While following Team USA in the World Championships, I got to wondering why Coach Wooden never coached in the Olympics.
Wooden told Herron why there was a chism. The Olympic basketball selections back then were a mess. In the 1960s, the NCAA was starting to supplant the AAU as the primary force of amateur basketball in America. But political wrangling still existed.
During the trials, six all-star teams were brought in. Three from the NCAA, two from the AAU and one from the NAIA. After each day of practice and games, the committee would meet and vote on who deserved spots.
In summer 1964, UCLA was coming off its first NCAA championship. The stars of that teams were guards Walt Hazzard and Gail Goodrich. Wooden told Herron the Olympic basketball power-brokers had committed to having Goodrich on the team. But when the team was announced, no Goodrich, though Hazzard did make it.
Goodrich was a whale of a player. He’s in the Basketball Hall of Fame. Had a great career with the Lakers, after leading UCLA to two straight NCAA titles.
Wooden said he had a falling out with the Olympic basketball people from then on. In both 1968 and 1972, UCLA’s stars didn’t participate in the Olympic Trials. No Lew Alcindor. No Bill Walton. (Though Nater, Walton’s backup, participated in the ’72 trials.)
Pretty interesting story if you have five minutes. The story also notes that UCLA's two biggest stars, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bill Walton chose not to play in the Olympics, though I don't think they didn't play for the same reasons Coach Wooden didn't coach. I've heard that Abdul-Jabbar (then Lew Alcindor) didn't go in '68 for political reasons, but I don't have the time to research that part of the story and I could be remembering things wrong.