By Larry Stewart
This Sunday marks the 25th anniversary of the opening of the Bren Events Center on the UC Irvine campus. The center opened Jan. 8, 1987, when the 'Eaters defeated Utah State, 118-96, on the strength of 43 points by Scott Brooks. Brooks is head coach of the NBA's Oklahoma City Thunder and the 2010 NBA Coach of the Year.
About the Writer: Larry Stewart was a sportswriter for the Los Angeles Times for 30-plus years after spending nearly nine years at the Los Angeles Herald Examiner. He is now semi-retired.
I think most of you know that Scott Brooks is one of the most accomplished athletes to ever come out of UC Irvine. Although undrafted, he played 11 years in the NBA and is now the esteemed coach of the Oklahoma City Thunder, which lost to eventual champion Dallas in last season's Western Conference finals.
And you probably know that Brooks continues to give back to UCI. He was the host of the UCI/Scott Brooks Golf Invitational presented by Irvine BMW that took place at Oak Creek Golf Club in September, the first of what is expected to become an annual charity event.
In an Orange County Register story about the golf tournament, Brooks said he lived with Charles Barkley in Philadelphia in 1987 and '88 when Barkley played for the 76ers.
I had gotten to know Barkley fairly well after he retired as a player and went to work for TNT since I was the Times' TV-Radio sports columnist for most of my tenure there. I often got together with Barkley for an interview whenever he appeared on Jay Leno's show, which is taped at the NBC Studios in Burbank.
So for this column, I first contacted Barkley and asked him how it came about that he and Scott Brooks had lived together.
"Scott was just out of college and a great kid," he told me. "I didn't think he was going to make the team, and I didn't want to see him have to get into a one-year lease on an apartment and waste all that money. So I invited him to come and live with me."
It turned out to be only for a couple of weeks because, as Barkley suspected, Brooks didn't make the team. "But he came back the next year and had put on about 15 pounds of muscle and made the team," Barkley added.
I then contacted Brooks and told him what Barkley had said.
"That's a great story," Brooks said. "Here I was a 22-year-old kid from UC Irvine and this superstar invites me to come and live in his three-story mansion.
"The next year, when I came back to Philadelphia and made the team, I didn't get a guaranteed contract until around Christmas time. Charles let me live in his house again, this time for several months.
"But once I got a guaranteed contract, he kicked me out," Scott said with a laugh. "He said, 'Okay, enough of this freeloading.'
"I must say, it was a quite an experience for a young guy like me to be living in Charles' house. He made it clear his home was my home, that what was his was also mine. I drove his cars – and that's cars, plural. I loved his Porsche.
"The funny part is I didn't know for about 10 years that he had invited me to live with him the first time because he didn't think I would make the team. I thought he was just being a nice guy. But it's like he told you, he was concerned that I was going to have to get a one-year lease on an apartment and he didn't want me wasting my money."
Brooks went on to say, "People don't know what a generous, giving person he is. About 95 percent of what he does to help out the needy, no one ever knows about. There were times we would be just driving around and he'd stop off at a grocery store and load up. Then he would take all these groceries and deliver them directly to the homeless. Not to a shelter; he'd go to a park or wherever the homeless were and not only give them food, but also 76er gear and socks and all kinds of stuff."
Speaking of being charitable, Brooks told me charitable community work kept him busy during the NBA lockout. When we talked, he had just returned from a rescue shelter where he and other Thunder front-office personnel were handing out Thanksgiving dinners.
It seems the generosity shown by his old housemate years ago may have rubbed off on Scott Brooks. Lending his name to a charity golf tournament to raise money for his alma mater's athletic department is an example of that.
"I wouldn't be in the position I'm in today if it weren't for UC Irvine," he explained. "The school gave me a scholarship and helped me fulfill my dream. Now I want to help the school do that for others."
Scott Brooks will be a guest on the Blue & Gold Report that airs Tuesday, Jan. 10 at 5:00 p.m. on KUCI/88.9 FM.
If you have a question for Scott, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. Select questions will be read over the air, time permitting. All questions must be emailed by Sunday, Jan. 8.