When the NBA took control – at least technically – of the Los Angeles Clippers earlier this month, it needed a leader to help steer things in times of storm and stress. With owner Donald Sterling banned for life and former CEO Andy Roeser put on an indefinite leave of absence and coach (and de facto general manager) Doc Rivers having to mind the every-other-day schedule of the NBA playoffs, an executive-type needed to be identified and hired, in a hurry, and given the reins.
The NBA chose former Citigroup and Time Warner chairman Dick Parsons for the role, noting his extended history as an executive in the years since graduating Albany Law School in 1971. Pointing out that, prior to his time at law school, Parsons even played basketball at the University of Hawaii while attending college there in the mid-1960s.
Or, perhaps not. That’s what Deadspin is reporting.
In a rather extensive and well researched report, Deadspin’s Dave McKenna talked with ex-Hawaii players and the university’s current sports information director to discover that, in spite of what Parsons is on record as saying for years, he was not on Hawaii’s varsity team:
"A lot of people asked me this week about this guy who says he played basketball at Hawaii," former player Harvey Harmon said in the wake of the Parsons hiring. "I tell them I know two things about it: I was there, and he wasn't."
Harmon was indeed and unquestionably there. He arrived on campus in the fall of 1964 and left to go to medical school in the spring semester of 1968—the same tenure Parsons has always described.
"At that time, everybody who played basketball knew everybody, because there was only one place on campus where you could play indoors," says Harmon. "A black guy who played basketball all the time, I'd know him. I didn't know him. I never heard of this guy."
"I don't remember a player by that name on our team. I don't know that name at all," says [former Hawaii center Steve] Brixen. "If there was a guy on campus who was good at basketball, I would know it."
Walter Ritte, a rare Hawaii native in the basketball program, played guard on the varsity squad for three seasons beginning in 1966.
"I don't remember that person," Ritte says. "I don't remember that name."
In the days since the NBA credited Parsons with playing varsity basketball at Hawaii in their initial press release announcing his hiring, McKenna reports, the Clippers have tried to tramp down their previous trump-up. Deadspin quotes a Clippers PR representative as emailing that Parsons "played one season on the JV team at Hawaii."
A quote from a decade-old New York Times feature on Parsons would seem to back that up, as former Hawaii varsity coach Red Rocha (since deceased) talked up a “big, gangly kid” that seemed to be a big hit with his freshman team teammates.
Harvey Harmon would have been one of those purported teammates, and Deadspin reports a PR firm recently got in touch with Harmon as scrutiny over Parsons’ Hawaii claims started creeping down. Harmon was told by that PR company that Parsons remembered playing with him on that freshman team. Deadspin has Harmon’s reaction:
Harmon was firm in his response. "I told him I didn't," he says, "and he didn't play on the team."
Now, current Hawaii SID Neal Iwamoto does point out there were “holes in the record keeping back then,” understandable for a freshman team working outside of NCAA powerhouse circles some 50 years ago. Parsons and the NBA’s current claim is he played one year for that freshman team, and there’s no definitive proof he was or wasn’t on that roster – we only have the recollections of former teammates to follow on that.
Still, as Deadspin points out, this is after years and years of Parsons talking up his basketball past, hardly balking at print reports of him earning a walk-on scholarship. The New Yorker even referred to him as a “basketball star” at Hawaii, hardly the sort of tag one gets when coming off the bench for the freshman team.
That’s assuming he even made it that far. At least one former member of that freshman team disputes that claim, one the Clippers are currently sticking to.
This, of course, has no provable bearing on Parsons’ acumen as an executive or ongoing stewardship of the Los Angeles Clippers. The whole feature is worth a read, though, as you continue to consider the NBA's ongoing Big Clipper Problem.
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