Thursday, March 24, 2016
Ken Reeves, 1944-2016
Ken Reeves, former UCLA basketball coach and ESPN pundit, died yesterday at his home in Los Angeles. He was just short of his 72nd birthday.
Kenneth Howard Reeves was born on March 28, 1944, in the Bayside section of Queens, New York City. He was the only white player on the basketball team at Andrew Jackson High School, and his black teammates nicknamed him "The White Shadow." While there, he became friends with the 2 pairs of sisters who would make up the music group The Shangri-Las, singers of such hits as "Leader of the Pack."
He went to Boston College, then coached by NBA legend Bob Cousy. Graduating in 1966, he was drafted by the Chicago Bulls, who were about to begin their 1st season of play. He lasted 12 seasons with them, making 3 NBA All-Star Games, reaching the Conference Finals in 1975 and 1976, and resisting lucrative offers from the American Basketball Association to stay in the NBA. A knee injury ended his career in 1978.
He returned to Los Angeles, and was hired as the head basketball coach at George Washington Carver High School, where his former BC teammate Jim Willis was now the principal. Reeves' own background in multiracial, multiethnic basketball helped him relate to his players, who came to hold him in very high regard.
He frequently stepped in to help his players out with the many personal problems that developed in inner cities. He helped budding superstar Warren Coolidge avoid the temptation of agents, Curtis Jackson quit drinking, Milton Reese through a relationship with a lying girlfriend and a transfer issue, Ricardo "Go-Go" Gomez with bad grades and his father's physical abuse, Gomez and James "Hollywood" Hayward with avoiding gang violence, Morris Thorpe in dealing with an STD, and Mario "Salami" Pettrino with the results of an on-court fight.
At one point, during the 1979-80 season, the players got cocky during a winning streak, thinking no one could beat them. So Reeves used his connections to get some old friends to scrimmage against them. In the 1st half, those players totally schooled the Carver players, who promised Reeves in the halftime team talk that they would take the opposition more seriously. In the 2nd half, the opposition wore their regular uniforms: They were the Harlem Globetrotters. The Globies still won, but the Carver players had learned their lesson.
In 1988, still desperate to find a head coach that would restore the school to the greatness it enjoyed under the great John Wooden, UCLA (the University of California at Los Angeles) hired Reeves, the most respected high school coach in the State of California.
He turned the program around, winning the National Championship in 1992 (defeating Duke in an epic Final), 1995 (dethroning defending National Champion Arkansas) and 2001 (defeating Duke in the Final again).
The 2002-03 season was his 1st losing season as a head coach anywhere, and, approaching his 60th birthday, he decided that enough was enough. Working for ESPN, he could travel to the games he wanted to see, and wouldn't have to recruit anyone to do an interview, much less play for him. He became friends with former coaches turned pundits as disparate as Bob Knight and Dick Vitale, who both admired his basketball acumen and his dedication to making college basketball as clean as possible.
Shortly after leaving UCLA, Reeves wrote Natural Coach: How to Relate to Athletes at Any Level. He was married to Maxene Jordan, who in 1982 became the 1st head coach of the women's team at Carver High, leading them to City Championships in 1985 and 1989. He is survived by Max, and their daughter, Dr. Jill Reeves, a medical examiner who studied under famous L.A. coroners Thomas Noguchi and Roger Quincy.
Ken Reeves was played by Kenneth Joseph Howard Jr. The date (but not place) of birth, and the story behind the nickname, were true for the actor as well as for the character. Since the series was canceled in 1981, I made up details for the coach and the team thereafter.
The woman shown in the photo is his real-life 3rd and last wife, Linda. While Reeves was shown dating on the show, there was no mention of whether he had ever been married. So I created a wife and a child for him, based on the 2000s NBC crime drama Crossing Jordan. Max was the name of Howard's character, a Boston cop turned bar owner; Jordan that of his daughter, the title character, a medical examiner, who was played by Jill Hennessy. The Jack Klugman character on Quincy, M.E. never had his first name revealed, only his initial; he was based on Noguchi, although was not Japanese -- that ethnicity was given to his assistant, Dr. Sam Fujiyama, played by Robert Ito.
Jim Harrick was actually the coach who led UCLA to the 1995 National Championship -- in real life, the only one they've won since John Wooden retired in 1975. Duke really did win the title in 1992 and 2001. I have no love for any L.A. team, but, as you may have guessed, I really don't like Duke.
The title of Reeves' book is based on one that Ken Howard published at the same time: Act Natural: How to Speak to Any Audience. Like his most famous characters, Ken Reeves and Thomas Jefferson (he appeared as the Declaration of Independence author and future 3rd President in the 1972 film version of the musical 1776), he was devoted to education, and taught acting at Harvard University. He was also, for a time, the President of the Screen Actors Guild.
Ken Howard died yesterday, leaving behind quite a legacy.