There have been all kinds of brother acts that have played Los
Angeles: Smothers, Menendez, Blues and Marx. Also, Doobie. But the
hottest right now has to be the O'Bannons, a pair that has logged
more flight time than the Wrights, gotten more airtime than the
Gumbels and done better box office in this town than the Quaids
and the Baldwins.
The two brothers we're talking about, Ed and Charles, are just
college basketball players. But in taking the UCLA Bruins to the
NCAA championship, they've filled arenas with a rare hoop-bending,
court-shaking excitement -- the Brothers Rim. It has been years
since Los Angeles got this kind of entertainment value from any
brothers save Ringling.
Since the O'Bannons reunited at UCLA in 1993 -- this past year Ed
was a senior and Charles a sophomore -- Bruin basketball has
certainly been a circus. Since they first returned the Bruins to
the top spot in the national rankings in January 1994 (never mind
that first-round loss to Tulsa in last year's NCAA tournament),
games have been selling out, students have been camping outside
Pauley Pavilion overnight for choice seats, and coach Jim Harrick
has been compared to John Wooden (kidding, joke; this is a circus,
not some weird parallel universe).
Of course, this was not a two-man team, and anybody who watched
Tyus Edney flourish or Toby Bailey blossom this year might wonder
whether this really is a brother act or just some kind of sibling
sideshow. As far as that goes, UCLA was actually doing O.K. before
the O'Bannons paired up. The Bruins had won 20-plus games in each
of Harrick's first six years, and heading into '94-95, it was easy
to downplay the O'Bannon factor in favor of team balance. Yet it
had been almost 11 years since the Bruins were atop a poll and 20
since their last national championship. The fact that UCLA didn't
return to No. 1 and win its 11th title until more than 13 feet
worth of O'Bannons showed up on the same court should not be
April 14, 1995
Anyway, who can begrudge the O'Bannons credit for this commotion?
Ed came back from a terrible knee injury suffered before what
should have been his freshman season to win the '95 Wooden Award
-- appropriately enough -- as college basketball's player of the
year, leading UCLA in scoring (20.3 ppg), rebounding (8.1 rpg) and
emotion. Edney captured attention with his coast-to- coast drives,
but it was Ed's leadership that got the team out of the blocks
when Edney was sidelined with a wrist injury. ``This is just a
pickup game,'' Ed told his teammates as they left the locker room
for the title game. Besides his pregame calm, he has lent an
on-court fierceness to the season's proceedings that bore little
resemblance to his off-court demeanor -- as anyone knows who has
ever tried to provoke anything as flamboyant as conversation from
him. Does anybody remember his little fracas in the Notre Dame
game in February when he bolted downcourt and pushed Derek Manner
after the Irish guard had shoved Edney into the basket support
following an Edney layup? It was typical of O'Bannon, in the heat
of a battle that not all of his teammates always felt, to rumble
down the court with a ferocious stomp, wagging his hairless head,
frightening friends and family alike. ``He's two different
people,'' his father, Ed Sr., says. ``On the court he really goes
Little brother Charles, a 6 6" forward who had his night in the
Final Four against Oklahoma State (19 points to his brother's 15
-- take that!), is similarly athletic, playing well above the hoop
on both ends of the court. But of the two brothers, Charles is the
yakker and the one more likely to wear a smile. Says his mother,
Madeline, ``Charles might actually come up and talk to you.''
That's how you tell them apart. But besides their being talented,
the reason nobody has really minded the inevitable publicity that
has come their way is that they are that rare thing in big-time
college basketball: They are totally unselfish. As a result
there's something else that's new at UCLA. For once, the Bruins
have been a team whose members like one another, and this more
than anything else may be what got Harrick his title when so many
of his more elegant predecessors at UCLA failed.
Radio broadcaster Marques Johnson, who sometimes seemed to be at
Pauley just to remind boosters of long-ago glory, has seen good
UCLA teams more recently than his own national championship gang
in 1975, Wooden's final year. The 28-5 Bruins of three seasons
ago, a squad that featured future NBA talents Don MacLean and
Tracy Murray, made it to the NCAA tournament's final eight. ``But
in the MacLean and Murray years the players were more stat-
conscious,'' Johnson says. ``When Ed O'Bannon got here, it was as
if he declared there would be no star on this team. He still gets
mad when I call him the go-to guy.''
That Ed and Charles might play together in college for two
seasons, much less play together for Harrick, is an odd confluence
of luck -- some good and some bad. Even though
Ed Sr. played football at UCLA back in 1971, neither of his sons
seemed destined to play basketball there. Ed, who was selected by
Basketball Times as the nation's top prep player in 1990, was
headed for UNLV because Artesia High, the suburban L.A. school
that both O'Bannons attended, ran the same offense and defense as
the Rebels. But then UNLV got nailed for NCAA violations, and Ed
settled for UCLA. And settled is exactly the word. ``At the
time,'' he admits, ``that's what it felt like.''
As for Charles, he was similarly celebrated at Artesia and even
more extravagantly courted. ``My recruitment was like the
Los Angeles riots,'' is the way Ed puts it. ``His was like
Vietnam.'' Charles, too, seemed headed out of town. Artesia High's
basketball banquet two years ago, which celebrated the Pioneers'
second straight state championship, was attended by a virtual
battalion of coaches. Kentucky's Rick Pitino was the featured
speaker, and suitors such as Harrick, USC's George Raveling and
Michigan's Steve Fisher couldn't afford to abandon the field to
that smooth talker. ``I didn't want to say no to anybody and look
like a jerk,'' says Artesia coach Wayne Mereno, ``so I let
everybody -- coaches and media -- come. I looked like a jerk.''
Pitino's address was so galvanizing that before the dishes were
cleared, everybody assumed Charles was heading for Bluegrass
country. Harrick -- who was being blasted in the Los Angeles media
for his inability to recruit -- was thinking maybe he ought to
hightail it out of state as well. But Charles got up to deliver
his own little speech and, looking around at his family and
friends, realized he couldn't leave home. The next day he
committed to UCLA. Said brother Ed, who had tried to remain
uninvolved throughout, ``Let's go win a national championship.''
The recruiting of Charles made that more than wishful thinking by
opening a floodgate of talent. Last year's freshman class was
rated No. 1 by several recruiting publications. One of those
recruits was Johnson's son Kris, the 1993 L.A. player of the year.
According to his father, Kris said, ``If that's where Charles is
going, that's where I'm going.'' Says Marques, ``You have to
understand that not only is Charles a great player, but everybody
loves him. He's the magnet that draws the other kids.''
The immediate effect of Charles's arrival was not an NCAA
championship (remember Tulsa) but a turnaround for Harrick's
reputation. Although he had lasted longer at UCLA than any other
coach since Wooden, Harrick had never been beloved. Two years ago,
when the Bruins drifted to a 22-11 record, the critics seized on
his recruiting. ``I knew it was coming,'' he says. ``I just didn't
know when.'' Harrick conceded that landing Charles was timely, if
not job-saving. ``It got us over the hump,'' he says.
But don't tell Harrick he's lucky. ``Was I lucky that Tracy Murray
went hardship [after the 1991-92 season],'' he asks, ``and left a
team that was top five in the country, wire-to-wire, no question
about it?'' More to the point: ``Was I lucky when Ed O'Bannon
missed his freshman year with a knee injury?''
That injury, just before the start of the 1990-91 season -- more
knee wreckage than anybody let on at the time -- postponed stardom
for Ed for a full two years. Even last year some were wondering if
he was all the way back. Harrick himself suspected that Ed's
balance was not quite there. Yet who can argue with performance?
Last year at about this time at least one insider sensed a turning
point. ``To me,'' said Charles late last season, ``he's reached
the point where he was when he got injured, and now he's
improving.'' Really, though, it was only about midway through this
past season that Ed elevated his play from that of a good college
player to that of a top-10 NBA pick.
For Charles, at least, this is not particularly good news. The
poor lad has never dunked on his brother (he has only once beaten
him one-on-one), and now it looks as if he never will. ``I don't
know what it is,'' Charles says, ``but he'll do whatever it takes,
just won't let me dunk on him. Not ever. But that's my whole
family. My dad won't let me dunk either. If I go up on him, he
catches me in the air and just sets me down.''
``I bet you got that forearm shiver, too,'' chimes in Ed, perhaps
remembering his own quality time with Dad.
``Yes, I did,'' says Charles.
By all accounts, whatever has gone on in the O'Bannon home has
been good preparation for NCAA tournament play. Ed Sr., a UPS
driver, remembers delivering a tiny basketball to each toddler's
crib. He kept his instructions simple: ``All I ever said to Ed
was, `Don't shoot underhand.' '' So you see the problem. These
O'Bannon boys have been playing since they were two and fighting
through forearm shivers ever after.
On Ed Sr.'s part there was that little bit of coaching and some
anxious defense under the boards, but he never went nuts over his
kids' careers. It was enough for him to see that they truly loved
the game. ``I'm not saying it was their first words,'' he says.
``But I do remember them saying `Shoot the hoops' as babies.''
A little later Ed Sr. put a hoop up in the driveway, and the
O'Bannon yard became a rec center. There would be crowds of 20
loitering to see the neighborhood's best pickup games, which, for
the sake of fairness to everyone but Charles, always paired one
O'Bannon against the other. The neighbors didn't care much for all
the noise, but Ed Sr. never minded. ``At least I knew where my
kids were,'' he says. It was that kind of family.
However, as Ed approached junior high, he began to get a little
too creative with his dunking. Says Ed Sr., ``Breakaway rims were
not yet a home- purchase item.'' So he retired the hoop, and then
-- because he felt the area near Compton in which the O'Bannons
were living was taking a turn for the worse -- he retired the
neighborhood and moved his brood to Lakewood.
Since then the O'Bannon brother act has moved to increasingly
better venues and attracted more and more attention. This year
they played the Big Top, and what a way for the duo to go out:
BROTHER ACT PLAYS NCAA TOURNAMENT. . . .