Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The "Waltons" family of basketball

SAN FRANCISC0 –  Memorial Gymnasium on the hilltop campus of the University of San Francisco has been witness to some of the greatest teams and players in basketball  history.

Bill Russell. K.C. Jones. Bill Cartwright. You know them. You know their achievements.

On Tuesday night, Dec. 4, Memorial Gym was host to one of the greatest families in the history of hoops. They are the Walton Family of Basketball and we’re not talking about Bill and Luke et al. You’d considered yourself lucky to know them.

The Lavins come from core values of hard work, team work and generosity, the same depicted in the TV Walton family from the hit CBS show in the 70s.  They came to Memorial Gym to line up behind the St. John’s University bench, behind the youngest Lavin, Steve, now the 48-year-old head coach of the incredibly young Red Storm, on a night that his 82-year-old father, Albert “Cappy” Lavin, was honored at USF.

“I’m pleased that he was honored when all his children were here. It’s been 25 or 30 years since all six children have been in one place at the same time,” Steve said afterward. “I’ve been away at Purdue and UCLA and ESPN. The last time we were all together might have been at a Thanksgiving or Christmas.”

Cap is the patriarch of a family he built to be basketball-sized and Steve, the last of the bunch, was his sixth man off the bench so to speak, a role he played through back-to-back state championship teams at Sir Francis Drake High School.  Cap and Mary had six kids and basketball has connected their 60-year marriage like baskets at both ends of the floor. Cap funded their honeymoon by winning a free throw shooting contest in San Francisco where he was a dribbling legend, a three-time all-city player alongside the likes of his boyfriend buddy, the late George Moscone, former Mayor of San Francisco. The day Moscone was elected in 1975, they passed time by playing pick-up basketball.

Cap was the captain of the first greatest team in USF history, the 1949 National Invitational Tournament championship team, which in that era trumped the NCAA champion in significance. He was so good playing first for Pete Newell and then Phil Woolpert  -- a pair of Naismith Hall of Fame coaches -- that, in 1997, Cap was inducted into the USF Hall of Fame.

That season Steve was in his first full season as a head coach of any kind and it was as a head coach of the most fabled college basketball program of all time – UCLA.  The Bruins came from one win from getting to the Final Four. Imagine that. If his coaching career was baptism by fire, Steve was on planet Mercury.

If was during that time that Cap guided Steve through terrific and tumultuous times, coaching against the legacy of John Wooden. He balanced a sense of purpose with a sense of humor. Yet Cap didn’t advise and comfort his son with the wisdom he learned as a basketball player but with the knowledge he gained as an English teacher, where Cap really made his mark and earned his reputation. He has surrounded himself and his life and his home figuratively and quite literally with literature.

That’s a good thing. There has been more Shakespeare in Steve’s coaching career than unbridled success. Ask them their greatest achievement to date it might be the books they have read or the prostate cancer they have both beaten.

Now Steve has come full circle. His bench coach and consultant at St. John’s is 76-year-old Gene Keady, who gave Steve his first big break in coaching as a graduate assistant at Purdue. Steve may still be young by coaching standards, but he remains forever possessor of an old soul.

So after the halftime ceremony where Mary sat next to Mary II – Steve’s wife/actress Mary Ann Jarou -- Cap, assisted by two of his daughter Rachel’s daughters, was led onto the court to receive a standing ovation, it was only fitting that when Steve returned from his halftime pep talk that, as he hugged his brother John, he passed his dad on a baseline, a metaphor for the foundation of the family and their friendship.

Cap didn’t have a basketball in his hands. He had a book. He was smiling.

“There’s been so much focus on his health that today it probably hit him,” Steve said. “There are so many intersecting lines that he could appreciate in terms of family and basketball.”

 Some place between a Thanksgiving and a Christmas that Cap will never forget.


Blogger Coach James Halm said...

Just plain excellent.

December 5, 2012 at 2:21 PM  

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