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UCLA dynasty film to debut

An HBO documentary looks at the Bruins' 10 basketball titles in 12 years. The issue of Sam Gilbert is addressed.

March 26, 2007|Larry Stewart | Times Staff Writer

UCLA is going to a second consecutive NCAA men's basketball Final Four, but it has a long way to go to approach what the Bruins accomplished during a 12-year period ending in 1975, when they won 10 national championships.

The memories of those UCLA glory days, with Vietnam War protests and the civil rights movement as a backdrop, are brought back in an HBO documentary, "The UCLA Dynasty," which airs for the first time tonight at 10.

The one-hour film includes classic footage and photos interspersed with interviews of dozens of players and others associated with UCLA basketball during that era, including John Wooden.

Lows such as the end of the 88-game win streak in 1974 and the subsequent loss to North Carolina State in a semifinal of that year's Final Four are also included.

HBO does not ignore Sam Gilbert, a wealthy San Fernando Valley contractor who served as advisor and more to many of the players. Gilbert, who died in 1987, supplied goods and services to players and, after an investigation by then-Times sportswriters Mike Littwin and Alan Greenberg in 1981, UCLA was put on probation.

In the film, Wooden describes Gilbert as "an overzealous fan," adding, "He worried me all the time he was going to do something illegal."

Former player Lucius Allen says Gilbert, known as Papa Sam and Papa G, supplied transportation and clothes. "The way he explained it to me it was within the rules," Allen says. "But it wasn't."

The film's narrator, Liev Schreiber, says "The puzzle of Papa G remains the elephant in the UCLA trophy room."

The segment on Gilbert lasts about 2 1/2 minutes toward the end of the film. HBO producer George Roy believes he was journalistically responsible to include it or face criticism.

The late J.D. Morgan was the UCLA athletic director during those glory days, but the only mention he gets is during the Gilbert segment.

The main omission is any current interview with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who was Lew Alcindor when he played for UCLA and started a run of seven consecutive titles in 1967.

Abdul-Jabbar is still a big part of the film, as is Bill Walton. But while the present-day Walton is heard from throughout the film, Abdul-Jabbar is heard from only in old clips because he declined to participate.

"I didn't have time," he said. "I'm working on getting my book out, doing a documentary based on the book and coaching the Lakers."

Abdul-Jabbar's book is "On the Shoulders of Giants: My Journey Through the Harlem Renaissance." Abdul-Jabbar said he is producing the documentary himself, having pitched the project to HBO, which turned it down. Some at HBO believe that may be why he did not agree to be interviewed.

"I have no problem with HBO," Abdul-Jabbar said. "They do great work. I didn't pick a fight with them, but that seems to be what people think. That is definitely not the case."

HBO spokesman Ray Stallone said, "We respect the right of anyone who does not want to be a part of one of our films. We have no problem with Kareem."

Wooden, 96, said after a screening of "The UCLA Dynasty" last week in Westwood that he enjoyed it very much. While addressing a crowd there, Wooden, not prone to being overly emotional, broke down and apologized that he was unable to keep talking.

The emotion of revisiting that glorious era apparently was just a little too much.

larry.stewart@latimes.com

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