By Anthony McClean, Editor In Chief Emeritus NEW HAVEN (BASN) —...
BASN’s Hometown Hero
But neither that nor his non-profit foundation (The Write Mind) for aspiring authors is what grabbed me. What sucked me in is Hoover’s devotion to Mount Vernon, N.Y., and storyline about his old neighborhood’s assembly line of prized NBA and college players that he’s honoring in a documentary entitled “Four Square Miles to Glory.”
Given its relatively diminutive size, producing a profusion of pros, including two sets of brothers (Gus and Ray Williams; Rodney and Scooter McCray), is astonishing. Had Curtis Moore (brother of Lowes) stuck with the Clyde Drexler Blazers, it would’ve been three.
Mount Vernon also boasts Ben Gordon; Earl Tatum; Rudy Hackett; Lew Hill (currently Lon Kruger’s assistant at UNLV); James “Bug Eye” Gibbs, who played at Wichita State before Hill; Rudy Bennett; Billy Pleas; Richard Garner; and David “Scrap” Williams.
Obviously, I’m not the only one entranced.
Within the last year or so, Hoover and his crew – Jerome Syville, Andrew Rosario, Brad Lowery and Gilbert Lee – were welcomed into the homes, offices and hotel rooms of Phil Jackson, Jerry West, Chris Mullin, Dennis Johnson, Denny Crum, Bill Fitch, Ray Allen, Jim Cleamons, Darrell Griffith, Eddie Jordan, Lon Kruger, Lenny Wilkens, Willis Reed, Maurice Lucas, Paul Westphal, Norm Nixon, Tyson Chandler, Jim Calhoun, Jim Boeheim, Clyde Drexler, Sam Perkins, Xavier McDaniel, Brian Taylor, Dave Gavitt, Darwin Cook, Tony Fiorentino, Mike O’Koren, Jack Sikma, Mychal Thompson, Micheal Richardson, Caron Butler and on and on.
It doesn’t get any more respectful.
The Lakers showed Hoover a lot of love by agreeing to the interview almost immediately and giving him access to Jackson after a shoot-around on a game day; very abnormal.
It was Dec. 17, the day Gilbert Arenas scored 60 points against Los Angeles. Jackson sat at the Lakers logo with sandals on and expounded on coaching Lowes Moore while with the CBA Albany Patroons.
The week before, Hoover had arranged to meet a few Wizards while in L.A. for interviews. He was instructed to call the Ritz Carlton in Marina Del Rey to set aside a conference room. Told by the sales manager it’d cost $400 for one hour, he explained his limited budget, adding that no other hotel charged so much as a nickel.
The Wizards were alerted to the problem and the next day Hoover got a phone call from the very same sales person who gave him the room for an hour on the house. It turned into two.
While in L.A., Hoover visited with Brian Taylor, former Princeton/Nets guard. He’s a principal of a middle school in the Crenshaw district of L.A. Asked to wait in a classroom, Hoover was introduced by a 6-foot-10, 280-pound hulk named Dawan Scott, who played Bill Raftery at Seton Hall and does part-time commercial work as a stand in/double for Shaquille O’Neal.
Scott thought it’d be a good idea if Hoover spoke to the students about his life as an author, screenwriter and now producer/director of a documentary. Three different class periods later, he finally was finished. Taylor was so impressed with the presentation and the response, he committed to buying a load of Hoover’s novels.
Before heading back to New York, Hoover met with Nixon. It took place at Debbie Allen’s dance academy. Nixon and Allen, his wife, are well-connected to Mount Vernon. Her sister, Phylicia Rashad, lives there; he played against Gus and Ray Williams as well as Lowes Moore.
Still, Nixon had reservations about signing the release form. At first Hoover thought he was joking but quickly realized he was serious. Hoover started flipping through already signed forms and read out their names.
“Phil Jackson signed that?” Nixon asked. “Eddie Jordan signed that? OK, let’s do the interview and then we’ll talk about it afterwards.”
Nixon promised 20 minutes and gave 45. He had a chapter and verse on each Mount Vernon pro. The bad news: Hoover never caught a glimpse of Debbie Allen.
Bill Fitch and Hoover spoke a few times on the phone before meeting face-to-face. The first time they talked, the Lakers and Rockets were on TV and Wild Bill kept giving Hoover riddles to solve. They were on the phone for at least 30 minutes. Fitch’s house is about 11/2 hours from Houston.
He greeted Hoover in the driveway with a very friendly shake and bear hug. Here was the man who coached Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Hakeem Olajuwon and Ralph Sampson playing the perfect host to strangers. Needless to say, he also was exceptionally prepared. Six tapes of Rodney McCray highlights, one of his rookie year against Gus Williams’ Sonics, were ready for inspection.
Two hours later, as Hoover and his cameraman were about to leave, Fitch said: “I’m not keeping you guys, am I? Good, I have a few more things to show you.”
The most amazing was his dog, Abby. Fitch would tell the dog to “die” and the dog would keel over as if shot. Then he’d hit tennis balls at Abby using a 7 iron and she’d snatch the balls out of mid-air. Say, Hey, Abby.
An interview had been scheduled with Willis Reed prior to a game at Oklahoma City’s Ford Center, but the Hornets exec was running late. Hoover knew he had to get Tyson Chandler, Hilton Armstrong and Jannero Pargo, all of whom played with Ben Gordon at Chicago or at UConn. Just as he was about to panic, Reed hit him on his cell.
“Try to get the kids in the locker room before I get there and we’ll do our sit-down later on,” Reed said.
How many Hall-of-Fame players would’ve been so considerate, Hoover asked. Then again, how many active peripheral players would be so thoughtful?
When Reed arrived he offered valuable insight into Ray Williams’ rookie year. The highlight for Hoover, though, was having his 15-year-old son, Jordan, alongside him holding the boom microphone. Pictures at 11.
The Dennis Johnson interview took place in Austin, where the late Celtics and Sonics star coached the NBA Developmental League Toros. D.J. promised about 20 minutes. Hoover was forced to turn off the camera after about 45 minutes.
“We were running out of tape.”