Dear Mr. Izzi,
I know that you are busy in your search for the next UC Irvine men’s basketball coach. After all, this is arguably one of the biggest positions on campus. There have been countless stories of coaches who have come in and completely turned things around for some programs. It’s the reason that we see these major upsets in March Madness. A coach can heavily influence the direction and future of a program.
Of course, you knew all of this already. You are from Stanford University which is arguably one of the best athletic programs in the nation. I know personally that you want to win.
However, looking for a head coach at UCI proves difficult because we are without a rich basketball tradition and we do not have the money to attract the most talented coaches.
I have a solution to your problems. Hire Mr. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Yes, the Hall of Fame Los Angeles Laker, the all-time points leader in the NBA, the six-time NBA Champion and six-time MVP.
Why would Kareem Abdul-Jabbar want to coach at UCI? He can’t land a head coaching job anywhere else.
How can that be, and shouldn’t that be saying something? Abdul-Jabbar has been known to be an introverted individual. During his playing years he often didn’t speak to the press and it lead to his reputation as a cold individual. He was also, however, known for speaking his mind whenever he had something to say. This introverted reputation has been the reason he has been shunned from ever getting a head coaching job.
While these are all legitimate concerns at face value, look further and one will notice that he is a misunderstood man.
In a 2006 Los Angeles Times Lakers Blog interview he says, “It was difficult for me because in college, I was always told not to talk to the press. That was a problem. I had that mindset. And it was hard for me to overcome. It took a long time before I got a grasp of it. And after I retired and had a chance to deal with it, I realized how I had affected people’s lives. I had no idea.”
When asked to elaborate he responded, “I didn’t understand that I also had affected people that way and that’s what it was all about. I always saw it like they were trying to pry. I was way too suspicious and I paid a price for it.”
Can you blame a man with his stature of feeling like he was targeted? A man who came on as a sort of savior in the sport. He was on the cover of Sports Illustrated when he was in high school. No other player had gotten on the cover while in high school until LeBron James came along 36 years later.
As he became more aware of his skin color, the racial slurs he received all the way from his high school coach to playing in glamorous Westwood to the NBA shaped his bitterness and introversion. In his autobiography “Giant Steps,” he traces these experiences and the avenues that helped him cope, grow and understand his situation.
This maturity has shown that he can coach, and he can do it well. He led the 2002 Oklahoma Storm of the United States Basketball League to the championship in his only year of coaching, and has been credited with the development of Andrew Bynum. Unfortunately, his reputation preceded him and he was unable to even land a head coaching position at Columbia University, which was near the bottom of the Ivy League and walking distance from where he grew up.
The first player that comes to mind that has gotten treatment like Abdul-Jabbar is Barry Bonds. While Bonds has been shunned for his use of steroids, Abdul-Jabbar has been shunned just for his misunderstood reputation.
What does UCI have to lose though? Abdul-Jabbar already has all the money he needs, evident by his interest in the Columbia job. He has a desire to coach, and he has shown that he can mentor youth positively.
Imagine Eric Wise or 6-8 Pavol Losonsky with the most unblockable shot in the NBA, the sky hook. Losonsky even has “sky” in his name.
Hiring Abdul-Jabbar would also bring the attention and recruits that UCI has never had. Moreover, more fans in the seats. Why not at least give him an interview?
With all that being said, if the rumors are true, I like that you are using your Stanford connections to court Mike Montgomery’s former staff members, and I know you will make a good choice.
But you could potentially make one of the most surprising decisions in school history after Chancellor Drake chose Mr. Erwin Chemerinsky for the Law school. Chermerinky has built a solid program already at UCI Law. Let’s let one of the most successful, competitive and driven individuals take a shot at reviving our basketball program.