The late not-so-great World Basketball League lasted just one year, 1988, in Fresno, Calif. The Fresno Flames folded the next March.
“A real mistake,” the Flames' coach said of the whole enterprise, which promised an ESPN contract and a deep-pockets owner and delivered on neither.
But like so many things in life, something good came out of something rotten.
That coach met a player, and for reasons probably pertaining to content of character, they formed a bond. The bond still holds today.
The coach? Old Oklahoman Ted Owens. The player? New Oklahoman Scotty Brooks.
“Ted Owens is my guy,” Brooks said the other day with a smile on his face. “That guy is the best. He's my man. Incredible human being. Very blessed to have him in my life.”
Brooks' Oklahoma connections go beyond coaching the Durantulas to critical NBA acclaim. Turns out Brooks has a connection all the way to the hardscrabble southwest corner of the state, Hollis, where Owens learned the game of basketball.
Owens came to OU in 1947, played for Hall of Fame coach Bruce Drake, eventually became a coach himself, took Kansas to Final Fours in 1971 and 1974, and today is 82, retired and living in Tulsa. On the other end of the turnpike from his old Fresno friend.
In 1988, Brooks had just finished his first year out of college, playing for the Albany Patroons of the Continental Basketball Association. He signed on with Fresno in the World Basketball League, which was for players 6-foot-5 and under and had coaxed Owens aboard, following his two-year stint coaching Oral Roberts University.
“It was hard not to like him,” Owens said, a statement that still applies to the Thunder coach. “He had such great work habits.
“You just saw something in him. I didn't necessarily think about coaching ... It was hard to put your finger on it, but you knew he was going to be special whatever he did.”
That autumn, Brooks made the 76ers roster, beginning a 10-year NBA career.
“I was not surprised when he started making the NBA teams,” Owens said. “They like guys with great work habits and great attitude.”
Owens' son, Teddy, now 29, was just a boy that year in Fresno. Teddy latched onto Brooks. Made Brooks his favorite player. Collected Brooks' bubble-gum cards over the years.
The Owenses followed Brooks' career, saw him on occasion and were thrilled when the Thunder landed in OKC three summers ago with Brooks in tow as assistant coach. A few months later, Brooks was elevated to head coach.
“I knew when they made a change, if Scotty could get his team to play as hard as he did, with passion and commitment, he'd do well,” Owens said.
Owens said he gets down for 7-10 games a year. Brooks has had Owens speak to the Thunder staff.
“He coached the way you wanted to be treated as a man,” Brooks said. “Fair. Respectful. Great human being.”
One grew up in the Dust Bowl of southwestern Oklahoma. The other, 40 years later, in Northern California. But their experiences were not so dissimilar.
Brooks has talked of slipping into the Lathrop, Calif., recreation center to shoot baskets at night, a gymnasium that last week was renamed in his honor. Owens left windows open in the old Hollis gym so he could slip in during the summers and keep his vow of making 500 baskets a day.
Owens pulled cotton in the Harmon County fields. Brooks and his single-parent family gathered walnuts to supplement the family income; years later, Brooks still had walnut-stained hands.
Now basketball has brought them together again.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including AM-640 and FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.