Tuesday, November 18, 2008

NBA loses a legend

One thing about David Stern's NBA, it's a marketing machine.

Think about it - names like Kobe, LeBron and Shaq are every bit as recognizable around the world as Britney or Madonna.

Pete Newell's name certainly didn't have the same cachet to the general public but inside the game, he was every bit the legend as any of its superstars.

In the coaching ranks, Newell was best known as the college level. where he spent 15 years coaching at the University of San Francisco, Michigan State and Cal-Berkeley, compiling an impressive 234-123 record and leading the Bears to a national championship in 1959.

In fact he was one of only three coaches to have won an NIT, NCAA and Olympic title, joining Bob Knight and Dean Smith.

But Newell, who spent time as the general manager of both the San Diego Rockets and Los Angeles Lakers in the '70s and engineered the trade that brought Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to Los Angeles, really made his mark in the NBA while running his world famous instructional basketball camp.

Pete Newell was known for running his world famous instructional basketball camps.
The annual camp for centers and forwards, housed in Los Angeles, Honolulu and most recently Las Vegas, was known simply as "Big Man Camp."

Its origins were humble. Newell was working with Kermit Washington, the former NBA player best known for punching out Rudy Tomjanovich in one of the league's uglier incidents. Under Newell's tutelage, Washington's footwork and overall game rapidly improved and more and more big men started to work with him.

Newell and his camp grew to such a level he became known as "The Footwork Master" and it became standard procedure for every single big man of any significance to stop in for tutelage.

The camp's alumni is a who's who of NBA's players that reached over 200, including superstars like Bill Walton, Hakeem Olajuwon and Shaq himself, who called Newell the "best teacher there is" after working with him.

Needless to say, Newell could have made quite the living on his reputation but from the time he opened the camp in 1976 until his death, he never accepted any money for his services.

"I owe it to the game," Newell once said. "I can never repay what the game has given me."

Newell, who was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1979. died at 93 on Monday. He had been in bad health since undergoing surgery in 2005 to remove a malignant lung tumor.

"This is obviously a very sad day for the game of basketball, whether you are associated with the NBA, college or high school ranks," Warriors coach Don Nelson said. "Pete was a great coach and a great man who had the ability to relate to players and people on every level."

Basketball will never find another like him.

Nobody contributed more to the game and its history than Pete Newell.

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