WEST ADAMS — The Clippers may never again benefit from the basketball knowledge of Mack Calvin, but a group of youths too small to dunk have been inspired by the former USC and professional basketball player.
Disillusioned with basketball after the Clippers did not offer him a job as coach last year, Calvin said he was ready to give up on the sport entirely.
"That was the lowest period of my life," Calvin said. "I was ready to give my heart and soul to the Clipper organization. My love for basketball was taken away from me."
Now, he said, his love for basketball has been reborn, thanks to his work as a volunteer supervisor of the Manchild Program at the First A.M.E. Church in West Adams. The program was founded in 1985 by the Rev. Cecil Murray to provide "strong black images" for at-risk 7- to 17-year-olds.
Calvin, who organizes sporting events and field trips for the youths, undertook the role 18 months ago after the Clipper organization broke the news that he would not be considered as a head coach candidate. Long regarded as an overachieving short man in a big man's game, Calvin said he began to doubt his ability for the first time in his adult life.
But his doubts eased when he began devoting 10 to 12 hours a week at First A.M.E. to youths who needed his help the most and who shared his feeling of despair and helplessness. The youngsters reminded him of the hardships he endured as one of 10 children growing up in the Imperial Courts project in Watts and in the Long Beach area in the late '50s.
"We have lost the young Afro-Americans to drugs and gangs," he said. "It wasn't such a problem (in the '50s) because we had more recreation leaders who served as mentors who pulled us aside and kept us out of trouble.
"I can't say one person can make a difference, but all people should try."
By serving as a role model and a guidance counselor, Calvin said he regained his sense of control and, at the same, contributed to the physical and emotional development of youngsters that is so desperately needed in the inner city.
"Some of these kids are without fathers and positive male role models," Calvin said. "I want to be that person for the kids.
"I came from a depressing, tough situation. These kids gave me a tremendous lift. I want to be someone to look up to."
It was a lesson Calvin learned long ago when he was an aspiring player at Long Beach Poly and Long Beach City College.
Considered undersized by professional basketball standards, the 6-foot- 3/4-inch Calvin overcame several obstacles to become a standout shooting guard. In one of his two seasons at USC, he guided the Trojans to a 46-44 upset win over UCLA in 1969, ending the Bruins' 41-game winning streak.
After being drafted by the Lakers in the 14th round of the 1969 draft, Calvin was offered a bus ticket to the team's training camp. Instead, he opted to sign with the Los Angeles Stars of the old American Basketball Assn., which drafted him in the seventh round.
Fearing he was going to be released, Calvin made his first professional appearance in the second half of the Stars' second game of the season and scored 29 points.
"It was the happiest game of my career," he said. "I knew I was on my way."
After seven years, Calvin went from being one of the lowest- to one ofthe highest-paid guards in the ABA.
Calvin's professional career spanned 11 seasons with several NBA and ABA teams, including the Virginia Squires, the Denver Nuggets and the Lakers. He was selected to the ABA all-star team five times. He scored 12,172 points in his career, averaging 16.1 points.
He was player-coach of the Squires in 1975. He also has been an assistant with the University of Virginia and served four seasons as an assistant under Del Harris of the Milwaukee Bucks. He was named the NBA's top assistant in 1987 and '89 by USA Today.
Still, Calvin has been unable to attain his dream of a head coaching position. His best chance appeared to be when the Clippers fired Mike Schuler in February, 1992, and named him interim coach for two games.
Despite winning both of those games and his popularity with the players, Calvin was passed over in favor of Larry Brown. Brown dropped Calvin as an assistant at the end of the 1991-92 season.
"They wanted to bring in an established coach and a winner," Calvin said. "I was disappointed like anyone would be when Larry Brown got the job. But I was ready to roll up my sleeves and continue to work for him as his assistant."
When he was an assistant with the Clippers, Calvin went to Murray of First A.M.E. for spiritual guidance. A member of the church for 18 months, Calvin also attends meetings with the Rams, a men's group at the church formed to provide moral support.
As supervisor for the Manchild Program, he arranged for nearly 500 youngsters to attend eight Laker games. He also ran a basketball clinic at First A.M.E. with the help of USC Coach George Raveling and former Laker Michael Cooper.