April 5, 1971
At first glance you may not recognize the name Steve Patterson, but he's the answer to a high-profile trivia question: Who played center for UCLA between Lew Alcindor and Bill Walton? Patterson earned three NCAA championship rings as the Bruins went 86-4 from 1968-69 through 1970-71, and in his shining moment—his final game for UCLA—he scored a career-high 29 points in a 68-62 victory over Villanova to lead the Bruins to their fifth consecutive national tide. "It's amazing how many people remember that game," Patterson says. "It's the power of the Bruin mystique."
When the 6'9" Patterson was drafted 18th by the Cleveland Cavaliers in 1971, he went from Pauley Pavilion to professional purgatory. He came off the bench for the mostly last-place Cavs and Chicago Bulls until '76.
Patterson was the head coach at Arizona State from 1985-86 until he resigned in February '89. When the Sun Devils toppled the Bruins on a high, arcing buzzer-beater by 5'9" Arthur Thomas over UCLA's 6'7" Reggie Miller at Pauley in '87, "I felt like a traitor," says Patterson. "Coach Wooden was sitting behind the Bruin bench."
In 1996 Patterson became the eighth CBA commissioner in 10 years, joining a league in crisis—the CBA had shrunk from 16 teams to 12, and two more clubs would soon fold. Patterson attempted to give it some stability, but when he tried to boost attendance by offering Lamar Odom, a high school star at the time, a $100,000 contract, he was assailed from all sides. The NCAA saw another threat to the college game, and CBA owners feared that high salaries would wreck their league. Sensing owners wanted to take the league in a different direction, Patterson resigned in '98 even though he had brought in a new franchise for the first time in 12 years.
Today he runs Patterson Sports Ventures, a consulting firm for community and youth sports. He lives in Phoenix with his second wife, Carlette, and three children—her two teenage daughters, Amanda and Sara, and their daughter Makena, 10 months. His sons from a previous marriage, John, 22, and Brent, 21, go to Arizona but don't play basketball.
Patterson, who has also coached boys' and girls' teams, has been a part of basketball at almost every level but says nothing compares to his UCLA experience. "The practices were choreographed like a ballet," he recalls. "The sharp cuts, the sounds of sneakers squeaking on the wood floor, the ball popping, Coach Wooden's voice echoing in the Pavilion, the feeling of harmony—it was as close to perfection as you can imagine."