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UCLA-USC rivalry causes divided loyalties in Holmes-Muhammad family

Ron Holmes, a star player on USC's last conference championship basketball team, has learned to root for UCLA because of his son Shabazz Muhammad, a leader for the Bruins.

February 23, 2013|By Chris Foster
  • Ron Holmes (32) played on USC's last conference championship team while his son, Shabazz Muhammad, now stars for UCLA.
Ron Holmes (32) played on USC's last conference championship team… (Los Angeles Times and AFP…)

Ron Holmes is proof that there is nothing a parent won't do for a child.

Holmes' DNA, every bit of it, was telling him to root for USC. He was, after all, a star player on the Trojans' last conference championship team. But he was in Pauley Pavilion last month, pulling for UCLA.

On the court, Holmes' son Shabazz Muhammad was laboring, battling flu and the Trojans.

"I have friends from USC who will just have to deal with this period of time," Holmes said, laughing. "I'm a Trojan. I love the Trojans. But blood is thicker than water."

Muhammad, who received IV fluids before the game, had 22 points and helped the Bruins fight back from a 15-point deficit before the Trojans won in overtime, 75-71.

Holmes checked on his son afterward.

"He was worried how I was feeling," said Muhammad, a 6-foot-6 freshman. "He really wanted us to win."

Muhammad laughed and added, "But I think I did see a smirk."

Sunday in the Galen Center, USC will have a chance to sweep the Bruins for only the sixth time in the last 70 years. A victory by UCLA would put the Bruins back in a tie for first place in the Pac-12.

After the game, father and son will retire to semineutral corners.

"I won't wear blue," Holmes said. "I won't wear a UCLA shirt while Shabazz is in college. But I won't wear a USC shirt either. I will root for the Bruins."

In basketball, anyway.

This was not how Muhammad was raised — at least by his father. Faye Muhammad, his mother, was a star athlete at Long Beach State and when it comes to USC, "my wife's a hater," Holmes said.

She was also outnumbered. Holmes bathed his three children — two boys and a girl — in cardinal and gold.

"Mom called it brainwashing," Muhammad said.

Holmes called it his heritage.

He played at USC from 1981 to '85, and is still the 20th all-time leading scorer with 1,211 points. Holmes averaged 15.8 points as a senior, helping the Trojans to a share of the Pac-10 title, the only conference championship for USC since 1961. UCLA has won eight conference titles since 1985.

"We didn't consider it monumental," Holmes said. "As an athlete, you expect to win championships."

What was monumental that season were the two victories over the Bruins, one that took two overtimes; the other took four.

"That was Reggie Miller's [UCLA] team?" Muhammad said. "That's impressive."

Muhammad has heard little about his father's career. "He's not the bragging type," he said. But Holmes' friends do talk.

"They said he had a pretty good jump shot and could leap," Muhammad said.

What Holmes did brag about was USC, tutoring his sons, Shabazz and Rashad, and his daughter, Asia, in all things Trojan.

"It was ingrained in me," Muhammad said. "All I had in my room was USC stuff." He learned that UCLA merchandise wasn't welcome.

Muhammad bought a Kareem Abdul-Jabbar replica UCLA jersey when he was in the seventh grade. He came home and found the letters "UCLA" cut out.

"I had it two days," Muhammad said. "I have a pretty good idea who destroyed it."

Still, Muhammad absorbed it all and, "When it came down to it, I thought I would go to USC."

That changed between his sophomore and junior years at Las Vegas Bishop Gorman High. By the time he was a senior, he was ranked the No. 1 player in the nation by Rivals.com.

Everyone wanted him. UCLA got him, giving the Bruins the No. 2 recruiting class.

"I knew Coach [Ben] Howland could help me with defense," Muhammad said. "I saw the recruits he was bringing in. I knew we would be a contender."

Muhammad said it was a "family-based choice." But it did alter the relationship between father and son a bit.

So what does a UCLA guy do when the Bruins beat USC in football?

"I called my dad as soon as the game was over," Muhammad said, laughing. "He hung up on me. He was seething. He called back after he cooled down."

Said Holmes: "The Trojans were struggling. He was calling to talk junk to me all year."

It comes with the deeply divided territory.

"Dad's a big-time USC fan, I mean big-time," Muhammad said. "He's all over the message boards. We tease each other."

But Muhammad knows who his dad is rooting for Sunday, even if Holmes won't be doing the UCLA eight-clap.

"He has always supported me," Muhammad said. "He used to hate it when I wore a UCLA shirt. Now he's kind of used to it."

chris.foster@latimes.com

twitter.com/cfosterlatimes

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