Basketball fans ought to stop for a moment this weekend and mourn the loss of former San Diego Rockets General Manager (1968-1972) Pete Newell, who died on Tuesday at the age of 93.
Long before UCLA made John Wooden a coaching legend, the blue and gold UC university system discovered another coaching diamond in the rough. After four middling seasons at Michigan State, Pete Newell was offered the head coaching job at the University of California at Berkeley. Newell coached the Golden Bears to their last NCAA basketball championship, back in 1954. And after taking the Bears back to the title game in 1960 (losing the game to a young Bobby Knight’s Ohio State squad), Newell left Berkeley to guide the U.S. Olympic basketball team to a gold medal in the ’60 Olympics before “retiring” from coaching at the age of 44.
Newell may have quit coaching, but he never stopped teaching. He founded Pete Newell’s Big Man’s Camp, an vastly understated title for a clinic that nearly all of the game’s great post players have attended since its inception in 1976. One fundamental principle of his teaching was that great shooting begins with great footwork; how fortunate are we the fans in Houston that he was around to coach Hakeem Olajuwon with perhaps the best footwork of any post player in the history of the game?
Four years ago, at the age of 89, Newell took on Andrew Bynum and helped the raw seven-footer develop some of the skills we are only now beginning to see. He may be gone, but Newell’s incredible legacy will yet continue to grow, with every drop step and spin move that players like Bynum attempt on their way to superstardom. – Sesha Kalapatapu