Both Farmer's basketball and discipline are from way back. Denver. Smiley Junior High, to be precise. In the ninth grade Farmer kept getting whistled for three-second violations because he didn't understand the rule. Confused, he simply made himself stay out of both foul lanes, and he played the game that way. Later, basketball-vied with the military. "I was a lieutenant colonel in the Army ROTC, battalion commander, second-ranked guy in the state," Farmer says. "I loved the regimen, the order. Most ROTC guys were considered quiffy, but I was an athlete, too. I loved my uniform. I made up excuses so I could wear my uniform on more days. I loved a spit shine, polished brass, all of that. And the parades! I'd be out in front of everybody marching along—the commander. My staff was behind me and 300 guys behind them. Yeah. I loved it. In those days, for me it was James Brown, the Temptations, then John Philip Sousa. I loved my uniform so much I wore it to register for the draft."
Farmer received an appointment to the Air Force Academy, but he decided not to go, preferring basketball to the Vietnam war. Ultimately, of course, he chose UCLA. Stylish haberdashery, knickers and Oleg Cassini hats—"The gangster look," Farmer remembers—replaced his dress greens. For better or worse he has been in Westwood just about ever since, fairly wallowing in UCLA tradition.
One would not be surprised if by now Bruin blue courses through his veins in place of the real stuff. "We don't have that UCLA attitude yet," he will say. Or: "I hate it when our practices get sloppy. It's so untraditional."
"I think Coach Wooden liked me so much because of that attitude," Farmer says. "I also listened to him all the time. It was like I was in class taking mental notes. I memorized all the drills. And the details. Coach Wooden had one time period devoted to how to tie our shoelaces so they would never slip. You start late the way I did and you have to listen to what everybody says. Plus, I wasn't exactly gifted.
"I was a small forward with big-forward skills. That finally dawned on me in pro camp. When I discovered I wasn't going to be a professional player...I'll never forget this...I almost perceived myself as a failure. Almost. Then I realized I had graduated from college. I had a good job waiting for me back at UCLA. I was on my way into a new career. There was no time to pout or sulk. I was always going to wind up this way, of course. As this role model. Not just a jock. But a well-rounded adult person. Fate is like a train. It's already determined where you're going. How long it takes depends on the conductor."
Back in 1973 a story in this magazine—Who Are These Guys?—profiled the UCLA team that was on its way to a collegiate record of 88 straight victories. Farmer suited up for 75 of those, more than any other Bruin. Yet this story, which was accompanied by a cover and pictures of six of his teammates, did not contain a photograph of Farmer. Shortly thereafter, the writer offered his apologies. But the senior captain, so versed in UCLA basketball lore and so proud of his own acheivements, was understandably disappointed. Crushed might be a more accurate description.
Recently the same writer apologized once more. "That's okay," Farmer said. "I figured you guys would get around to me again some day. I'm just happy to be here."
What goes around, comes around. UCLA basketball should just be happy Larry Farmer has always been here.
[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]