Everybody lives in dreams and fantasies, no matter what his color, and my vision of UCLA was of an idyllic place where I would play basketball, study, go to an occasional beer bust, stroll arm in arm on the campus with the chicks, enjoy long bull sessions in the dorm with the cats and, in general, live the collegiate life that I'd read about and been promised by all those guys I'd talked to on my visit the April before. I wasn't happy about leaving my parents and my old neighborhood, but I had to face the fact that there was prejudice in New York, and there was a semipermanent riot situation in the Harlem that I once loved. Maybe it was better to get away from all that for a while and go out to California, where people were color-blind and a man could live his life without reference to color or race.
Well, right from the beginning I didn't lack for friends at UCLA. Black friends. My pal Kenneth Kelly had come out to Los Angeles with me; the deal was that he would run for the UCLA track team after a year at Santa Monica City College. He couldn't live in the UCLA dorms, as I did, but he found quarters nearby in a fraternity house, and we were together all the time. My roommate in the dorm was Lucius Allen, a very outgoing happy guy and a genius with a basketball, who played on the freshman team with me. Lucius never exhibited any racial prejudice toward me. Of course, Lucius is also black.
I quickly discovered that there is no special breed of people called Californians, with their own culture and background and attitudes. I discovered that most Californians came from other places, where racial prejudice abounded, and some of these Californians had the same feelings about race as their friends back home. To these bigoted people, deep down inside, I was nothing but a jive nigger. Oh, they'd try to overcome their feelings. Once in a while one of them would get up the courage to engage us in conversation, but it was hopeless. Many of these people could not relate to a black man. I realized very quickly that my attempt to outflank the racial wall had failed. I'd first observed the wall at St. Jude's in New York, and now I knew that it extended all the way from Jones Beach to Santa Monica. There was no way to outflank it.
There also seemed to be a special art form in California: the art of seeming to like people that you really don't like. It wasn't long before I realized that certain cats who hated my guts were giving me the big Pepsodent beachboy smile and saying, "Hello, how are you?" The intensity of the smile and the greeting would never vary, even when I was hearing stories about how much they disliked me. I never could get with this kind of behavior. Back in New York City, you knew who liked you and who didn't. You knew where you were. But in California I felt like I was in the middle of the ocean on a raft.
November 3, 1969
Of course, we were rubbing elbows with whites all the time at the dorm—that was unavoidable—and those kids would do things that I could not believe. Their idea of fun was to flood the floor, take off all their clothes and slide along the tiles bare-butt. Oftentimes they would chase each other down the halls, goosing. They were very big on goosing. I'd just stand there and watch and try to take it all in and understand. But I couldn't understand. Kids around me 20 and 21 years old acting like infants. Wow! And I said to myself that I had to come all the way to California at the age of 18 to find out that I was a very old person. I was very much aware that certain Americans were suffering from hunger and cold and deprivation, and I took all this seriously. Less than a year earlier in Harlem I had watched people shooting, looting, screaming, stealing, trying to kill one another, trying to kill the cops, in a great upheaval of rage and frustration. This meant something to me. But the most amazing thing about these kids sliding all over the tiles was that right here in Los Angeles, just a few months before, something had happened that should have tightened them all up. The Watts riot had taken place. And not only did it mean nothing to most of these kids, but most of them were not even aware that there were hungry people in East Los Angeles. They didn't know because they didn't care to know. They were juveniles, children, babies. I just couldn't warm to people like this, and since they weren't all that crazy about me, I stayed primarily with the black brothers.
Pretty soon I began reading in the local press that I was eccentric. Maybe I was. One thing that frosted the sportswriters was an order by the athletic director, J. D. Morgan, that no member of the freshman basketball team could be interviewed. The press interpreted this as my idea—it wasn't—and after a while they tried to make a career out of sticking it to me. They had expected me to be Stepin Fetchit, and when I turned out to be Lewis Alcindor, then I had to be weird, eccentric, surly. Well, I did my best not to be surly, but sometimes those people at UCLA put me to the test. I hadn't been on the campus three days when Kenneth Kelly and I were walking and heard these white cats talking behind us. One of them said, "Hey, is that Lew Alcindor?" And another guy said, "Yeah, that's him. He's nothing but a big—." I turned around and started wolfing at the guy, and he just strolled off. I wanted to go snatch him, but Kelly talked me out of it. He said we hadn't been on the campus very long; we'd better cool it. There were a lot of incidents of that nature.
Another thing that bugged me was the way the kids seemed to think that they could make any comments they wanted about my height. Now don't get me wrong; I've never been touchy about being tall. I like being tall. The chicks like it; the fans like it. It's fun being this tall. The problem is on the short people. It bugs them no end. They get all disturbed when they see me. They get messed up; I'm not messed up. But I do get bored with hearing about it all the time. Once in a while something does happen that's truly funny, and then you just have to laugh about it. Annoyed as I was by these kids at UCLA, I had to laugh when I found out that a boy and a girl had been tripping on LSD in the lounge of the dorm, and when I came in the door they studied me up and down and decided I must be part of their trip!
It wasn't very long before I fell in with a little group of cats that kind of stood together. Kelly was one of them. Edgar Lacey turned out to be a very thoughtful, sensitive brother, and he was one of us. Sometimes we'd talk with Lucius, but he was still in that stage of trying to get along with the whole world, and Mike Warren was still busy being the great lover, so mostly it was me, Kelly, Lace and a good friend named J. J. Johnson. J.J. was a very heavy brother, very heavy. He was carrying close to a straight 4.0 average, and he's doing the same right now at Harvard Law School. J.J. was proud and glad to be black, and angry at anybody who didn't dig him and his pride. We hit it off right away; he'd take me home and have his mother feed me the real home cooking, and without his comradeship and moral support I would not have made it through the freshman year at UCLA.
The thing that I enjoyed the most was our bull sessions after class. I had just finished reading Alex Haley's The Autobiography of Malcolm X, and I was full of serious ideas. I could see the whole transition of the black man and his history. And I developed my first interest in Islam, not Elijah Muhammad's private Islam, but the real Islam, the religion of half a billion people on earth. Me and Kelly and Lace and J.J., we'd walk straight up into the mountains and then sit up there and talk about things like Malcolm X and black pride and Islam. Malcolm X became my star to follow, and I've followed that star ever since. That same year, J.J. put me onto books like Autobiography of a Yogi, and I learned about the third force in the world and the rising tide of black nationalism. I read LeRoi Jones' poems and plays. My head was filled with things, spinning with new ideas. That's the real purpose of a university, not so much to teach you as to get you to teach yourself. UCLA was doing this for me, but it was only because of people like J.J. and a few other black brothers. What an irony.
One Sunday morning I woke up and realized that I hadn't been to Mass since coming to the Coast. All my life I'd been a practicing Catholic, and now suddenly it was over, and I had no regrets whatever. In my mind, I became an apprentice Muslim, reading everything I could get about Islam. The Qu'ran. The sayings of Mohammed. The histories of Islam. The Bible had no further meaning for me. The Bible and its teachings had produced all these hate-filled people that I saw in Los Angeles. It seemed to me that there was nothing in the world as unlike Christ as Christians.
As far as basketball was concerned, it was a weird scene but not unpleasant at all in that freshman year. The only bad thing about it was that we won every game and we were expected to, and that can get to be a drag. We beat the varsity by 15 points, and they had been national champions the year before! But no wonder we beat them. Coach John Wooden and his assistants had done a fantastic recruiting job. On that freshman team we had Kenny Heitz, Kent Taylor (who later transferred to Houston), Lynn Shackleford, Lucius and me. With a team like that, how could we lose? To tell the truth, I was learning nothing on the court—it was all too easy. We actually beat one team by 103 points.
I think the athletic department realized very quickly that I wasn't getting any better in competition like this, so they hired Jay Carty to work out with me and teach me something. Jay had starred at Oregon State; now he was studying for a doctorate at UCLA, and he was happy to take the part-time job of teaching me something. He was 6'8" and he had great moves, and he used to pound my tail in one-on-one games. He'd try to psych me and rattle me, to prepare me for the varsity games that were coming, and he didn't hesitate to give me the elbow or the knee, because he knew they were coming, too, and he was so right. He didn't think I was in very good shape—he said I needed hardening—and he chalked a line on the backboard 18 inches above the basket and made me jump up and touch it 10 times a day with each hand. Between working with Jay, and learning to play with the other guys on the freshman squad, I can't say that my first basketball season at UCLA was unpleasant—on the court.
At Christmastime I went home for vacation. Never in my life was I so eager to get to New York. We played a game on Friday night, and I was to leave the next morning at 9. I went back to the dorm, got dressed, packed and sat up all night. That's how excited I was.
The trip back to New York did me good, refreshed me, and I came back to UCLA in a better mood. I decided to give the interracial bit another chance, to try to blend with people and maybe exchange a few ideas. I also decided that I would enjoy some dates, and at UCLA that pretty much meant going out with white girls. There are black girls on the campus, sure, but they are in outer space somewhere. They are superconscious of the fact that they're black chicks making it in a white world. They play their roles as firsts: regular Aunt Jemimas. So I dated a white girl who lived in the next dorm a few times. And the sky came crashing down!
When I started dating this girl, we talked it over and we knew that we would have to be very discreet. We couldn't roam all over the campus holding hands. We couldn't make the scene at the cafeteria as though we were going steady. We couldn't go out to public things like the movies or places where they played jazz. We knew all this. We weren't flaunting our interracial friendship; we were just a chick and a cat who dug each other and enjoyed each other's company. But word got out, because a few times I called on her at her dormitory—what could be more respectable than that? The first thing I knew, these white cats would come up to me and say, "Hey man, I hear you're going with...." And I'd say, "I see her once in a while." And another guy would say, "What's this I hear about you and...?" You know, they were acting as though they just had a perfectly normal interest in the girl that I was dating, but up to now they hadn't had any interest in me whatever, so why all this sudden attention to my love life?
But that was nothing compared to what her group was putting on her! Anonymous callers would tell her she was a nigger lover. Her friends would ask her to sit down and discuss the subject heart to heart, and the first question would always be, "Are you sure you know what you're doing, dating a colored person?" A few of the more direct ones would say, "How can you do something like that?" And a few others cried over the tragedy of it all.
Man, it just became too big a pain, so I called her up and told her to forget it. I wasn't in love with the girl; I just liked her. I don't know if she was in love with me or not, but I do know that she liked me. I know that it upset her quite a bit when we had to break up. She was a nice girl; she was pleasant company and she was color-blind. But our friendship certainly wasn't worth having both our lives wrecked by all this pressure, so that was the end. I hated to see her hurt. She's married now, and I hope she's happy.
There were many lonely nights after that. Basketball season was over, and there wasn't a single thing to do except rap with the brothers, and that can get a little old when you've done it for 30 or 40 nights in a row. I got more and more lonely, and more and more hurt by all the prejudice, and finally I made a decision. Ever since childhood I had had this ability to draw into myself and be perfectly contented. I had to. I had always been such a minority of one. Very tall. Black. Catholic. I had made an adjustment to being a minority of one, and now I said to myself that I was going to go back to that policy. It was not necessary for me to cross the color line; my ego didn't need it. Instead, I would draw my pride from the black people, from Islam and the race of brothers. So I pushed to the back of my mind all the normalcies of college life: dances, mixers, chicks, parties, and I dug down deep into my black studies and my religious studies. I withdrew into myself to find myself. I made no further attempts to integrate. I was consumed and obsessed by my interest in the black man, in Black Power, black pride, black courage. That, for me, would suffice.
UCLA alumnus Mike Frankovich helped me get a job with Columbia Pictures' Screen Gems in the summer after my freshman year, and that was a good deal. I was sort of an apprentice in the music department, learning the music-publishing business, and the office was in New York, so I could live at home and stash away most of the bread I made. At the end of the summer I paid $1,100 for a 1958 Mercedes, and that made life slightly easier in Los Angeles, because it's the kind of place that to get anywhere—even the drugstore—you've got to drive five miles. I decided not to go back to the dorm for my sophomore year—I couldn't stand any more of those kiddies' games they played there—and Edgar Lacey and I took a small apartment in Santa Monica. Lace was a junior that year, but he had to lay out because of a knee injury. Another of our good players had to lay out, but for a different reason. Mike Lynn had gotten in some credit card trouble, and the athletic department disciplined him by not letting him play his senior year. Until then, Mike had had the typical white-American attitude. He didn't run around calling people nigger or anything like that, but you could see that he definitely thought in a stereotyped manner. But when he got into trouble with the law and with the school, he became sort of an outcast, and it shaped him up fast. Now he knew what it was like to be barred from the Establishment, just like a black athlete; overnight he had become a minority race, and so he kind of drifted toward our little black group, and we got to know him well. He turned out to be a real man. He learned fast, and he lost his prejudices almost overnight. Mike Lynn is a great object lesson in how fast a white man can see the truth, provided he will listen.
That sophomore year was my most pleasant year in terms of basketball, and my most miserable year in terms of social life. Let's talk about the basketball first. We were automatically supposed to win the national championship, but there's a big difference between predicting such a thing and going out there and doing it. We were four sophomores and a junior, Mike Warren, and it didn't matter how good we had been the year before; we still had to learn to work together as a varsity team and meet some teams that were not exactly slouches, either. So the sports handicappers might have felt that the season was over before it started, but we players had plenty of doubts and misgivings, and we really worked hard. We worked so hard, in fact, that we might even have been overtrained for the opener. We beat Southern Cal 105-90, and I hit 23 of 32 shots and 10 out of 14 at the foul line for 56 points, a new UCLA record. That was one of the last times in my career that a team played me man-to-man. In our next game, Duke put three big men on me, and I didn't even get to take a shot for the first 7½ minutes of play. It was like being in jail, with all those arms and legs around me. But of course the antidote for that kind of poison was very simple; I just passed off to the men who were left in the clear, and we won the game 88-54. I only scored 19 points, but I wasn't at UCLA to score points. Duke was ranked seventh in the country then, and when we came back in the second game of the series to beat them 107-87, with me getting 38 points, their coach had a lot of nice things to say about me, which I appreciated very much. He said, "With him in there, you simply can't play your regular brand of basketball."
As it happened, we had no special problems during the season. The routine went about the same: if they surrounded me with players, I would pass off to guys like Lucius and Ken Heitz and Lynn Shackleford, guys who could shoot you out, and we would have an easy time. If they didn't surround me, I would take a few shots myself. I hit for 61 points against Washington State for another school record, and I finished the season with an average of 29 points a game and 15.5 rebounds. My shooting average was .683. As far as basketball was concerned, I was satisfied.
In the NCAA tournament at Louisville, we came up against Houston and Elvin Hayes in the semifinals, and everybody was talking about the personal rivalry between me and Elvin as though it were the presidential race or something. To tell you the truth, I was aware of the rivalry—we had both collected a lot of publicity during the year—but I didn't go out on the floor with any idea of outdoing Elvin. The idea, as always, was to win. Houston was all over me from the opening tap, and it was easy to see that their strategy was to make me foul out early. I got a lot of pushing and shoving in that game, but that was routine. It didn't bother me, and I didn't commit more than one or two fouls in return.
When they saw that this approach wasn't going to work, Houston put Elvin to psyching me. "Watch this!" he'd say when he got the ball, and he'd tell me when we were close together how they were going to show us how to play the game. That's fine; psyching is part of sports. I did manage to block about five of Elvin's shots, including his dunk, and once or twice I made him walk with the ball, but overall Elvin had a good game, a fine game, statistically a better game than I had. However, we had won: 73-58. Then we beat Dayton in the finals, in one of those games where they paid too much attention to me, and Mike, Lucius and Shack shot 'em dead from all over the court.
Later on I read in SPORTS ILLUSTRATED how Elvin had criticized me after the semifinal game. Elvin said: "He's not aggressive enough on the boards, particularly on offense. Defensively, he just stands around. He's not at all, you know, all they really put him up to be." I was a little disappointed in Elvin after I read those sour grapes. We had hung around together for a few minutes after the game, and I'd thought that we were friends. But what I didn't realize till later is that Elvin has this big ego thing going. It messed up his mind to lose like that. So he had to tell everybody how lousy I was. I just told myself that Elvin was doing his thing; my thing was to keep quiet and play the best I could, which is what I did.
But I also found out that year that keeping quiet isn't always the way to become popular. I hadn't come to school to be elected Queen of the May. And I hadn't come to school to spend my time buttering up the press, either. In fact, I very rarely granted an interview, for a number of reasons. An awful lot of people wanted to interview me, and if I let one, I'd have to let them all. The few times that I'd talked briefly to members of the press, they had twisted my words and made me look stupid. I remember one popular sportswriter, a guy who is very clever with words. I forget how it happened, but one day I allowed myself to be drawn into a conversation with him for 15 or 20 minutes. We had a good talk, a pleasant and interesting talk. I told him how I had been reading about the life of Malcolm X, and he seemed very interested in that. I told him how I felt about a lot of things, and how I felt that racial hatred, whether white for black or black for white, was going to destroy America if it wasn't curbed. So he jotted all this down and walked away. Sometime later he ran an article that said that I was eccentric and surly and that I should be given a one-way ticket back home to New York City. I realized right then why he had started talking to me. He had been looking for something negative to write, and when I didn't give him anything negative, he just unloaded this big bunch of smart remarks.
Not long after that, Lucius Allen and I developed a new way to pass the time. We'd sit around and talk about all the places we could have gone instead of UCLA. I'd had more offers than Lucius, but he'd had plenty, too, and now we were mired at UCLA with all those cracker kids. I spent hours daydreaming about the schools right in the New York area that I could have gone to. NYU, for example. But here I was. Trapped. Because if I transferred now, I'd have to lay out a year, and I didn't want that.
Well, one night Lucius and I said the hell with it, we were through with UCLA; we were going to leave at the end of the year. I was going to go to Michigan, and Lucius was going to go to the University of Kansas, in his home state. The governor had written Lucius a letter that led him to believe that he would live in a gilded cage on the KU campus. As for Michigan, I remembered how nice it had looked when I'd visited there in my senior year of prep school, with all those trees at Ann Arbor and a representative enrollment of black and white kids. I figured I would be able to relax and enjoy myself socially for the first time in my college career. So it was decided. Lucius and I would spend our junior years elsewhere.
But you know how those things are. The decision to quit lets off some of your steam, and pretty soon you realize that you'll just be damaging yourself by laying out a year. It's like a guy who takes a lot of stuff from the boss, and he goes home and says to his wife, "That did it! I'm quitting tomorrow!" And when tomorrow comes, he finds he's not mad anymore. So Lucius and I didn't go. We just said to each other that we would pretend UCLA was a job, and stick it out on that basis, the way a bricklayer gets up and goes to work in the morning.
I'll tell you how I felt inside, though. When the school year was over, I put on an African robe and got into my car and headed home. I was shaking with excitement when I saw the New York skyline. I thought I'd never make it to the house. Then I walked inside, sat down on the sofa and, for some reason, I started to cry. I still don't know over what.
That summer I really did my thing. Emmette Bryant and Freddie Crawford, both with the Knicks then, and I went around the ghetto districts of New York talking to the kids about basketball and demonstrating a few shots and moves. I can honestly say that this kind of work gave me more reward than anything I'd ever done before. The money was pretty good, too. We were paid by the New York City Housing Authority—but the looks on some of those kids' faces when we showed up and began talking to them made it worth three times the salary. When the summer was over, I felt renewed and ready for Los Angeles again.
The big events of my junior season were the two games with Houston, but before I go into those games I've got to make a few things clear. In the first place, I am going to tell it exactly like it is, and to do that I am going to have to defy a couple of unwritten laws about sports. One is that above all you must be modest; you must underplay your own achievements and keep pointing out over and over again that it was your teammates who did the job. Another rule I'm going to violate is that you never make excuses. When you lose, it's always because the other team is better. They outplayed you. They were sharp and you were dull, and they deserved the victory, and all that baloney. Those two unwritten laws are responsible for more distortion and more confusion about sports than any two things I can imagine. They were also responsible for the University of Houston enjoying a brief reign as No. 1, when the simple fact was that UCLA was the best basketball team in the country, and when all the results were in we had proved it conclusively.
Eight days before the first game with Houston, I scratched my left eyeball in a game against California. Now a scratched eyeball may not be much of a problem for a guitar player or a well digger, but it's a disaster for a basketball player. The whole game is based on depth perception and visibility, and when one of your eyes is giving you two blurred images instead of one clear one, you might as well stay in bed and turn the job over to somebody else. But I'm only human. I wanted to play in the Houston game in the worst way, because I honestly thought that, blurred eye or not, the team needed me, and the team would win with me. I was wrong. Nor was it only the blurred images that got me. The fact is, I was suddenly out of shape for the first time in three years. I had missed games against Portland and Stanford. For three days I had been in bed in a dark room, wearing a black patch on my bad eye. And on the other days, I had not been able to work with the team. When the game started on that famous Saturday night in Houston, I felt exactly as I had felt 10 years before when I played my first game on a full court. It was like playing basketball on a football field. The game wasn't five minutes old before I was exhausted, and I played like it. I wound up shooting four for 18 from the floor, the first time in my college career that I had shot under 50%, and the rest of our guys weren't much better. Our whole game was more or less built around me—that may sound immodest, but I told you I wasn't going to be modest—and with me moping around the floor like a sick heifer and having visibility problems besides, who were we going to beat? Certainly not a team with players like Elvin Hayes and Don Chaney.
So with all this going for them, how many points did they beat us by? Two! With everything going for them but the kitchen sink, they beat us 71-69. Which was all right. You can't win 'em all, ha ha. Every team has an off night, we'll get 'em later and all that jazz. I understood all this. I was mad, but I could stand it. We were still No. 1. Surely that must have been obvious.
But it wasn't. Immediately the AP and UPI polls showed Houston No. 1 and UCLA second. To people, Houston had beaten UCLA; ergo, Houston had to be better. Even SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, which ought to know better, wrote: "Houston became the nation's top team, beating UCLA." We didn't think Houston became the top team at all, even though they'd chopped off our 47-game winning streak. We thought it was quite obvious why they'd beaten us, and it had nothing to do with who was better. But we couldn't say so. The eye injury was played down. My lack of court hustle was played down. And the fact that Coach Wooden left me in the whole game when he should have taken me out after five minutes—well, I didn't see that written anyplace. And it was the reason we lost! I stank up the joint; I was the worst player on the court, but out of some misguided feeling of loyalty or confidence in me, the coach let me stay in and blow the ball game. I thank him for his confidence, but on that occasion it was misplaced.
My eye got better quickly, and we went ahead winning ball games again and Houston stayed undefeated and on top of the charts while all of us guys on the UCLA team just lay in the weeds for them. We knew we were going to get them again in Los Angeles, and we knew we had something to prove. It was an odd situation; you might suppose that we talked for hours about what we would do when we got them and how important the return engagement was and stuff like that. But, in fact, we hardly even talked about the game. There was no need. We were quiet about it; we all knew what we had to do. The only thing I did to keep myself in the right frame of mind was cut a cover out of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED and paste it in my locker. It showed Elvin shooting a basket over my head in the first game.
We were still quiet in the locker room before the game. There were no speeches about winning one for the Gipper. We opened with a diamond and one, an arrangement that Assistant Coach Jerry Norman had worked out the week before. We had Mike Warren out on the point with Lucius and Mike Lynn at the sides of the foul line going to the corners, and me underneath. Shack had Hayes man-to-man, and Shack and I were responsible for closing off the inside. The game had hardly started before I found myself under the basket and I felt this gentle nudge in the ribs and heard a voice say, "Man, we're gonna beat you! We're gonna beat you bad!" So I knew I was in the presence of Elvin Hayes, master psychologist, plying his trade as best he knew how. I said nothing. I was too busy.
Well, I won't belabor you with the details. We all played well, and Shack played great. Elvin scored five points in the first half and five in the second. We won the game 101-69, and it could have been worse. Yes, a lot worse. People think we poured it on to prove that we were No. 1, but by the time the first half was over we lacked the incentive to pour it on. We knew the game was won, and we sort of lost our rhythm and our drive. It didn't matter. Anybody with eyes in his head could see how much better we were than Houston. Evidently Elvin knew. When he came out of the game he dropped down on the bench and wrapped a towel around his head so nobody could see him. I told you earlier that Elvin has this big ego thing going; that's probably one of the reasons he's such a great player. This loss to us must have been an awful blow to him. I know that Elvin disappeared after the game, and nobody saw him for a few days. The press kept looking for him for a comment on the game—he'd always had plenty of comments before that—but Elvin was unavailable.
I had brought an African robe to the game, carefully hidden away in my bag. It was the loudest piece of goods anybody ever saw, with big swirls and stripes in red, orange and yellow, and it came to just below my knees. When I wore that, you could see me a mile and a half off. But I couldn't wear it to the game, because Coach Wooden would have blown his top, so I just put it away in my locker. After the game, I didn't care what anybody thought. I had always wanted to show my pride in things black, and in the general exhilaration of beating Houston, I just hauled out the robe and put it on and walked right out of the locker room as big as life. Coach Wooden saw me, and all he did was smile. My mother saw me, and she said, "My God!" And my father gave me a funny look. But after I explained to them why I was wearing the robe, my mother said, "O.K., that's cool," and my dad said he understood. They both knew I had my own way to go. Some people thought I was just trying to be a hot dog, to show off in the robe, but it wasn't that way at all. It was my way of saying I'm black and I'm proud of being black and here it is, man, you can take it or leave it. This is me.
Alcindor's stormy senior year, in which he becomes a Muslim, boycotts the Olympics, leads UCLA to another title and joins the pros.