"Once, Alisha wasn't talking to me, I was losing communication," Nater says. "I gave Coach Wooden a call. 'Do I force her to talk? What do I do? I'm losing contact with my girl.' Wooden said, 'Don't force it, just love her to death. She'll come around.' And she did."
Nater, who talks to Wooden frequently on all matters, from poetry to basketball, has honored the Wizard in song, making a number of cassettes, including a personalized version of Wind Beneath My Wings, and presenting them as gifts. "I always hear his voice in the background, every day," Nater says. "When I'm driving down the freeway, I'll be thinking of this poem he used to recite." When Nater does think of these things, which is often, he writes them down and submits them to his daughters, whom he has given "life notebooks" for collecting these lessons. His daughters do not think it especially corny.
"It's not just me, though," says Nater. "A lot of guys call him, so many it's not funny. Why wouldn't you call him? He was always helping us be better fathers, all along, if we just listened."
The circle was closed this year when UCLA, with Kris Johnson in uniform and his father, Marques, on the sidelines, won its first NCAA championship since Marques last played, in 1975. The circle was mostly ceremonial, as Kris was injured much of his freshman season and thus prevented from contributing much during the tournament. But still, to see that kind of athletic legacy on so grand a stage was powerful. Twenty years disappeared just like that.
But like the accomplishments of all the Dynasty Kids, Kris's success in basketball was not automatic. If Kris had any desire at all to duplicate Dad, he certainly lacked the physical component. In the ninth grade Kris was, well, fat. Two hundred fifty pounds of baby fat. "He was last in every drill," Marques remembers, "slow and dumpy. My thinking at the time was, This kid's gonna be a great lawyer."
Marques wouldn't have been disappointed if that's how it had worked out. What was it Wooden taught? "Accept your limitations, all you can do is your best, and when it's over you can feel good about yourself." Kris wrote poetry and screenplays. "There's more to life than basketball," says Marques. He even went out of his way to lose to Kris one-on-one when the kid was 11 years old, just to get that out of the way. Father-son relationships are tough enough. The family would probably be better off without basketball, the father thought.
But then Kris decided he wanted to play the game, and play it well. Between his freshman and sophomore years at Montclair College Prep, a small private school in Van Nuys, Calif., Kris worked out, lost weight, gained muscle and dominated his league.
It was about then that he began stumbling across his dad's history. He found some old tapes in the den of their Bel-Air house and, bored, watched a few. "I didn't know he was that good, to tell you the truth," Kris says. "I watched one tape, he scored 35 on Dr. J. Whoa! This guy's legit. And then I was reading this story in SI about Michael Jordan, and there's this picture. He has a poster of my dad in his dorm room. Again—whoa!"
Kris no longer wanted to be just the best player at Montclair. "I sat down with my dad," he says, "and I asked him, 'What do I need to do to be a big-time player?' " His dad made an absurd suggestion: Transfer to Marques's alma mater, Crenshaw High in the heart of Los Angeles. Kris took the advice and prospered, becoming an all-city player and earning a scholarship to UCLA, where the team won a national championship in his first season. The only thing wrong with all that was Kris's disappointment with his own play, plagued as he was by a stress fracture in his left leg. He resolved to do something about his performance. He spent the summer with his mother, Sabrina Sheran, in Atlanta, where she works as a beautician. He bought into her diet and workout program, lost 45 pounds (to 220) and has been the talk of Westwood since fall practice opened. Again—whoa!
Wooden is not even mildly intrigued by the number of Dynasty Dads and Kids. He's had many players who became lawyers and whose kids followed in their footsteps. Almost as many of his players became ministers as became pro players. You get the picture. Looking back on his career, basketball seems the least of it. He knew it would be so. Among the many sayings he appropriated was Amos Alonzo Stagg's: "You won't know how good a coach you are for 20 years."