A college basketball player at California State-Los Angeles says he played under seven different names in two seasons. Whenever he became academically ineligible, what did he do? Barricade himself in the library? Hunker down with a tutor? Noooooo. He changed his name. The reason we know this is that the player now is suing the coach for going along with this exercise in aliases. The basis of the lawsuit is that the player didn't get the college education promised him.
At first look, you would think any coach who keeps a player in college through two years of academic ineligibility is certainly giving the guy a chance to get that precious education he now is suing over. In two years on any campus, you would think a guy would bump into a book somewhere and maybe have a stanza of Wordsworth rub off on his basketball warmups. Not our man of many names.
Some of Many Names' buddies -- seven players are partners in the lawsuit -- say they were given scholastic credit for classes they never attended and were ordered into elementary courses such as archery, back-packing and theory of movement (disco?). As a result, one said, some players "went to school three, four years and have trouble reading the freeway signs." That's important because they say the coach bought one player a car.
If we use pieces supplied by these litigants to put together a composite of the typical Cal State-LA player, he would be dribbling a basketball toward Santa Monica and, while trying to remember what his name is, he would miss the exit at the Horbor Freeway and wind up in Bill Walton's backyard.
We shouldn't laugh about this. This is serious stuff. Besides, we haven't heard the school's side of the story. Maybe the basketball coach had a legitimate reason for going along with the name changes. It could be he used the name changing to inspire the lad to greater hights. It wasn't always Joe Louis, you know; he began life as Joe Barrow.
So maybe the coach went to his player, Andy Potter, and said, "How about being Robin Hood this week?"
"Aw, coach, I don't want to wear any leotards like that guy," the player might have said.
"But you could bring your bow and arrows from archery class. I could arrange it so you'd get extra credit for out-of-class work."
"Coach, you promised I could be Julius Erving this week."
"I'm sorry, Andy, but we've already got a Dr. J this weel. How about being Dr. Albert Schweitzer?"
"Can he slam-dunk?"
The school and coach are said to have gone out of their way for the players. The players said the school (1) hired stand-ins to take admission tests, (2) altered transcripts and (3) made cash loans.
True, the players complained that the coach fined them $5 or $10 for being late to practice. But looking at it from the coach's point of view, such fines might have been a lesson in the virtues of punctuality. If a player has a new car and he doesn't have to go to class, he ought to get to practice on time even if he can't read the freeway signs.
Of everything the coach and school did for the players, it is difficult to choose the most meaningful. Here's a vote, though, for the breakthrough in aliases. Besides inspiring these players to emulate men of character, the name-change idea could be the start of a sports revolution.
Imagine. If the New England Patriots lust for Chuck Fairbanks as their coach, now they can let him go to Colorado; all they need do is call in Joe Kuharich and rename him.
The possibilities are exciting. By simply changing his name to Johnny Unitas, an old quarterback like Billy Kilmer might extend his career a decade before anyone notices this Unitas isn't wearing hightop shoes.
An alias program could solve moral dilemmas, too. The Bullets' Bobby Dandridge has said publicly he wants more money or to be traded; Otherlast minutes. That is an unconscionable stance for a pro athlete. If Dandridge doesn't want to back down from his threat, and yet truly wants to help his team win, he now has a way to do it.
In the last minute of a game, he can call himself Jerry West.