former guard who later became a television producer and motivational speaker, told The Times that he believed that Wooden relied on longtime trainer Elvin “Ducky” Drake to be something of a watchdog for the team, and that Drake had apparently missed what was going on with Gilbert.

“Among the things Coach Wooden was good at,” Hill said, “was knowing what he didn’t want to know.”

Three days later, Chris Dufresne of the L.A. TIMES wrote a story in the newspaper titled, “The Dark Side of UCLA Basketball.

In reponse to that piece, here’s a letter Hill sent to Dufresne in which Hill notes that he was misquoted in the Wooden obit: Read more…