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Denny Lennon is the host of Sports Stories with Denny Lennon, a video and audio podcast that focuses on uplifting stories told through long form interviews with a wide range of sports figures.
Denny was born and raised in Venice, California as part of a family known for music but also highly passionate about sports. His true love for sports started in his own backyard. It was games in that yard that led to 40 years of jobs in coaching, announcing, promoting, and administrating sports at different levels throughout Los Angeles and the country. Coaching children, especially his own, cemented in his mind what a great gift sports can be. Joining the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) in 1994 to develop programs has provided him an opportunity to meet many interesting people in the world of sports including NBA Legend Jerry West
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Be prepared to listen and learn as you listen to this episode with Denny Lennon, Host of Sports Stories with Denny Lennon.
What We Discuss with Denny Lennon
- Growing up in Venice, California as a huge sports fan
- The win you stay on ethos of the playground
- The solitude and creativity in basketball
- “Anytime that I had stress in my life or excitement in my life. I celebrated by going and shooting hoops.”
- His Holy Communion Skyhook picture
- The story of how he got to watch a bunch of 71-72 Lakers practices at Loyola Marymount
- His Laker fandom through the years and passing it on to his son
- Why Bill Sharmen never told Wilt what to do and what he did instead
- Wilt playing beach volleyball in the morning before practices
- Magic’s ability to win at every level of the game
- Jerry West telling him after Kobe’s final game, Give me 50 shots and I’ll get 90…
- The dark side of Jerry West and his difficult childhood
- Why Jerry West didn’t stay in coaching
- How Jerry West learned to control the ball while dribbling as a kid
- The respect Jerry West had fro his peers as a player nicknamed Mr. Clutch
- Mike’s story of being nicknamed Jerry West as a kid
- Lessons learned from Coach John Wooden
- How and why Wooden’s coaching style became the norm rather than the exception
- The genesis of Sports Stories with Denny Lennon of where he sees it going in the future
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THANKS, DENNY LENNON
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TRANSCRIPT FOR DENNY LENNON – HOST OF SPORTS STORIES WITH DENNY LENNON – EPISODE 412
[00:00:00] Mike Klinzing: [00:00:00] Hello and welcome to the Hoop Heads Podcast. It’s Mike Klinzing here with my co-host Jason Sunkle. And tonight we are pleased to welcome to the podcast from Sports Stories with Denny Lennon, Denny Lennon himself, Denny. Welcome to the Hoop Heads Pod.
Denny Lennon: [00:00:12] Thank you. Appreciate it Mike. Hey Jason.
Mike Klinzing: [00:00:15] We are very excited to be able to have you on the show tonight, dig into all the things that you’ve been able to do across the entire sports landscape.
Let’s go back in time to when you were a kid. Talk to me a little bit about your sports experiences growing up in Venice, California.
Denny Lennon: [00:00:33] Oh, I can do that. Hey Mike, I was hoping you’d give me just a second to recognize a guy out at your fellows’ area. Right. So sadly I lost a great friend of mine.
His name’s Roger Goudy. He was the president and chief executive officer of the amateur athletic union. He died over this past weekend and I just want to give him a shout out. He was an Ashtabula boy. I think he played at a Harbor High School there and then he played football at Kent [00:01:00] State.
So I know he was a golden flash and Roger was an unbelievable person that did for others for his life, superintendent of schools and Madison school district. In addition to the school district out your way. And then rose through volleyball. That’s where I got to know him. When I was working with beach volleyball with the amateur athletic union, some 26 years ago.
And Roger rose up through the sport of volleyball to take over eventually as the president and chief executive officer of the AAU. In addition to holding that position. In volleyball and an unbelievably accomplished guy, Dr. Roger Goudy, but an even better person. He did nothing, but for others raising the kids that came under his programs and through his school districts, great family man.
And I lost a really good friend and I just want to recognize him. And I thought it was coincidentally fortuitous and I’m on with a couple of Ohio boys and my God, Dr. Roger Goudy from the great state of Ohio, as I would often introduce him to crowds. And [00:02:00] there he is. That’s my guy. And so big shout out to a great Ohioan.
Mike Klinzing: [00:02:04] Well, our condolences to you and to the entire family. And obviously we never liked to hear about the passing of people who have accomplished so much. And it’s great for you to be able to recognize that. And we appreciate you giving him a shout out here on the pod.
Denny Lennon: [00:02:16] Appreciate it. Appreciate it guys. So, yeah, you asked me about growing up in Venice. You know, I was born like 64 range. So by the time I was about eight years old was one of the golden years in sports to be an LA sports fan. And I was a young. You know, I learned to do my math by reading the newspaper and figuring out baseball stats.
You know, I learned how to read because I wanted to read the sports stories that were in the Los Angeles times. And that that’s how I really kind of move myself forward was I was such so into sports all the time. And 72 was the year that you had the Trojans went undefeated.
Won the national title in football, my UCLA Bruins. I know that sounds strange that I like both. I love all my LA teams. [00:03:00] I thought that was not illegal. I’m making it up. I’m going to change it. Dammit. And so that my coach wouldn’t have a big coach would in fact, they went undefeated and won. My Lakers breakthrough and they win in 72 with the great Jerry West on that team.
And so it was just this golden year. That year. And I was always a big Rams fan and even had a good season that year. So any and all of that was really important to me growing up. And so I just, I got really turned on to all kinds of sports as a kid, and then just growing up. In Venice. You know I was fortunate, I’m one of like 61st cousins and parts of the bottom of that, but many of us lived in the Venice area.
So you always had a game to play with all of your cousins, let alone everybody else that might’ve lived on a very active blocker to that, that I grew up on, and Venice at that time was a place. It was eclectic if you will. It certainly had its Hippie post Bohemian kind of vibe to it, but it also had a lot of families that were residing and I was only [00:04:00] a mile from the beach.
So I was always able to get down to the beach and play on the Venice beach courts as a kid, play beach volleyball down that way. And then went to high school, not far from me in Playa Del Ray, so kind of grew up in beach communities, but really had an existence that was really important on my block and in my backyard.
Mike Klinzing: [00:04:18] So do you spend a lot of time playing with all those cousins? Just pick up sports?
Denny Lennon: [00:04:21] All over the place where you could find it, you bet.
Mike Klinzing: [00:04:23] Yeah. Yeah. I think that’s one of the things that it’s kind of another running theme through our podcast. Just how much personally I miss, I’m 50 and I miss that.
For my own kids, that they didn’t have the same opportunity to just go out and wander the neighborhood or wander the city and find games of again, whatever it is. I mean, I think about the amount of backyard football I played or one-on-one baseball,
Denny Lennon: [00:04:43] actually, a lot of them obviously see a lot,
Mike Klinzing: [00:04:45] obviously a lot of basketball now.
If you were to tell a kid that’s 12, 13 years old, Hey, I used to play one-on-one baseball.
Denny Lennon: [00:04:51] They would clearly look at you like you were crazy. Yeah, exactly. Yeah, we did it. We did it all the time and you know, and I’ve heard a couple of other podcasts, which I very much [00:05:00] enjoyed, but one of the themes, I also hear it was that thing, like I learned by going down to Venice beach and playing on the courts, there was, you got to win to stay on.
Yeah. And that was the same thing. Whether I was playing at rustic Canyon rack or PMR gym or the Mar Vista gym, it didn’t matter. We go find where the game, where the best games were and you got to win to stay on the court. And that really kind of forced something in you as an athlete, I think.
Mike Klinzing: [00:05:22] Did you have a favorite at any point, or did your favorite switch kind of, as you were growing up at different seasons or different ages?
Denny Lennon: [00:05:28] Yeah, it tended to be that it tended to switch it at different times but if I really did have to pick, it might have to be basketball. A lot of people would be surprised. You know, I was probably a little better in football. Wasn’t bad in basketball was probably a little better maybe in football and it’s probably best to volleyball.
And I made a name for myself, you know running large volleyball tournaments and being an announcer for women’s pro beach and all that kind of stuff. But I think basketball really runs through my heart. And a lot of it, I think, has to do with the idea that you can have this solitude you can have this time to yourself, [00:06:00] or you could be creative and let your imagination roam.
And I just would go find the outdoor courts, whether it was in my backyard, or it was a local Catholic school that I went to, or perhaps it was the junior high. And I would dribble my basketball everywhere, and it meant everything to me. And just to be able to have those times to get away, I mean anytime that I had stress in my life or excitement in my life. I celebrated by going and shooting hoops. And so I think there’s something about that that really gets down in you about basketball.
Mike Klinzing: [00:06:28] Yeah, I think that’s one of the unique things and one of the things that we hear a lot. From people who played multiple sports as a kid.
And one of the reasons why they tended to gravitate towards basketball was just the ability to kind of go out and lose yourself for a couple of hours on the court. Whereas most other sports, it’s not nearly as fun to practice baseball or volleyball or football by yourself, as it is with basketball, you can use your imagination and there’s things that you can honestly work on and improve.
And get better where it’s a lot more difficult, I think, to do that in some of the other sports. So I think players [00:07:00] tend to throw at people, tend to gravitate towards basketball. People who that’s appealing to.
Denny Lennon: [00:07:03] That’s not appealing to everybody.
Mike Klinzing: [00:07:04] Not everybody likes being the solitary player out on the court for two, three hours shooting.
Some people need obviously that social piece and the interaction, but I think basketball does kind of attract those solo practitioners, which is also interesting because basketball played at its highest level. Obviously is. Mo you’re most successful when you play a team game. So it’s the solitary part of it that sometimes attracts players. And yet you have the team piece of it too.
Denny Lennon: [00:07:28] Yeah. And it was also some of my earliest memories right out of the gate where the back end of the Wooden years. So by the time I was six years old or so I can remember being aware of coach Wooden’s teams at that time and just fascinated by how great they were, that they would always win.
As a matter of fact, there’s this one picture that I have that we use sometimes as a logo for our show. And it’s on my first Holy communion and I’m shooting like a Kareem Skyhook picture. That’s the morning of my first Holy [00:08:00] communion. And, and you’ll notice I got my black socks on because I would only wear black socks if I had to go to church.
But I’m knocking down some of those sky hooks and my mom’s calling for me and I’m like, mom, I got it. Knocked down 10 in a row. That’s my thing. And she’s like, honey This is your first Holy Communion. And she just gave up and took the picture, which is I love that about her, that she understood what kind of kid I was.
I better knock down 10 before I could go receive a sacred communion. Yeah,
Mike Klinzing: [00:08:27] That’s awesome. That is, that is awesome. That picture. When I see that I can think of many, many vintage pictures of me, like with cutoff jeans and no shirt on, out in my driveway, shooting baskets with the same, with the same style of photo in terms of like the trim around the photo and just getting it developed, like start talking to kids today about having to go get your film developed and not know what that picture looks like.
Denny Lennon: [00:08:51] No doubt. It’s great because I picture Had it in some random scrapbook and I pulled it out and my mom died about coming up on almost four [00:09:00] years ago. And so as I was launching into this venture that we’re doing now, I turned it over and it’s just in her handwriting and it’s Denny’s first Holy communion, 1972.
Mike Klinzing: [00:09:15] Yeah, that’s awesome. That’s awesome. That’s a great story. It’s always great. That’s funny too. The other thing that I always think about with my childhood photos. And I’m sure you’re the same way as you think about the photos that your family had, you probably know and recognize and understand the story behind just about every photo, because there just wasn’t very many of them and now like my own kids photos are so disposable and we have literally thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands of them. And so not any one picture holds the same significance for my kids as those photos, those family photos held for me. And I think that’s, again, just a piece of nostalgia that I always hold on to because I remember every single [00:10:00] family photo and could tell you the stories behind them and my kids won’t be able to do the same thing.
Denny Lennon: [00:10:03] Especially if you’re like me I’m number seven in my family. So we have plenty of my older sisters. Oh, Oh. I remember when, Oh, that guy was cool. I liked him. He would play with me that kind of stuff in the backyard or whatever. So, yeah, it is interesting to look back on that.
And it’s such a different time now. Like, I mean, I ran, I played in high school basketball and I could say maybe there’s the only photos I have of me playing there are from the yearbook. You know, my folks they came to games, but not really, but they wouldn’t bring a camera that exactly, that didn’t happen .
Mike Klinzing: [00:10:40] And that was expensive.
It was expensive to take photos and develop them. And then you had no idea, especially if you’re shooting action shots, you have to be getting a good picture of that way. Odds were odds were stacked against you. All right. So you’ve mentioned. Your fascination with coach Wooden. I want to get to that in a second, but before we do, let’s go back to your fandom as a [00:11:00] Los Angeles sports fan, who were the athletes when you were a kid that you looked up to in each of the sports?
Denny Lennon: [00:11:06] So I’ll tell you it’s, it’s pretty fascinating that. I guess it would have been last week or so that I had an opportunity to actually interview two of my childhood heroes and that’s something else. Right? So one of ’em was Bob Klein, the tight end for the Los Angeles Rams and then eventually for the San Diego chargers.
And he was part of the 1967 USC. National championship football team. And so I loved football of course and so forth. And so that was one of the guys and I had a good arm and I could throw it, but I was kind of slow. So it was difficult for me to always win a quarterback spot, but I could catch, and I wasn’t as fast as the receiver.
So as a tight end, that was kind of my game. And I quickly learned who the Los Angeles Rams tight end was, and that was Bob Klein. And I found out that he actually went to Saint Monica high school, which I went to St. Bernard, and that was the rival. And I was like, wow. And it was like all of a sudden tangible for [00:12:00] me that there’s just a sky that theoretically went to a school like I go to that plays pro football, like blew my mind. Right. And I just got to interview him. His series is kind of playing right now on my YouTube. And then the other one that really was unbelievable was this 1971, 72 Los Angeles Lakers. So. People wouldn’t know that are younger than 50.
And I’m going to guess you may not know unless your grandparents forced you to watch the Lawrence Welk show. But my older cousins are the Lennon sisters and they were particularly famous for awhile and they’re on this Lawrence Welk show. And then the oldest one is one of my older cousins. She is my godmother, her husband Dick Gas was really cool. He would take me to rams games, Laker games, stuff like that. Like things that my dad could never do afford or would just do. Right. So I got to go to these big time games and it blew my mind. Here’s the thing right up the street. At what was then Loyola university, or [00:13:00] maybe it just changed to Loyola Marymount.
The Lakers would practice in that gym. It wasn’t far from where I lived as a kid in Venice and Dick Gas would pick me up and he was friends with Bill Sharman, the coach, and I got to go to as many as eight, maybe even 10 Laker practices that year I would watch my heroes practice. So I would sit on like the bottom row of the bleachers and I would watch it.
Gail Goodrich and Jerry West, right? Keith Erickson was on that team. I kind of knew somebody Wilt Chamberlain, you gotta be kidding me. It was nuts. Like I would sit there and then they would go get water. I’d run out. I grabbed the ball, take a couple of half hearted shots, try to like miss in the direction of Jerry West.
So he might throw the ball back to me, do that kind of stuff. And that fascinated me. And I followed that team religiously. That was the team that won 33 games in a row. On the road where I grew up, there was a, McDonald’s not far from me and all the kids like to go to McDonald’s, but across the street or Wienerschnitzel, I was a Derby interstitial guy.
You know why? Because they put [00:14:00] out the commemorative photo Lakers that had won 33 games in a row. I switched, I left the golden arches for the mustard dog. And I was like so big. And I put that up in my room and I felt like I knew those guys. I felt like I was that part of that team.
And when they finally beat the Knicks. Yeah, man. It was something else. I just, I felt like I was actually maybe part of this championship and that was really what cemented my love of basketball and just be in a Los Angeles sports.
Mike Klinzing: [00:14:28] Yeah. That’s amazing to be able to have that kind of access that you can just sit in and watch practices.
And then clearly you have some legendary players on that team and then that team becomes. A legendary team with their 33 in a row. And when it’s 69 games and until the warriors ended up beating that record, but, or until I guess the bulls beat it first, and then the warriors surpassed surpassed Chicago
Denny Lennon: [00:14:51] and Jerry West had a hand in both of those.
Right. So he was on the 72 team, but he was the, one of the architects of building that golden state roster. [00:15:00] And so he’s really a fascinating guy. And then when he came to my house. He came to my house when he walked in and I was like, it’s like, Babe Ruth walked in the door and he’s still a really good looking guy, stands tall.
And he walks in and he just got this aura about him. I’m like, Jesus just sitting there interviewing him. I every once in a while I try to be a journalist, but I just go, Jesus says Jerry fricking West right in front of me. What the hell? So it was, yeah, that was pretty cool. So yeah, I love that 72 team.
And of course I could just point to all points of my life, where the Lakers were part of my life. And I’m so fortunate, right? 17 NBA titles, and many of them happen of course, here in Los Angeles and getting all of those are touch points in my life. Whether I was like a teenager, Enjoying the Magic years or just growing into my young twenties to turning my kids onto the next era with Kobe and Shaq [00:16:00] taking my kid to go see Shaq play at the forum where he was on my shoulders and Shaq walk by us.
And he asked if Shaq was human. Right. Okay. Goes, is he a human? Right? Cause he was just massive. Right, and then my son’s favorite players, Kobe, and to go to staples, the first year it opens and my son is set. We’re sitting up way up in the 300 section and he goes, dad, you think Kobe will do a 360?
And I said, Vaughn, NBA players don’t do that in the middle of basketball games. And he’s like, yeah, but dad, he knows how to. I said, I know he knows how to, but they just don’t do that in the middle of a game. Well, after the introduction happened, it was within the first two minutes. He picked a ball, went down to, did a 360.
Now you talk about somebody being a lifelong Kobe fan. That’s my boy. Right. He was just like I told you call him. That was his guy evermore and sadly, coincidentally Kobe died on my son’s birthday. That’s how I found out. I called my son to say, Hey, happy birthday. He’s 28 now or whatever.
And that was that day. Isn’t that crazy? Yeah. But but yeah, so I could [00:17:00] point to all of these touch points in my life. That the Lakers have been like a part of it. And then this year when all parts of the country are suffering, we know that, but out in LA beyond what we’re dealing with a pandemic and with the civil unrest and stuff, LA is really good at celebrating championships and controversy, civil, and we’re really good at writing.
And we’re really good at celebrating championships. The fact of the matter was that there was this little breath of light right. Cause we got the fires that are burning and all these things are going. And to see that the Lakers pulled it out this year was pretty cool that we had that.
So people ask me. About like what, what turned you on a basketball or why and that’s it, it’s just that we’re so fortunate to have this franchise out here that has provided that many memories for me and for everyone.
Mike Klinzing: [00:17:56] Yeah. That proximity to winning, I think obviously clearly helps [00:18:00] cement fandom. I want to ask you about. Thinking back to when you were a kid sitting on those bleachers, what was your impression of will Chamberlain back in those days? Do you have anything that stands out about him? Clearly, he was not the same wheel Chamberlain that he was when in the early sixties, when he was putting up 50 a game.
But. Just like your son saying is Shaq human. I think we’ll tad sort of that same larger than life, sort of persona and body and just reputation. So what do you remember about seeing will Chamberlain out there on the practice?
Denny Lennon: [00:18:32] There was a couple of things and again, I’m young, but I did learn a little bit by hanging out with the adults after.
So one of the things I got to do at the first couple of practices I went to, of course, I’m just in awe. I’m probably like just shaken over all that, all of these guys are out there and how big they are and all this stuff. And I certainly love me some Wilt. I always had a headband and sweatpants.
So I go back with my godfather, Dick Gas to Bill Sharmen’s apartment. He lived in what’s [00:19:00] called the Marina towers and they were new at the time. And the Marina wasn’t that old either. And so it was a chic place to live. And while the adults talked, I got to go into Bill Sharman’s Trophy room. And I don’t know if he knows about bill Sherman, but he was a great baseball player.
In fact, he got pulled up to the Brooklyn Dodgers the day Bobby Thompson hit that shot, heard around the world. He was on that bench. So he has this like long history of not only being like a professional baseball player, but then of course a great Boston Celtic. So I’m looking at all these trophies and I’m like, wow, look at this guy, man.
He’s so accomplished. And so I go out and I hear him tell a story about Wilt. And it basically what he said was you never tell Wilt what to do. Right now I’m a catholic school kid and the nonstop what to do all the time, because there’s violence behind it. If you don’t. So you always do it, right. So he’s like, you never tell Wilt what to do.
I just make two suggestions and I make one seem a little better than the other. And hopefully he takes that one. And I just remember like that lesson as a kid and going, wow, you’re so clever. So when I went back to another [00:20:00] practice and watch, I was always. Tripping out Wilt takes all kinds of breaks.
He would always go. And he’d just kind of sit down while the rest of the guys, when they went to go run stuff, he would slip off to the side. And I came to learn later about his nightlife and also he loved to cross train and play beach volleyball. So he would go down to the beach.
You’d like to stay out all night, having this party. And then he would go down to the beach to sweat it out in the morning and then come to practice. And so he would sit out a lot of practice. And so that is one thing that always stood out in my mind and I put all those pieces together later in life. And then the rest of it was, yeah, you could just see.
Like this, he was not your typical plotting seven footer. This guy could run and he could jump and stuff. And it was that, that interests me as well, because even at the time Lew Alcindor was really, or at that point become Kareem Abdul Jabbar. He was really athletic, any, any graceful, but he didn’t run and jump like Wilt did.
[00:21:00] It looked different to me about Wilt anyway. So I always loved those match-ups when the bucks would play the Lakers. So to see those two giants go at it and to know that I, I had seen Wilt practice with sand on his legs.
Mike Klinzing: [00:21:12] Yeah. I always have had a fascination ever since I was a kid with Wilt, never have really seen him play obviously live or never saw him play a full game, but yeah.
To the same extent. I just think that you look at the things that he was able to accomplish, and you hear people talk about him. And just the fact that I look at his athleticism and you mentioned it just the way he ran and the way he was able to jump and how athletic he was for a seven foot, two guy.
And when I think back into that era of basketball, and I think about who are guys that you could plug into today’s game and they’d be able to have. Maybe not the same quite level of success, but I think you could take wilt Chamberlain of 1962 and not do [00:22:00] anything different. Not even move him into like the modern he’s training, the same way guys do, but just take the actual 1962 Wilt Chamberlain and put them in the league today.
And he would still be a top 10 player in the league. I truly believe that.
Denny Lennon: [00:22:12] Yeah, he was unbelievable. Right. I mean, he you gotta figure, like he was. He was with theGglobe Trotters for a couple of his years, that probably would’ve smash the NBA, I guess. And then, then he jumped over to the Philadelphia Warriors or whatever, but that’s crazy.
Like the life he had to cause he was with the Globe Trotters. He used to play in the Catskills all the time and make some money on the side. When he was still in college, I guess at Kansas or whatever. He just had like such a fascinating life. I mean, I know we’ve all seen documentaries on him, but I think he would make for a great like bio doc.
Mike Klinzing: [00:22:46] I agree. He’s one of the most fascinating people, I think in the history of basketball, just from a standpoint of what he did on the court, and yet you still had these shortcomings when you compare it to bill Russell in terms of the winning. And so to have that piece of it, and yet at the same [00:23:00] time he did win championships.
He did. Play on that 72 Lakers team.
Denny Lennon: [00:23:04] Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah.
Mike Klinzing: [00:23:06] So, I mean, it’s not it’s not like he didn’t win, but He didn’t win obviously to the same level as Russell. And yet you just look at the statistics, the statistical case for Wilt Chamberlain being and again, you can think about ranking and wherever you want to rank it, but it’s hard to argue against his statistics, let’s put it that way.
Denny Lennon: [00:23:22] I like those talks about ranking the players. I know some people shy away from them, but. I enjoy them. But yeah. And after the Celtics, by the way, can I just say that, Oh no, I’ll tell you what I’d be in the Celtics of those days. Here’s the thing, they, God, okay. I’m going to give Red Aurbach credit.
The guy could draft, he could evaluate talent and he was fine as a coach, but without free agency, once he loaded his roster, yeah. They’re going to win. Most of the time, man, Jerry West was putting up a fight and, and going through the tragedy of having to bow out to the Celtics. Just short.
Like what eight times? That’s unbelievable. Like Jerry West might [00:24:00] very well be considered the best player ever had free agency been a thing back then. And some of those that Celtic team had broken up just a little let alone guys like will that were in their own conference with them. And so anyways, I just have to Celtics
Mike Klinzing: [00:24:16] Jason and I can condone bashing Boston Celtics bashing on this podcast.
So we’re good. So we’re good. And
Jason Sunkle: [00:24:21] we’re the two that were two of the most avid Bill Simmons listeners. There are, I love it. And we bet, and we just can’t stand them. So
Denny Lennon: [00:24:29] I like it.
Mike Klinzing: [00:24:30] I have a long history of disliking the Celtics. So in the Bird Magic debate, I was squarely in the Magic court. I’ve come around probably on.
Larry Bird. If you’d asked 16 year old me and then asked my dad who kind of liked Larry Bird, how much I despised and hated Larry Bird when I was 16. That was pretty well off the charts. And I’ve come as an adult to respect what Larry did and who he was as a player.
Denny Lennon: [00:24:55] Yeah, he was no joke. I I’ll give him that, but Hey, think of what Magic [00:25:00] did. Magic won the state title as a high school senior.
He goes to Michigan state. One year. I think they bowed out maybe second round or whatever. Then he wins with Michigan state and then he wins as a rookie in the NBA. So he goes state title, high school, NCAA title and NBA title within four years.
Mike Klinzing: [00:25:21] That was incredible. He was a guy who was way before his time at his size to be able to do the things that he did.
There’s you can count on one hand the number of guys that had the vision. As a passer that he had, and obviously the game has played a lot different now than it was back then. So you look at comparing arrows and it’s really hard to do, but I don’t think there’s any doubt. Just we talked about wealth. I think you could, you could take magic and put them into any year and he would just be, he would just be phenomenal.
It’s funny about magic is, is that if you look at him purely from a. If you judge how good an athlete is by how high they can jump and how fast they can run.
I don’t think magic, magic doesn’t [00:26:00] rank when it comes there, but just as far as a basketball IQ, clearly that’s where he’s just off the charts as a basketball IQ guy and a winner and a leader and a guy that other people wanted to play with and play for
Denny Lennon: [00:26:14] Well then I got to also shout out. My, our long family dog that died recently I named him Buck because that’s what Pat Riley called magic, called him buck. Right. So our dog’s name was buck magic Lennon, and I just gotta so it was worth shouting out some stuff, but yeah, and he was a great dog, but I mean, if you’re going to name your family dog, after a basketball player, that’s pretty high compliment.
That’s a pretty high comp that’s it? I agree.
Mike Klinzing: [00:26:42] Let’s jump into your Jerry West stuff. Talk to me a little bit about how you obviously got a chance to watch him when you were a kid. Tell me how you reconnect with him as an adult. Just kind of go through this story of how you guys got together.
And then we can dive into some of the things that. You’ve been able to [00:27:00] talk with them about over the last, whatever couple of weeks, couple of months that you’ve had this relationship.
Denny Lennon: [00:27:05] I’ve actually had two encounters with Jerry West as an adult one. I was an athletic director at a private school on the West side of Los Angeles in Brentwood California.
And so I was at the school and one of the parents said, Hey, I might be able to get to Jerry West. And I said, Oh, that’s interesting. He’s pretty good friends with one of my older cousin’s, cousin in law anyways. And so I guess he recognized my last name and he owed her a favor or something.
So he comes to the school. Now it’s an all girls school and he comes there to speak. And a lot of those girls are at the school. Are there, it’s not that they’re girls, it’s just that they’re younger athletes and they’re more familiar with Steph Curry than they are with Jerry West. Right. Because Steph has lightened up the league.
Right. Then in fact, He comes to my school the day after golden state had won, what would it have been the 73rd game in the [00:28:00] regular season. Right. So he comes to the day after. And that happened to be the night Kobe, correct?
Mike Klinzing: [00:28:05] The same night. Yeah, that he’s 60. Yeah.
Denny Lennon: [00:28:08] It shows up, I say, Hey, how’s it going? I think you might know some of my family and he goes, sure.
So I’m escorted around the school and we’re talking. And I say, and people are asking them because people have a hard time in Los Angeles, not thinking of Jerry West as a Laker. Like they don’t, they don’t, they didn’t follow. Like they didn’t get it. Like you went to the Grizzlies and then the warriors and the Clippers, like they don’t get it.
They can only see them in their eye as a Laker. Right. So they’re coming up to just, can you believe what Kobe did last night? And he goes, well, I was watching a team play. That’s what he said. He said I was watching a team play. So he had flown that morning, like back from San Francisco or whatever, or Oakland to come and do the speech at the school that I was at.
And anyways, the reason I said that is because I started to learn a little bit about them that day. He’s a very self-assured guy, but he’s also a very dark guy because he’s got a lot of tragedy in his life, but he was very self-assured and [00:29:00] he, he turned to me at one point, he got, I guess he got comfortable with me.
He goes, he got 60 points on 50 shots. You give me 50 fucking shots. I’ll drop night. That’s what he said back on your show.
Mike Klinzing: [00:29:11] Sorry.
Denny Lennon: [00:29:12] Especially if I’m quoting Jerry West, I think it’s okay. He goes, ah, He goes, he goes, he gave me 50 fucking shots. I dropped 90. I just about fell out. I thought that was hilarious.
And so he goes, I ain’t going to that. I didn’t go to that dog and pony show. I went to go see a team, do a team accomplishment. Anyways, I found that really interesting. And then he got up and I really didn’t get to interview him. He said, I wrote something and he was so forthright and he spoke so openly about his tortured relationship with his father, but I was mother was distant to him, about his brother dying in the Korean war, how alone he felt, where he grew up in West Virginia. And it was beautiful. And you watch the room go from, this is the guy that knows Steph Curry to, Oh my God. This is a guy my grandfather loves.
And then it was [00:30:00] everybody that was there started almost cry and because it was so dramatic what he was telling you about it in his life. And I really came to respect them a lot for sharing that part, talking about depression talking about civil rights and his role in all of these things other than basketball.
And that really got me a lot more fascinated in him. So once he kind of finished that day, then. They laughed. And he was coming down off the stage, by the way, it was kind of like slightly staggered stage that was set up for like orchestra performance. And he slipped just a little bit and that’s a bunch of people around him.
He’s 80 years old or whatever. So it’s a bunch of people around him that suddenly like reached over as if they’re going to catch him. And he goes, Oh, I’ll never fall. I love this. I love the guy. I was like, Oh my God, this guy is so competent. So now I that was I, I finished up as an athletic director.
I just felt like that time of my life was over, but we made a big plan to get into video podcasting and podcasting. And just to tell the stories that I had accumulated [00:31:00] over my life. And so it was, I said, I bet I could get Jerry West back on the show. So I went through my older cousin, his name’s Wayne Bali.
And I got to give him credit wait, Oh, talk to him, and he waited. He said, yeah, we’ll get around to Denny. And then when he thought I was good enough, which is a big thing in my family, I could tell you a story about my uncle Jim, the Bucks announcer when I first started announcing, but Wayne said, yeah.
And then he goes, I really liked your stuff, Denny. That’s really good. I’m going to ask Jerry. And so Jerry said, yeah. And before they went to go play golf and he rolls by my house, I’m not far. From Los Angeles international airport and they rode by here. And so that’s how Jerry came here. And but, and so we got down to it and it was really, it was, I got to say, it’s the most interesting interview I’ve done because both of the person that Jerry West is, and the unbelievable life he’s led, but also because he truly is dark and troubled and he has a hard time expressing happiness and that stuff you hear on other podcasts, or you hear when he’s interviewed. It’s true. I went out of my way to try to steer away from, I think people have heard about his dad and his brother and stuff. I purposely tried to find stuff he hadn’t answered before.
And he would start to answer that question and inevitably it would lead them back down about growing up in West Virginia. I didn’t want to go home things like that. Like he would, he would alternately say after we won the state championship as a high school, like 59, they won the Virginia high school to state championship.
They had those day where they renamed East Bank West Bank. Cause he went to East Bank or whatever, and they renamed at Westbank. And and then I made the, I said to him well, do you think they would have done that if your last name was Horowitz? Right? Nothing, nothing. It’s like crickets [00:33:00] and I go, well, I mean, if your name was like South or North, it fits, but he’s like nothing.
Then he goes, well, it really. He goes, it just made me embarrassed. Cause I don’t like talking in front of people and it really made me embarrassed, but made me feel like maybe I was special, but then I went home and I’m like, damn, like it’s constantly there. It’s always there. That was his relationship with his father?
His mother destined his brother dying at a formative age. All of that is always there and it plays itself through him and it’s both what drove him to be great. And it’s what drives him. To be a very generous man these days. It’s what also growing up in those poor circumstance has driven him to be much closer to those of his own economic status, irrespective of race.
And that’s why he, I think, clicked so well with so many of the NBA players because he gets where he came from and what drives [00:34:00] him. And I think that’s a big part of him. So, so going through all of that, Part of his life with him was where we spent a lot of the interview. And it was really cool, man, because when he starts to talk about that you’re really interested in the transition from high school to college, but he played so-so I take that back.
It was 59 when West Virginia lost in the NCAA finals and he was an named the most outstanding player. Right. It was like 54 or whatever. When West Virginia won the state championship high school or East bank one but 59. And then he, then he plays 60 and he goes to the Pan-Am games in Chicago and he talks about how his team worked all the amateur teams.
But at the times they had like a round Robin kind of try out to be the, on the Olympic team for the Olympic team trials. And so you’d have these AAU teams. Right. But those were really like men. That just didn’t play pro basketball cause there’s no money in it. So [00:35:00] they would play for their local like tires company or automobile industry.
And then they would have these guys that they would just hire that were good ex-college players. And so that was like the AAU circuit kind of in those days. Right. Because he really didn’t have too many younger players coming along until much later for AAU. So then it was almost like minor league baseball teams that have guys that just couldn’t make the bigs.
And so they would have this end. He said he, he whooped them all. And he goes, that’s pretty much, they had to take seven guys from our team. Cause we won that. And that’s how he made the Olympic team. And I was super fascinated in that. Cause I knew he was on that 60 team with like Oscar Robertson that were llike they were the co-captains and they went over and they ran the place.
But that’s where Cassius Clay. Made his name, Rafer Johnson, Wilma Rudolph. I mean, those 60 games in Rome were gold and he got to tell all of these stories about being over there. And that’s the stuff that like really fascinated me. And I saw a little bit more Jerry West, I think, than you normally see, but it didn’t take long for him to, [00:36:00] I would say, I would imagine some of your social justice or your ability was part of that Olympic movement and he would quickly kind of segue out of that into something else. And then he would go back to telling the story about where he came from and how happy he wasn’t to, to not be from there. And it was really sad. It was like, it was really sad, but it was also like fascinating.
Mike Klinzing: [00:36:22] It’s amazing that figuring a guy in his eighties is still kind of carrying that with him.
It just shows you how powerful and. How much you’re imprinted, what happens during your childhood and that take that with you throughout your entire life and no matter what kind of success you have, right. You always kind of go back to trends. When you think about the sources of your success or your failures, or you think about what you wanted or needed or had from your parents and your siblings and your family.
And you can just see that there’s a lot of people that are carrying those things with them. And many of them aren’t public figures. So they don’t ever get a chance to share that or have a way to be able [00:37:00] to express it. A lot of people just carry that with them all the time. I think one of the things that I’m probably most fascinated with when it comes to Jerry West, Is the fact that here he was a guy who was an unbelievable player.
And as you said, had things been slightly different during the sixties, he could have won three, four, five, six. He could have been, yeah, the bill Russell of that era. And yet, so there’s a guy who arguably is a top 10 player in the history of the NBA. And yet he goes on. To become arguably maybe the top executive in the history of the NBA.
And it’s very, very rare that you see somebody who gets to the top of their profession in one area and then changes. And ends up getting to the top in a completely different profession, because obviously the skill set that you need to be a great NBA player is completely different from the skill set that you need to be a great MBA executive.
So I would be curious as to, and I don’t know if you’ve got a [00:38:00] chance to talk to him about it, but I would be curious about when. When he made the transition, did he know that that was something that he wanted to get into? How did he fall into those jobs? Was it something that he was pursuing and then just, how did he go about studying his craft and getting to be as good as he was at his second career?
Denny Lennon: [00:38:17] So the transition for him, actually, he was a coach for the Lakers and this would have been one of the down periods of Lakers. So I think he retired what, 74. And, and this is a, there’s like a year before they, they acquire Kareem Abdul Jabbar. And, and it’s not going to be until the 79 until they get magic.
Right? So Jerry West was like the coach 75, 76, or whatever, 77. He got that team into the playoffs and almost at a level of contending and they had a terrible roster. Like they were not very good. I think, I think he only had Kareem for one year, so they were not very good at all. And he coached like at about a 70% clip or something [00:39:00] like that, but it, what he said is it killed him.
It just about killed him. He could not take the losing and not having enough control over the situation. And, and he also had that classic thing where great players always have it. Which is, you’re not working hard enough, like you didn’t do it like I did. So I think that laid below the surface, but he was smart enough to know, to try to approach the players on a different level.
But what really beat him down was the losses. And he didn’t want to keep going through that anymore. And so I think they then offered them a transition. This point, Pat Riley, like it had this really bizarre press conference where Jerry Buss. Or two might know about even Jack Kent Cooke still. He has this bizarre press conference where he calls Jerry West was going to be the defensive coach.
And Pat Riley is going to be the offensive coach. And they had never discussed that before. Nobody they’d never discussed it behind. He does this at the press conference and Jerry West immediately gets up behind the [00:40:00] microphone and goes, yeah, that won’t be what’s happening. Pat Riley is going to be the coach, and I will transition out of the way.
Right. So, so that’s where he kind of like moved in to the front office at that point. And Bill Sharman. Was in the front office at that point, I think he might’ve been the president. And so bill Sharman became one of his tutors in that world. And here’s the one guy that that took the 72 team.
Right. He got Jerry West to be more of a distributor that year. So Jerry West had a career high in 72 in assists, he got wilt to give up scoring, so that he’d be more of a defensive player and we’ll have one of his lowest scoring ever. And Jerry and then gail Goodrich exploded. And so did the other component parts and stuff.
Bill Sharman was the one who was able to take all of those people and turn them in to a team that won the championship. And I think Jerry West probably really respected that and then allowed himself to learn from, from Bill Sharman in his time as the president. And that was his transition into moving into that.
And what he said he loved was [00:41:00] scouting. He loved getting on the road, going somewhere, finding somebody because you got to remember like, Jerry West, Vlade Divac would have been one of the first successful foreign players. Maybe I’m trying to think of who else was a foreign player. Yeah.
Mike Klinzing: [00:41:18] In that area you had probably Drazen Petrovic.
I’m trying to think who else would have been Sarunas Marchulenis was first was one of first European players to come over. Sabonis followed them when he was passing out. Right. He was well past his prime. By the time he got here, came over and was great. That was the other thing.
Like, it was so funny. Micah was so funny. I was like, I would go. I would go, yeah. You know what cracked me up about was because being in LA you get the LA news, right? Cause it’s before sports center and all that stuff. So you get that 10 minutes at the end of your local newscasts and our lows or newscaster guy was like Jim Hill or something.
And he would be in there interviewing Vlade In the locker room, [00:42:00] everybody would have his shirt off and he did not look like an athlete and he’d be smoking.
Mike Klinzing: [00:42:03] Right, exactly.
Denny Lennon: [00:42:04] Right. If I be like honest about your age, a very personal, yeah, well guy and I used to crack me up. I was like, Oh dude, this European, but then you watch him play.
You’re like, Oh, baller, like, geez, that guy’s great passing center. And he was like, great for that team. So anyways, I, I kind of cracked that to Jerry West. Nothing. He just moved on to the next thing he just eat. Right. And I was like, okay. I was really trying to get a handle on how this interview is going on.
The backside of that. He was very complimentary to my cousin or whatever, when they were playing golf later that day, it was very complimentary. He said, I thought it was a great interview. He was really well prepared. He asked me some things I’d never, I didn’t think people knew so on and so forth, but in it.
Oh my goodness. It was I felt like I was him playing the Celtics.
Mike Klinzing: [00:42:45] Yeah, I believe. And it’s interesting when you have an opportunity to talk to somebody who you’ve. Seen or admired from afar or at least someone who’s a celebrity to some degree, you kind of have a different feel for it. And then what I found is that kind of, [00:43:00] once you get into it, you start talking to them.
And as long as that person opens up and is willing to allow themselves to be interviewed, then it usually goes pretty well. It’s certainly in the lead up though, you’re, you’re a lot more nervous than you are if you’re just interviewing a local high school coach. There’s no question about that.
Denny Lennon: [00:43:17] No question. Yeah. So yeah, he did, he had some really introspective things to say. And, and it got towards the end. We started to get into some of the things of him being an executive. Right. And I could just feel him wanting to get going, like, cause he went for more than an hour, which is really spectacular. When you think about it, like he’s not used to doing that. And he wanted to get to his tee time. I saw him looking at his watch a couple of times and I was like, dammit. So I really didn’t get to some of the stuff at the end, cause I kind of do my interviews, not like how you do where I like to do them on some kind of chronological base , let’s go from when you’re a kid.
You know, all the way moving [00:44:00] forward, but his moving forward isn’t like I retired. He became the vice-president of a car dealership. His retirement is more spectacular than his playing career. And, and so I wanted to get, I mean, as far as retire from a player, so I wanted to get to those points and ask them some of those things.
And I think the last thing was, I’m sure you know, this how the ball is changing. But the Spalding balls out and the Wilson ball is in. Right. So I wanted to talk about that and, and he goes, Hey, the ball is round. I’m sure when they bounce, it it’ll come back up. And I went. Oh, this guy wants to leave.
Right. I was like, okay, shit. You know, I didn’t even get to dive in. Like I wanted to get to the Kobe try out. Which I think I said something to the effect of like Sonny Vaccaro, when he would find a player, he did everything he could to not be around because he didn’t want everybody else to sniff it out too.
Right. And so it was kind of pre this. So Sonny Vaccaro would break. We would see [00:45:00] a player doing a workout or something and go, I’m going to put, I just pulled a Jerry West and crushed and killed that practice because that’s what Jerry West did. Not two miles from where I’m sitting right here at the Inglewood YMCA.
Jerry West watched for about 20, 30 minutes and just shut the door. So he’s like enough of that. I’m going to go make a deal right now. Maybe that was the same summer 96. Then he got Shaq and Kobe. So I got into that a little bit, but he was starting to get a little edgy. He wanted to go play golf. And so yeah, I didn’t get as much as I would have liked on that.
But man, I think the rest of it, because I was just watching some of it recently, cause we’re going to divide it up into four parts and we were watching some event and we’re like, okay, that’s really good. Like, it’s cool. Some of the stuff he says, but it’s dark. Like that’s the one thing we kept saying. It was like, damn, this guy really that’s probably what drove him to be so great is he had that.
Mike Klinzing: [00:45:52] I agree. I think when you have sometimes it takes, everybody’s driven by different things, but certainly when you have the background that he had. [00:46:00] And it pushes you. And the fact, like I said earlier, that he still is carrying that with them and still has, it’s still bringing it to the forefront.
During interviews tells you that that’s something that is omnipresent with him all the time, no matter where he goes, no matter what he’s doing, that’s pushing him and driving him in some way. And who knows what that exact motivation looks like inside of his mind, but clearly if he’s expressing it in interviews, it’s something that continues to drive him to this day.
Denny Lennon: [00:46:27] I must say this too. Very polite, like Regal man, I almost like to have like a matinee idol from those great films of old day. Cause he’s just the way he carries himself and he’s got, he’s got those great manners and he’s really, to me was a cool kind of throwback kind of guy and yeah.
But it certainly is certainly is going to be something I always remember.
Mike Klinzing: [00:46:51] Yeah, no question about that. Being able to touch base with your childhood idol. I can’t imagine that there things could, [00:47:00] things don’t get much better than that. When you get to see somebody, I talked to somebody who you looked up to as a kid, and then you get to interact with them on sort of, again, not necessarily a completely even playing field, but certainly an even playing field where it’s two adults talking, you’re having an opportunity to.
Pick the brain of somebody that you watched as a kid. That’s a special thing for sure.
Denny Lennon: [00:47:18] I asked him asked him one of my first questions. I asked him. I said, I don’t want to embarrass you. Jerry, but when I was a kid, I used to pretend like I was you in my backyard shooting hoop. And I said, I wonder when I know you spent a lot of time shooting hoops on your own, did you ever pretend like you’re like a local college or high school star or anything like that?
And he goes, no, he goes, you got to understand that 28 miles from everything around me. I didn’t know what was going on in my world. I just knew I didn’t want to be home. And I went, Whoa. Okay. All right. All right. Cool. All right. So right. But also he learned, so if you remember. If you watch Jerry West film, you see how he takes that last dribble.
It’s [00:48:00] particularly hard and helps them elevate and get that right. Elbow shot. Yeah, he was talking about that. He was because I dribble my basketball everywhere. A lot of times along the railroad tracks across a Creek and that kind of stuff. I learned how to control it off of different objects all the time.
And sometimes one of my tracks to where I would go play was over this dead wood. Like that was next to the railroad tracks, something along these lines. And he goes, that’s where I really learned to bounce the ball hard to keep my hand on top of it so that I could always control it. And I was just like, all right, that’s cool.
Mike Klinzing: [00:48:31] Like, that’s cool.
Denny Lennon: [00:48:34] Cause he gets up on his jumper. Like he was when you watch some of his highlights, he was hard to stop.
Mike Klinzing: [00:48:39] Yeah, absolutely. No question about that. He was a very great shooter and obviously a guy that you know, could score in a multitude of ways and. Just, well, there’s a reason why your nickname is Mr.Clutch. So you come through and the fact that your nickname is Mr. Clutch and, so you think [00:49:00] about that. You think about it. He’s Mr. Clutch, he’s the logo. And yet you look at his record in NBA finals and if he was around today, it’s almost like, yeah, he gets slaughtered in the media and yet, yeah.
The respect treatment, he’d get the LeBron James and the respect that people would have for him at the respect that the people of his era had to have for him in order for those two things to happen for him to have the nickname of Mr clutch, even though you’re losing more than you’re winning, at least in terms of the NBA finals.
Obviously you won a lot of regular season games and have this amount of success, but still. Not winning the ultimate prize at the end of the season. And then for him to become the logo and be the face of the league in so many ways, it’s just, it’s kind of an incredible story.
Denny Lennon: [00:49:47] It’s an incredible short, and he had so much respect from other NBA greats.
That’s the one thing that really stands out as those guys always spoke so well of his ability. Cause cause he was like, they didn’t [00:50:00] have all defense awards until he was already like 31 or something years old. So his best defensive years. We’re behind them and he still got, I think first team, all defense or a couple of times, even though he was closing in on 33, 34, he was a great defender, but those stats just aren’t afforded to him.
And so he had that going for him and as well as the scoring and he would always hit those big shots. So it but the second, like you bring up, he’ll bring up that he got two of the worst awards ever or. I forget what word you use for him, but because he was the most outstanding player of the final four in 59 when West Virginia lost by a point to Cal and he was the MVP of the NBA finals in 69 when the Lakers lost to the Celtics.
So he’s the only player to have done either of those. Like that’s crazy.
Mike Klinzing: [00:50:51] It is, it really is. Right.
Denny Lennon: [00:50:52] And so that shows like a level of respect that’s afforded to him. And, and he w he, he got such not [00:51:00] a day in my life. I don’t think about losing that game to cow or you’ll say things like that. And I’m like, damn dude.
Okay. I just that’s. Why you’re you, that’s why you’re Jerry freaking West, like, that’s I get it, like
Mike Klinzing: [00:51:12] There definitely are losses that stick with you. I can vouch for Jerry West that there’s some losses. I don’t know if I think about him every day, but I definitely, I definitely think about them that I’m like, Ooh, that was an opportunity that I wish I had, I had back.
So I’m going to tell you my very, very brief. Jerry West story, and it really doesn’t have anything to do with Jerry West, the person. But so when I was growing up and I would go and I would play at the local courts down the road from where I grew up. So I hop on my bike and I probably started going up in there when I was 13, maybe something like that and play with the guys who were in high school or college and adults.
And I would go, and I’d always be the first one there so that I could get in that first game. And then after that they’re like, we’re not picking up this skinny little 13 year old once the real players got there. Then I kind of had to sit out, but I kept hanging around, hanging around and eventually I made my way, so I [00:52:00] could, I could play in the main events, but one of the guys that was up there lived sort of in my neighborhood and he would walk to the courts from his house and he kind of befriended me and took me under his wing.
And at some point I don’t remember the exact moment, but at some point. He was a guy who liked to get out nicknames. And so he would give out nicknames to all these different people on the court. And so he started calling me Jerry West. And so there is a. Whole contingent. So from the time I was about 14 until I was probably 20, there was this whole contingent of people in my life that just called me West And so, Oh, that’s cool. You could do much worse. Yeah, exactly. And once I got out of that,
yeah. Environment though, there wasn’t really like I didn’t take that nickname with me to college. Like I didn’t, I never referred to myself. Right. As, as West, it was never a nickname that kind of became universal.
It was just in this one particular place in my [00:53:00] life where people would use that name. And it’s funny because I will still occasionally run into somebody from that era of my life. And I’ll be with somebody. Of my life in my life now, or maybe somebody that I was with in college and they’ll be like, Hey West, how are you doing?
And people will look at me, they’ll be like, who’s he talking to? Like, what, what does he mean? And then I have to go in and try to explain this whole thing at this one point, this guy who was like 27 and I was 14 and he decided he was going to start calling me Jerry West and it caught on. And so it’s just kind of funny.
So I always feel that it’s going on, even though there’s no real connection between me and Jerry West, there is this period of time where. People for whatever reason based on this guy calling me Jerry West, there was a lot of people that call me West. So it’s, it’s sort of a badge of pride that I wear.
Denny Lennon: [00:53:45] That is one of the beautiful things too about sports.
I think that binds a lot of us is that those nicknames that like I, as a long time coach cause I spent a lot of time, a lot of years as a, as a coach of multiple different sports at different [00:54:00] levels. And nicknames are important. They make you they make you on some level, have a deeper, like, appreciation for the sport because you don’t get a nickname for answering a bunch of questions.
Right. You know, in like your math class so much, you get these, all the sports fields. In the arenas. And it’s cool. And so for you to have that one to hang on to, and that’s pretty cool. That’s right. That’s that’s good. Yeah.
Mike Klinzing: [00:54:28] It’s very fun. All right. Let’s shift gears from Jerry West to John wooden.
Tell me a little bit about why obviously growing up in LA, you get the chance to see the tail end, as you said, of John Wooden. And by the time that you’re around and you’re a kid, sort of a legend of him is already there. But I think probably his legend has grown in stature, even from where it was.
Back when he was alive and back when he was actually winning his titles, he’s probably more revered now than he even was in the moment. So just tell me a little bit about why John wooden, beyond the fact that [00:55:00] the geographic proximity, just tell me what it was that you respected about him. I’d be, I’d be really interested to hear what your favorite John wooden saying is, cause I know you probably know there are thousands of them that are out there.
So I’m just curious which ones you’d like to. Pull up a refer to, so just tell us a little bit about your quasi relationship with John wooden as a fan of his.
Denny Lennon: [00:55:21] The only place you’ll find success before work is in the dictionary is probably the one that sticks out the most. To me when I was born in 64, that’s when John went and won his first NCAA and it took him what 16 years to get to that point.
UCLA now it seems we’re always good, but it took him. So, and then, and then he kept one of them telling 75. So. Like I said, I became aware of him and his team’s around 70. So I got those last few years of coach wooden. And I’ve been fortunate enough on the backside here doing this, these interviews to have just interviewed Andre McCarter, who was on that 75 team his [00:56:00] grandson in law, Craig implement, who has a lot of great stories.
The guy who spent the last 13 years of his life. Lynn Shelton with coach wooden and developed the John R wooden course and Lynn Guerin rather. And and so I got close to it in these interviews and coach Wooden, and here’s the thing. I always revered him as this guy who wanted, no matter what, it didn’t matter.
Like Vietnam war is raging and he’s got Bill Walton. That’s okay. He doesn’t have Alcindor or Walton. He’s got wicks and rowe. No problem. We’re going to win. Like the guy was a machine, right. He would just win. And that’s what attracted me by the time I went and I played high school basketball.
Then I was playing junior college basketball and I tore up my leg. I needed to make money. So I came back, took a PE coaching job and became like the coach and then quickly the athletic director at the school. So I said, shoot, my teams are gonna win. Like John Wooden’s. I should get his book, figure out what he did.
Right. I get his book and he spends almost all, like, it’s not that much [00:57:00] basketball in it. He doesn’t even bring up the word, win that much. It’s talking so much about how important it is to be a good teacher. How it is to work with your players, not direct your players around that you don’t get the credit, you spread that credit on.
All of those life lessons came from like those first few books that I read of his, and it finally sunk in because when I started to coach and I was young, I was like 20, 21 years old. I coached a lot. Like I was, coach was a lot of yelling. And a lot of focus on what a person did wrong without the appropriate correction to what they did wrong.
And I didn’t feel good about it. And what more I would read for coach wooden, the more I just said, okay, here we go. And I copied all of his drills on a copier. That’s what my assistant coaches at any of the lower level teams would coach from. Don’t deviate from this, and we’re going to use the pyramid of success as our guiding principle.
And so are our players. [00:58:00] And when I did that, everything turned around, I felt better about myself. My players felt better about themselves and performed at a much higher level. And I just thought to myself, okay. Like, why doesn’t everybody do this? But the fact of the matter is I just, I kind of became the guy who knew about John wooden and it puts you on what it’s.
So my teams would always learn all of those quotes. We would always have them. I eventually would make little magnets that were the pyramid of success. Those would go out to the player of the week. I started to name of practice player of the day. At the end of every practice had nothing to do with the best player I had everything to do with the player who had overcome something or made significant progress.
All of the things that I learned from those wooden books started to really pay off because my teams, and it didn’t matter what sport started to do really well. And then my coaches that came from me started to do well. And I thought to myself that I had this market cornered. I didn’t, there was people all around Los Angeles, if not the country who had learned from the great John wooden, who, as [00:59:00] you said, was more revered.
Even though 10 championships in 12 years, more revered later in life as being the great teacher. So any, and all of that just makes him one of the most fascinating people I’ve known. I always said that like my three favorite Americans, when I would do my speeches to try to lure in do prospects to the school at open house days.
So my three favorite Americans are Abraham Lincoln. John wooden and my mom and they all have their reasons why. And John wooden is he ranks that high with me in my life. And I had one called time. One of my ex players is was at Occidental college cause he gets a hold of me. And these are the days before cell phone kind of right in that he gets a hold of me through the main line at the school.
I have to come in off the yard. I pick it up. He goes, coach, I go, Hey, what’s up search. He goes, look. Wooden’s going to be speaking at my school today. I said, no, really? He goes, yeah, he goes, I can get you in. And I said, I’m going to bring my kids with [01:00:00] me. And he goes, all right. So my kids are like, my boy Vaughn at the time was maybe.
Eight and my daughter Sienna, it was five. Now my daughter did not sit still, ever like ever right everywhere. We ever wait, never wanted to go to a restaurant. It was like you had to have multiple coloring and puzzles and she keep her calm. Or I tell her to go walk around and collect all the yellow packets and bring it back to me and I’ll go put them back.
Like I had an occupier all the time. We went, we sat, my boy knew how important it was to me. So he just sat there and pay attention. I’d never seen my daughter sit. So still she’s five years old. And she is just focused on this guy. It’s like, he was a Buddha that was levitating up there on the stage. And she listened all the way through and I thought, Oh my God, this there’s something about this guy.
Like, it goes so far beyond his coaching sports. He really, truly is like a transcendent figure. And we got a chance to go up and talk to him after. So there was really nice. He he said a couple of nice words to me. I’m glad you could show you said something nicer. He, [01:01:00] there was people that were lined up.
300 deep wanting to talk to him. He talked to my daughter for about 15 minutes. Like he just sat there and was fascinated that she’d like written him. Yeah, her like a, she drew a cartoon or whatever, and handed it off to him. He signed his name to Sienna, love John wooden. He asked her what, like he sat there and talked to her and I say 15, it was probably four minutes.
You wouldn’t believe what the line was getting like behind them. But I thought, God, this guy is something else. You know, he’s really something else. So yeah, those, those are a couple of my John wooden stories. I was fortunate enough that I got to coach his Granddaughter on a team. And she got me a signed ball that says for Coach Lennon, best wishes, John wooden, UCLA.
So I always show that to any of my friends that come over. I go, look, he calls me, coach calls himself, John. I go by coach. So you know that and there’s just so many of those stories. I think I’m not the only one who can tell these stories about John wooden. I think he reached so many people’s [01:02:00] lives.
That was. Bigger than basketball that he’s truly like this great American.
Mike Klinzing: [01:02:05] Yeah. I think the thing that I always come back to with John wooden is the fact that you kind of alluded to it, that a lot of the things that he did in terms of the way he instructed and not being the yelling drill Sergeant type of coach.
There was clearly an era in the seventies and eighties where that was the prevailing style of coaching. And it’s kind of amazing that it continued to be despite the fact that here was a guy who had more success than just about any coach in any sport. And he did it sort of the opposite way. And I think now we’ve come around.
If you look at the way. Most coaches are going about their business today, it’s much closer to the John wooden style of coaching than it is to, I guess when I, when I think of the antithesis of the John wooden style, I think of Bobby Knight. And so in the seventies and eighties, the Bob Knight style of coaching was far more prevalent, far more accepted and.
Not that Bob Knight didn’t have some success with that because clearly he did. And clearly [01:03:00] there was a lot of great things about coach Knight to go along with sort of the darker side of what he did. But when I think of John wooden, I just think of a guy who was able to have success on the floor, but also was able to have such a huge impact on his players and coaching and on society as a whole off the floor.
And to me, that’s what really makes him special. The fact that his style of coaching. Has transcended eras and his in essence really started a new era of coaching. When you think about how coaches go about their business today, it’s really fascinating. Just the fact that he was around when he was, and that, what he’s done is still here today
Denny Lennon: [01:03:36] How about another, like biopic.
That would be unbelievable. You don’t remember like what, 32 Purdue wins the championship with him as our player. He’s the best basketball player in the country. Yeah, exactly. Right. He was, he was great. Like he was excellent. And then he made a little side money playing semi-pro baseball while he was becoming like a teacher and a coach and stuff like that.
So the guy was a terrific [01:04:00] athlete in his own. Right. And then worked his way up and he only comes to UCLA because of storm hit Minnesota and wiped out their telephone lines so that they couldn’t call him to tell him that the offer was good. And then UCLA calls. And he says, okay. And then when Minnesota called back with a better offer where he wanted to go stay in the big tent, I’ve already given my word.
And he goes out and he’s in a horrible facility as a split the gym out at UCLA. They don’t even have a home court like they’re playing at places like, like they have to play in the shrine auditorium and they have to play over at pan Pacific and they play at Venice high school. They’re playing in high school.
So they’re UCLA yet. He’s winning conference championships. So as, as a lot of people, and even I alluded to it right away, it took him 16 years to when that title he was winning the pack eight or what was then like the AA WVU or whatever. He was winning that conference a lot, like as teams were really good.
And they always were good and he recognized them faults in himself and he corrected himself and he moved forward. [01:05:00] I just, I, I just think he’s a fascinating story of, of what can be done. And so I’ve always used his. His teachings is his motivational. That pyramid of success is just like, kind of like a guiding light.
Mike Klinzing: [01:05:11] Yeah. There’s no question about that. All right. I want to jump into sports stories with Denny Lennon. Give us the. Quick story of how you started it, why you started it, what the vision for it was an is and where you see it going in the future.
Denny Lennon: [01:05:25] So after to make a couple of bucks, when I was a teenager and stuff, I’d coached the little league teams and that kind of stuff and helped out.
Right. So I looked at it this way it’s 55 or something. So I was like 40 years. I’ve been coaching. I’ve been played a little bit. You know, like, as I mentioned through college, I mean not through college, but like only one year of college or whatever. And so I’ve been coaching administrating.
I started and beach volleyball and grew that with a couple of key figures across the country. We started with a number of kids. We grew junior beach volleyball to become a competent sport. So [01:06:00] I’d done all of those things and I really enjoyed them. And I met a lot of people was fortunate and I was having a good success as an athletic director at this high school.
But. Something was gnawing at me. And I was like, I really think there’s an opportunity here in this day and age that we can, you don’t have to know somebody to get a TV show or to get into a magazine or whatever. You could just do this podcast. And I liked podcasts. I like listening to some of them and I thought, I think I could do that.
And so I just, we just jumped into it. Marley Rice, who was, got me up on the podcast and stuff. She was my administrative assistant over at that high school. And I go, how about making no money for awhile and seeing if we could create a career and and let’s see what we can do. And that’s how it started.
So we immediately felt like a video podcast would work well because we’re going to be covering a lot. We’re going to get to places a lot of other people can’t get to because I’m fortunate through my family, through my AAU connections, through my past being an announcer on women’s pro beach and [01:07:00] that kind of stuff, I could get to some places.
And so that’s what we started to do. And so what we do now, we kind of do a few different things. We have a couple of live shows that go on YouTube. We also do a sit down video podcast. So those live shows, one of them is focused on the club. So the Olympian scene prep sports to Olympian. See, and the other one, it’s kind of like the old tonight show with Johnny Carson, where guys come on and just kind of screw around.
And we have some fun with that on a Friday night and do a cheers kind of with a local restaurant provides with a margarita. So that show gets a little crazy. But the Wednesday one, we keep the margarita is off, of course, because it’s a prep. So Olympians show and those both kind of caught on and they’re doing well, what have we got syndicated to our local television station out here?
LA 36. So that’s working out and then the video podcasts, or I look at them like 60 minutes. I love 60 minutes. And which is not unlike what you’re doing right now. Right. It’s like long form is not for everybody. It’s for people who can maybe pay attention and dive into a story or whatever the subject might be.
And so that’s what we do. We drop on [01:08:00] Thursdays and then we started out little segments. Like one of them that’s really cool is there’s this guy Jonas Never. Right. He’s he’s like a street artist muralist, and you’ve probably seen his work and didn’t know you’ve seen it cause he’s done some great, like Laker he’s did the Joe Kelly one.
Baseball, he’s done the Kobe one. He said a lot of these big and a lot of them are they have a take on different sports. So there are murals all over Los Angeles and we go, we just cover one of them on every Tuesday and we just go and I just, it’s a one taker. I look at it. I, I kind of think about what it’s about and then boom, we just do a take on it and we drop those on Tuesdays.
So those are all the different things we do. We seem to get, we’re getting some traction here and the audience is growing and there seems to be more opportunities coming. So when you get. A week, like Bob Klein and Jerry West, your two boyhood heroes in the same week, I was like, damn, like, hopefully I haven’t peaked too early.
That’s pretty good. That’s pretty good.
Mike Klinzing: [01:08:55] That’s pretty good. That’s pretty good. So you’re gonna have, you’re gonna have to do a lot to top yourself. All right. Before we wrap up, I want [01:09:00] to give you a chance to share where people can find all the shows. Give them the information that they need in order to be able to go and check all this out.
Denny Lennon: [01:09:07] Nice. Again Denny Lennon, Denny, like the restaurant Lennon, like the beetle. So @sportsstoriesDL is what you gotta remember. So on Twitter, it’s easy enough @sportsstoriesDL, my web address where everything lives on our website is at sports. It’s you know sportsstoriesdl.com, and that’s where they can find us.
And, and YouTube is a YouTube. S S D L which has, of course, eventually that’s going to be like, ESPN, there you go. Right. You’re not even going to know what nobody knows what ESPN stood for originally. And so eventually, hopefully I’m going to bring on some good young people and they’re going to take over for me and I’ll just lay back and see if the initials can do anything.
Mike Klinzing: [01:09:47] Love it. That’s awesome. I think that, again, I’m fascinated by sort of the entrepreneurial journey of people who are trying different things and what you have going on. Obviously what you’ve been able to do in the short time that you’ve been doing this speaks to the fact that I think you’re [01:10:00] going to have success going forward.
So anybody who’s out there listening in our audience, if you haven’t had a chance to go and check out what Denny’s doing, Please check out sports stories with any Lennon. And I think you’ll be impressed. And again, clearly if you were fascinated enough to listen to this whole episode and hear, I was talking about Jerry West, you want to go in here, the exact actual interview that Danny did with Jerry.
Denny Lennon: [01:10:21] December 17, we’ll put it out for four consecutive Thursdays after that.
Mike Klinzing: [01:10:26] Perfect. So probably right about the time, this thing is airing our podcast. When it goes out, there’ll be just about the time that your stuff will be out. So. It’ll work out perfectly, Denny. I cannot thank you enough.
Denny Lennon: [01:10:37] Thank you, Mike. And Mike, I gotta tell ya, Jason. I know you’re you’re behind the scenes cause I talk so much, but I know you’re doing the work back there too.
Cause I really do enjoy the shows that I listened to here. So you got me as a subscriber and a fan now, and I’m only upset that we didn’t get to talk about Bingo Smith from the Cleveland Cavaliers. Cause that was my guy back in the day.
Mike Klinzing: [01:10:55] I love bingo. He was my favorite guy. Joe Tait called [01:11:00] bingo.
Jason Sunkle: There was nothing. There was nothing. There was nothing. Sadly. I can sadly say that. I only know bingo in name. I never saw him play.
Mike Klinzing: [01:11:09] You guys have both appreciate this just the other night. I don’t know. For some reason my daughter and I were talking and my daughter who’s 16. She’s my, sports fanin my family.
And so her and I are usually the ones that end up talking sports. And so for some reason I was. Pull it up. We were looking at something on her phone and I can’t remember exactly the Genesis of it, but we pulled up the Cavs 1976 theme song, like disco theme song, the Cavs will make it happen. But so anyway, it was funny.
So yeah. So I’ve definitely, I’ve definitely now big it, so maybe we’ll have to have you back on to talk some Bingo Smith at some point
Denny Lennon: [01:11:44] I can talk about golden flashes. All right. We can talk. All right.
Mike Klinzing: [01:11:49] So we’re going to go, we’re going to come back and. Well, after the fact I’ve become pretty good friends with Trevor Huffman.
Who’s the all-time leading scorer. I can’t, he and I he’s 10 years younger than me, but he and I become pretty good friends in the last, few years. So yeah, we’ll definitely, do that. And Denny again, we can’t thank you enough for jumping out with us tonight.
Really appreciate it. And to everyone out there. Thanks for listening. And we will catch you on our next episode. Thanks.