Adam Walton (who has three younger brothers in line, most prominently Nathan, a 6'7" senior at the University of San Diego High who is leaning toward attending either Oregon or Princeton) has not received the tremendous basketball gifts his father was granted. But he has at least heard the same themes of character development. "I know every one of his quotes by heart," says Adam of Wooden, noting especially the Pyramid of Success, the old coach's 15 stacked blocks of principles (cooperation, industriousness, self-control, etc.) that are the keys to maximum performance. "The Pyramid of Success was plastered on all our walls, still is," says Adam. "We'd go visit Coach Wooden's apartment in L.A. The things he said—so brief, so intelligent." And the shoes and socks? "Big Bill brought him over when I was very young to show me how to put them on. I know how to put them on better than anyone."
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar did not bother himself about reproducing a legend. None of the Dynasty Dads were driven to replicate themselves, and in fact, almost all of them went out of their way to make sure their kids never played in their shadows. To be sure, these kids all had advantages; Adam Walton remembers teaming up with Larry Bird in two-on-two games against Big Bill and Nathan in the backyard. ("They beat us every game," says Adam, "because the court was too narrow, and Bird could never get open.") But Abdul-Jabbar went further than others to make his boy's adolescence maddeningly democratic.
The son, also named Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (but not the 2nd, not junior), had to come by his enthusiasm for basketball on his own. The elder Kareem did not encourage him in any way. "I was very careful about that," the father says. "The only thing I ever made him do was martial arts, him and my daughters. He had to gravitate to basketball on his own."
Abdul-Jabbar's early role as father, never mind coach, could be characterized as indifferent. In Los Angeles the son lived apart from his dad for most of his youth, staying with his mother, Habiba Herbert, while the father occupied an Art Deco manse in Brentwood. It wasn't until the boy entered high school that the father took him under his roof and wing.
Even so, the elder Kareem was not a hands-on father. The son practiced at Brentwood High and took a bus home. And then do you think the two had dinner and practiced a few skyhooks together in Dad's custom-made gym? "I never did put a hoop up," says Dad.
"Anytime we worked on basketball," says the younger Kareem, "I had to initiate it. But if I asked him, he'd give me tips about ball handling. He came to some of my games."
The son improved despite this casual inattention, but he never got much beyond 6'3" in height and 18 points and 11 rebounds a game as a senior at Brentwood, which is not a basketball power. Colleges did not come knocking on young Kareem's 7'6" door. The elder Kareem kind of chuckles over this. "He thought he was genetically entitled," he says. But the elder Kareem was a better father than he looked, just as he had been a more driven basketball player than he seemed. "It was something I learned from Coach Wooden," he says, something he may have absorbed back in 1967, as he led his first Bruin team to a title. "Now that I think about it, actually, it's kind of scary how much I learned from him. Most of what I know, what's made me a smart man, has come from him. But the one thing I most remember, and is the hardest to do, is give someone the opportunity to fail. As soon as I became a parent, I acted that way."
After young Kareem's senior year, "when nobody was knocking the walls down to get at him," says his father, something strange happened to him. He developed a work ethic. Young Kareem realized how important basketball was to him and sent himself on a mission. "I made up my mind," he says. "Probably not as soon as I should have, but I made up my mind." Without a scholarship offer, he searched around for schools where he might walk on and get to play. He eventually enrolled last year at Valparaiso, a small Division I school in Indiana, and joined the team, but he was ultimately redshirted. He hopes to play some this year.
The father is ecstatic about his son's development, though not necessarily as a basketball player. "At Brentwood he didn't get one A, not one his whole high school career," the elder Kareem says. "He comes back from Valparaiso, and he's on the dean's list. I'm very happy. I'm very proud."
Many of Wooden's players had longer pro careers than their talents seemed to warrent. Some were genuine All-Stars, of course, but many survived in the NBA on their smarts. They were better coached, better disciplined, better grounded than their rivals. And so they were often more valuable. They just seemed smarter. And as fathers they still put that across. For some reason the Dynasty Dads became level-headed parents, no-pressure guys who downplayed their own careers and never became anxious over those of their sons.