Three have been all kinds of brother acts that have played Los Angeles: Smothers, Menendez, Blues and Marx. Also, Doobie. But the hottest right now has to be the O'Bannons, a pair that has logged more flight time than the Wrights. gotten more airtime than the Gumbels and before the basketball season is over might do better box office in this town than the Quaids and the Baldwins.
The two brothers we're talking about, Ed and Charles, are just college basketball players. But they're filling UCLA's Pauley Pavilion these days with a rare rim-bending, court-shaking excitement. It has been years since Los Angeles got this kind of entertainment value from any brothers save Ringling.
Since the O'Bannons reunited at UCLA this season—Ed is a junior and Charles a freshman—Bruin basketball has been a circus. At week's end UCLA was the last undefeated Division I team in the nation and was about to claim the No. 1 ranking in the polls. Games are selling out, students are camping outside Pauley overnight for choice seats, and coach Jim Harrick is being compared to John Wooden (kidding, joke; this is a circus, not some weird parallel universe).
But as entertaining as the show has been, there are people at UCLA who chafe at the sudden bruins are back headlines—after all UCLA has won 20-plus games in each of Harrick's five seasons—and who try to downplay the O'Bannon factor in favor of team balance. Yet it has been almost exactly 11 years since the Bruins were atop a poll. The fact that they didn't return there until more than 1.3 feet worth of O'Bannons showed up on the same court should not be considered coincidental.
Anyway, who can begrudge the O'Bannons credit for this commotion? Ed, a 6'8" forward who has had to come back from a terrible knee injury suffered before what should have been his freshman season, is leading UCLA in scoring (18.9 at the end of last week), rebounding (7.5) and emotion. In last Thursday's 74-66 defeat of Pac-10 rival Arizona, the Bruins' first win of any weight this season, Ed had 14 points and nine rebounds. And he lent a fierceness to the proceedings that bore little resemblance to his off-court demeanor—as anyone knows who has ever tried to provoke anything as flamboyant as conversation from him. At one point he strode down the court with a ferocious stomp, wagging his hairless head, frightening friends and family alike. "He's two different people," says his father, Ed Sr. "On the court he really goes nuts."
Little brother Charles, a 6'6" forward, was averaging 12.4 points and 6.2 rebounds as of Sunday. He is similarly athletic, playing well above the hoop on both ends of the court, but of the two brothers, he's the yakker and the one more likely to wear a smile. Says his mother, Madeline, "Charles might actually come up and talk to you." That's how you tell them apart.
But besides their being talented, the reason nobody minds the inevitable publicity that comes their way is that they are that rare thing in big-time college basketball: They are totally unselfish. As a result there's something else that's new at UCLA. For once the Bruins are a team whose members like one another.
Radio broadcaster Marques Johnson, who sometimes seems to be at Pauley just to remind boosters of long-ago glory, has seen good UCLA teams more recently than his own national championship gang in 1975, which was Wooden's final year. The 28-5 Bruins of two seasons ago, which featured Don MacLean and Tracy Murray, made it to the final eight of the NCAA tournament. "But in the MacLean and Murray years the players were more stat-conscious," Johnson says. "When Ed O'Bannon got here, it was as if he declared there would be no star on this team. He still gets mad when I call him the go-to guy."
The O'Bannon brand of teamwork, which even Harrick has to admit is sometimes "selfless to a fault" in Ed's case, has allowed the talents of guards Tyus Edney and Shon Tarver to blossom. And surely if the Bruins do fulfill this early-season promise and play strong through the NCAA tournament, it will be because the guards can penetrate and because Harrick's Killer Z's—7-foot center George Zidek and 6'9" backup Rodney Zimmerman—continue to combine for 16 points and 12 rebounds a game. But who really believes the attraction these days is anything but the O'Bannon brothers, dunking and flying and, especially, winning?
That Ed and Charles might play together in college for two seasons, much less play together for Harrick, is an odd confluence of luck—some good and some bad. Even though Ed Sr. had a football scholarship to UCLA back in 1971, neither of his sons seemed destined to play basketball there. Ed, who was selected as the nation's top prep player by Basketball Times in 1990, was headed for UNLV because Artesia High, the suburban L.A. school that both O'Bannons attended, ran the same offense and defense as the Rebels.