The Los Angeles Clippers may never again benefit from the basketball knowledge of Mack Calvin, but a group of youths too small to dunk have been inspired by the former professional basketball star from Long Beach.
Disillusioned with basketball after the Clippers did not offer him a job as head coach last year, Calvin said he was ready to give up on the sport entirely.
“That was the lowest period of my life,” Calvin said. “I was ready to give my heart and soul to the Clipper organization. My love for basketball was taken away from me.”
Now, he said, his love for basketball has been reborn, thanks to his work as a volunteer supervisor of the Manchild Program at the First AME Church in West Adams. The program was founded in 1985 by the Rev. Cecil Murray to provide “strong black images” for at-risk 7- to 17-year-old boys.
Calvin, who organizes sporting events and field trips for the youths, undertook the role 18 months ago after the Clipper organization broke the news that he would not be considered as a head coach candidate. Long regarded as an overachieving short man in a big man’s game, Calvin said he began to doubt his ability for the first time in his adult life.
But his doubts eased when he began devoting 10 to 12 hours a week at First AME. The youngsters reminded him of the hardships he endured as one of 10 children growing up in Watts and Long Beach in the late ‘50s.
“We have lost the young Afro-Americans to drugs and gangs,” he said. “It wasn’t such a problem (in the ‘50s) because we had more recreation leaders who served as mentors who pulled us aside and kept us out of trouble.
“I came from a depressing, tough situation. These kids gave me a tremendous lift. I want to be someone to look up to. I want to be their role model. I want to let them know that they can be something despite negative, adverse situations.”
It was a lesson Calvin learned long ago when he was an aspiring player at Long Beach Poly, Long Beach City College and USC.
Considered undersized by professional basketball standards, the 6-foot- 3/4-inch Calvin overcame several obstacles to become an outstanding shooting guard. In one of his two seasons at USC, he guided the Trojans to a 46-44 upset win over UCLA in 1969, ending the Bruins’ 41-game winning streak.
Calvin’s professional career spanned 11 seasons with several NBA and ABA teams, including the Virginia Squires, the Denver Nuggets and the Los Angeles Lakers. He was selected to the ABA all-star team five times and was one of the league’s highest-paid players. He scored 12,172 points in his career, averaging 16.1 points.
He was a player and head coach of the Squires in 1975. He also has been an assistant coach with the University of Virginia and served four seasons as an assistant under Del Harris of the Milwaukee Bucks. He was named the NBA’s top assistant in 1987 and ’89 by USA Today.
Still, Calvin has been unable to attain his dream of a permanent head coaching position. His best chance appeared to be when the Clippers fired Mike Schuler in February, 1992, and named Calvin interim coach.
He was popular with the players and both of his games as interim coach, but the Clippers hired Larry Brown as head coach instead. Brown dropped Calvin as an assistant at the end of the season.
While still an assistant with the Clippers, Calvin went to Murray of First AME for spiritual guidance while trying to put his career back together.
As supervisor for the Manchild Program, he arranged for nearly 500 youngsters to attend eight Laker games. He also ran a basketball clinic at First AME with the help of USC Coach George Raveling and former Laker Michael Cooper.
“Mack has brought a reservoir of caring, competence and charisma to our church,” Murray said.
Calvin said working with the youths has re-energized him, and once again he is talking to NBA teams about coaching possibilities.