In a sporting year of extraordinary achievement, the old truths that helped mold the most honored athletes were increasingly under question, oven if their records were not. Three times an All-America player. UCLA Basketball Coach John Wooden, now 62, won his sixth straight college championship, an accomplishment dwarfing anything his sport has ever known. Billie Jean King swept the Big Three tennis championships and. at 29, earned over $100,000 for the second straight year, the only woman ever to do so. Between their respective peaks, there seemed to be a sizable gap. In some eyes, Wooden represented, if not the Establishment, at least some values to be protected to the end, while King stood for the new wave of individualism. As usual, both characterizations turned out to be too snug to be true. Yet here the two of them manage to express philosophies that typify the ongoing debate in sport. For their accomplishments and their symbolic importance, they are jointly named Sportsman and Sportswoman of 1972.
Surrounded by the unmistakable colors and panoply of a college football weekend, basketball's John Wooden and tennis' Billie Jean King met not long ago to discuss their games, their lives and sport. The setting was a quiet room on the UCLA campus, tucked away from the California bustle to which they have both become accustomed. Wooden, a former high school teacher from Indiana, and Ms. King, the daughter of a Long Beach fireman, got on famously. She wore red and lamented what she supposed to be her own gain of weight. He said that his wife's favorite color was red, complimented Billie Jean's slim look and showed pictures of his grandchildren. He spoke of Suzanne Lenglen and remembered once having dinner with Henri Cochet. She said basketball was her favorite sport to watch and declared the UCLA team as her first love, even before it was winning. A baseball fan, Wooden inquired after Billie Jean's brother, Randy Moffitt, who pitches for the San Francisco Giants. Ms. King, in turn, asked about Bill Walton's knees.
Shortly, Wooden (who last week was recovering from a mild heart condition that will cause him to miss a few weeks of the season) was asked what makes UCLA basketball so overwhelmingly successful. "There is no easy explanation," he said. "What we do is simple: get in condition, learn fundamentals and play together. I don't buy the proposition that UCLA has risen above the general level of college basketball. We've been more consistent, come closer to our natural ability more often than others.
"We've had a great run, and each season I can see this certain carryover to the new players. Subconsciously, they are almost afraid to fail. This encourages them to give more in practice and accept some things in the way of discipline that they wouldn't otherwise. I get away with methods other coaches have trouble defining to their players, but I have no delusions. It's not me; it is because UCLA wins that the players don't give me more guff."
Wooden spoke about the college game. "There is room for improvement in several areas of our sport. I advocate the 30-second clock to cut down on inactivity and the stall games. Jump balls should be eliminated, along with the offensive rebound basket. A rebound should be passed off before another shot goes up. This would take away the advantage of the unusually big player, cut down on fouls and make for some pretty play around the basket.
"There are more important changes to be made in college athletics," Wooden went on. "Illegal recruiting is the bane. I know cynics question my stand, but I don't like recruiting. That's why I've stayed at UCLA for a lot less money than I could receive many other places. I can soft-sell in Los Angeles, which I couldn't do in, say, Pullman. Wash. But I'm not in Pullman, and I would never coach there because of that. I say abolish all paid visits of high school players to campuses. Do not permit coaches or representatives of athletic departments to visit a youngster's home. Do not allow sports brochures, halftime introductions for prep players. In short, stop recruiting altogether. A high school athlete can get all the information he needs through academic catalogs furnished by the school. Our universities should stand on their own merits.
"We have a good game," Wooden said, "but there are things like the redshirt and the freshman-eligible rules that leave us open to the pros, who then feel justified in taking away our players. Because of the money Bill Walton can command after his junior year this spring, I would never talk him out of signing with the pros. But I think it would be a mistake; I'd be very disappointed. Had Johnny Neumann or Julius Erving or Spencer Haywood or Ralph Simpson and the rest stayed in school they would be far better off today—better for their maturity, the learning of business sense, the educational values and their entire future. I've told Walton this. It all depends on which week I talk to him whether he thinks he will leave after this year."
Billie Jean King broke in here, wanting to know the difference between amateurs and professionals. "I have trouble interpreting college basketball players as amateurs," she said. "No matter how small it is, if they are given financial aid for excelling at sport, calling them amateurs is incorrect. As an amateur tennis player, whether they gave me $10 or $4,000 under the table, I still considered myself a professional and I didn't like being called an amateur. The amateur ideal is ridiculous; I think finally we have realized that amateurism in the Olympics is a farce. Well, tennis was like that for a thousand years. The word always has been that amateurs play sport for the love of it. Listen, professionals love it just as much, probably more so. We put our lives on the line for sport."
She spoke of women in tennis, of tennis itself. "The crux has nothing to do with Women's Lib. We don't want to compete against men. We just want the opportunity to get into sports programs at all levels. I think there should be more women's golf and tennis teams at the college level so girls could make a choice. The only way I made it in tennis was by chance. My family didn't participate. I wanted a sport where I could still be considered feminine. That hasn't been easy. Hopefully, no longer are we regarded as musclebound, Amazonian jerks.
"The growth of the game has been phenomenal," Billie Jean continued, "but tennis has a long way to go. The game is caught up in tradition, trivia and etiquette when all that really matters is the caliber of play. We need to move away from our clubby, rich and white atmosphere and touch the masses. We need more colors, more noise, a better scoring system and improved officiating.