How a Celtics Fan From Brooklyn Helped Make Los Angeles an NBA Hotbed

LOS ANGELES -- Whether or not the Golden State Warriors once again survive the NBA playoffs to win their fourth title in five years this spring, they will decamp from Oracle Arena in Oakland to the soon-to-be-glistening Chase Center in San Francisco once this season is over. The move across the Bay will bring the Warriors closer to their past, and head coach Steve Kerr closer to his.

When he was in high school, Steve moved with his family from the Middle East to Los Angeles, where his father, Malcolm, had taken a teaching position at UCLA. For a hoops-loving teenager living on the Westside, there weren’t many places to play organized basketball against elite competition.

So Steve took his talents to the San Fernando Valley to join Rich Goldberg’s American Roundball Corporation (ARC). Rich, in turn, took Steve’s team to Kezar Pavilion, a stone’s throw from San Francisco’s famed Haight-Ashbury district, to compete against kids from around—and beyond—the Golden State.

“It was so cool actually leaving town, leaving LA for a tournament,” Steve recalls with CloseUp360. “Rich did a great job with ARC. It was a time in my life when I was trying to develop as a basketball player and I loved playing in that league.”

The basketball world is littered with these stories, as it should be. Rich’s organization has helped thousands of kids learn and play the game, hundreds go to college and more than 40 eventually reach the NBA.

“I wouldn’t have gotten exposure as a player if I didn’t play for ARC,” says Tracy Murray, who played at UCLA before spending 11 years in the NBA. “I probably wouldn’t have gotten the college offers and the college looks that I’d gotten without ARC.”

“He’s a legend,” says Larry Drew II, a former McDonald’s All-American who’s played for the Philadelphia 76ers and New Orleans Pelicans, “especially out here in the Valley with everything he’s been able to do for the plethora of players who’ve come through and played for the program.”

Rich has been around long enough to have a coaching tree of his own, comprised of his former ARC pupils: Byron Scott, Jason Kidd, Luke Walton and, of course, Steve.

“I think Rich made a huge impact on the entire Southern California basketball scene,” Steve says. “All the young players who were coming up, we needed competition. And ARC was where all the competition seemed to gather.”

Rich Goldberg Byron Scott

Rich Goldberg examines an old ARC brochure featuring Byron Scott. (Aaron Massarano)

It’s a rare Sunday when Rich is home in Sherman Oaks rather than running a youth basketball tournament elsewhere in the Valley. It’s rarer still that the pool in the backyard is overflowing with rainwater.

Rich rests in his garage office, surrounded by keepsakes: autographed balls, brochures of ARC teams past and trophies—lots and lots of trophies.

But Rich is more excited to show off shrines for his childhood idols, none of whom were basketball players.

On the bar in his living room sit books, tin lunch boxes and other tchotchkes from actor William Boyd, whose role as Hopalong Cassidy captivated Rich as a kid in Brooklyn and whose ability to merchandize the fictional cowboy character continues to fascinate him. Alongside those are vinyl records from Gary U.S. Bonds, his favorite singer, and books about Marilyn Monroe, whose timeless beauty he still admires.

Decorating the walls are photographs of Duke Snider, the Brooklyn Dodgers star whose hitting technique inspired his own swing, be it playing stickball in the streets of Flatbush or in batting cages across New York City.

“I might’ve had a career in baseball if I could field at all,” Rich quips.

Rich’s house isn’t entirely devoid of hoops memorabilia, though there’s one piece in particular that’s obscured by Duke. It’s a plaque of John Havlicek, the Boston Celtics great who became his favorite player.

“He was tough, skilled, smart, athletic and could run all day," Rich says.

John Havlicek Duke Snider

A plaque of John Havlicek inside Rich's home. (Aaron Massarano)

Rich appreciated the Brooklyn Jewish roots he shared with Red Auerbach, and admired the Celtics legend’s teams for their fast-paced, pass-happy style of play. The jabs from the neighborhood kids, all of whom were New York Knicks fans? Not so much.

Rich, though, could take the teasing and dish it back out on the court. While his mother, a Romanian immigrant named Sandra, did odd jobs and his father, a native of Hell’s Kitchen named Irving, worked in the garment business, Rich—dubbed “The Saint” for his love of the Roger Moore-led TV show—and his friends scoured NYC for the toughest opponents they could find. Rather than shine as a scorer, he typically defended the other team’s best player.

Off the court, Rich stayed busy by shoveling snow as a kid and organizing softball leagues with local libraries as a teenager.

At 16, he had skipped enough grades to finish high school and enroll at Brooklyn College, where he played “wherever they could hide me on defense” on the varsity baseball team. At 20, he had earned an English degree, with a minor in radio, film and television. At 22, he had a teaching credential from San Francisco State University and was working towards a master’s degree in radio, film and TV.

In the Bay Area, Rich dabbled in media—as a production assistant at ABC’s local affiliate and as an account executive at KEST radio, which broadcasted San Francisco Warriors games—while staying hands-on in sports. He became the recreation director at Mission Dolores Park, where he coached baseball, soccer, softball and basketball, and got the city to install an outdoor court.

After finishing school in 1974, Rich moved to LA to pursue a future in entertainment. He had some initial success—stretching what was supposed to be a one-month run as a weekly radio host on KIIS AM (now KIIS FM) to a three-month stint as host of the thrice-weekly “Rich Barry Show”—but wound up teaching English at schools all over LA to make ends meet.

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Rich owns extensive collections of memorabilia from Hopalong Cassidy and Marilyn Monroe. (Aaron Massarano)

Rich’s reputation for recreation followed him south. He got offers to coach baseball and basketball, but didn’t have time for both.

“I chose basketball because it was indoors,” he says. “I was too blonde and too fair to be outdoors.”

Rich endeavored to learn as much about basketball as he could, beyond what he knew from his playing days. He read books, talked to coaches and attended clinics.

Rich, though, was no fan of the Mid-Valley Conference he had joined. In San Francisco, he’d enjoyed the purity of mentoring kids without parental interference. In the LA suburbs, the parents were in control, much to his dismay.

“I told our group, ‘Let’s go our own way, form our own organization and do it the right way,’” he recalls. “And they did, and we did.”

Rich could hardly have picked a better time to break off within basketball. The Los Angeles Lakers had captivated the city, following their record 33-game winning streak in 1971-72 and that season's NBA championship triumph with Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain and Gail Goodrich. At the collegiate level, John Wooden was winding down his historic run of 10 NCAA tournament titles in 12 years at UCLA.

In 1975, the same year the “Wizard of Westwood” retired, Rich started a program “on a lark.” He called it BCI California, as an offshoot of Basketball Congress International, an Arizona-based organization whose tournaments his San Francisco teams had played in. He filled four teams of 40 players—including Darren Daye, a future UCLA Bruin and five-year NBA veteran—at no cost to the kids.

The next year, enrollment doubled, despite Rich charging $20 per head to cover expenses (clothing, facilities, basketballs and other materials) and leaving BCI over concerns about its leadership. The year after that, Rich raised the fee to $40, yet enrollment doubled again.

In 1978, Rich registered his organization with the IRS as the American Roundball Corporation (ARC), the acronym serving as an ode to the game itself.

ARC

Rich's selection of old ARC brochures. (Aaron Massarano)

Rich realized he was onto something. So did the shoe companies.

That same year, Rudy Washington, who sat on ARC’s initial board of directors and would become a founding member of the Black Coaches Association, connected Rich to a plucky impresario named Sonny Vaccaro. Sonny signed ARC to a deal for sponsorship and materials with a similarly ascendant sports apparel brand: Nike.

ARC was off and running. In the summer of 1978, Rudy helped Rich build a 14-and-under team featuring four eventual NBA draft picks (Darren, Byron Scott, Leon Wood and William "Butch" Hays). That group won a BCI tournament championship in Las Vegas, cementing ARC as a rising force on the national hoops scene.

By 1979, Rich had a notion to expand ARC across America. But first, Sonny had questions.

“How can you control it from here?” he asked.

“I know people everywhere,” Rich retorted. “I can get the right people to run it and I can control it from here.”

With Nike’s blessing, ARC set up shop in Seattle and Bloomington, Indiana, where Rich had connections he trusted. Those outposts fared so well that, in 1980, Nike gave Rich permission to take his operation to a total of 35 cities.

“Sonny gets all the credit for building up Nike. I was the guy that did all the work,” Rich insists. “I was his right-hand man. I didn’t mind. So long as I was treated well, I didn’t care.”

For the next decade, as ARC exploded, it remained synonymous with Nike. That partnership helped Rich’s organization become a magnet for some of the top talent in LA and around California. So did his decision to start ARC programs for kids as young as five years old.

In 1987, he compiled the “M Squad,” featuring Chris Mills, Don MacLean and Darrick Martin—all of whom made it to the NBA.

“Rich treated it as a team, not a collection of really good players,” says Don, who played nine NBA seasons and is now an analyst for the Los Angeles Clippers and Pac-12 Network. “I think that’s why we won so much—we played together and we played to win.”

M Squad

An ARC brochure featuring the "M Squad." (Aaron Massarano)

Along the way, Rich kept teaching and coaching around LA to pay the bills. The college coaches who had recruited ARC kids became his biggest advocates as he hopped from Herbert Hoover High in Glendale and Griffith Junior High (now Griffith STEAM Magnet Middle School) in East LA to John Burroughs High and Bellarmine-Jefferson High in Burbank.

“[The school administrators] were shocked to be getting letters from top college coaches,” Rich says.

Eventually, Rich reached a crossroads. His commute from teaching English in East LA to coaching varsity basketball in the suburbs at Calabasas High was untenable. In 1990, he told his then-wife Rhonda that he was ready to leave high school gigs altogether.

“You can keep teaching and coaching, and making good money,” she told him.

“I would do better just doing ARC full time than I will by teaching and coaching,” he replied.

Turns out, he was right—unbeknownst to him at the time. LA Gear subsequently swept in with a three-year offer to sponsor ARC for a guaranteed $500,000 per year in money and materials.

Rich conferred with Sonny. Nike would never match it, Sonny told him. Take the deal.

No more working at public schools or dealing with bureaucracy, corporate and otherwise. He could add another 10 cities to ARC’s domain, and hire whomever he wanted to run each program.

In 1994, concerns about LA Gear led Rich to sign with Puma. Two years later, he switched to AND1. By 2001, ARC was independent again, though now with hundreds of teams and thousands of kids to support. Without sponsorship, Rich had to scale back ARC to a more locally-focused program.

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A box of trophies inside Rich's office at his house. (Aaron Massarano)

Rich claims that he can identify NBA players from a young age. He saw that potential in Tyler Dorsey when the Pasadena native was eight years old.

“I think that's where it all started for me,” says Tyler, whom the Atlanta Hawks drafted out of Oregon in 2017 and traded to the Memphis Grizzlies this past February. “At a very, very young age, Rich just gave me the beauty in falling in love with basketball and just starting my journey off there. He helped me and my parents and my family so much. So he was just a big influence in my life until today.”

What does Rich look for that foretells such bright futures? It’s not size, length and leaping ability, though those help. Rather, it’s desire and work ethic that portend lucrative careers later on.

That’s what he saw from Don MacLean and Trevor Wilson as sparring partners in middle school, let alone at UCLA en route to the NBA. He calls them his “hardest workers”—Trevor, the stronger, more athletic and older of the two (by two years); Don, the more skilled, with a sweet shooting touch that would help him become UCLA’s all-time leading scorer.

“We took stuff from each other. I think that’s why both of us became good players,” Don says. “Rich has a lot to do with that because he put us together, he put us on teams together, and we were able to watch each other and help each other as we went along.”

Rich prefers not to tell kids and their parents when he sees that kind of potential, for fear that saying so might spoil them. Once they grow into legitimate prospects, though, he shares his opinions and connections for their benefit.

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Tyler Dorsey, now with the Grizzlies, started playing for ARC at the age of eight. (Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)

Take Steve, for instance. Rich helped connect the lightly recruited guard from Pacific Palisades to the University of Arizona, where he blossomed under legendary coach Lute Olson.

Despite two All-Pac-10 selections and an All-American nod as a senior, Steve doubted his NBA prospects.

“I didn’t really think I’d get drafted,” he says.

Rich thought otherwise, and encouraged Steve to hire an agent.

“You’re a smart player and you can shoot the lights out,” Rich told him. “Somebody’s going to recognize your attributes and want you.”

Sure enough, the Phoenix Suns selected Steve in the second round (No. 50 overall) of the 1988 NBA draft. Fifteen years later, he retired as a five-time champion and the league’s all-time leader in career three-point percentage.

Nowadays, Steve is one of the Association’s most decorated coaches, with three titles in four years leading the Warriors.

As Rich sees it, he could’ve pegged Steve as a future coach while he was in ARC. The same goes for Byron, Luke and J-Kidd. They all had a mind for the game, even as teens.

“I’ve had a lot of guys become coaches, which tells me that they learned something about how to play the game, how the game should be played,” Rich says.

In his teaching, Rich has long emphasized fundamentals and team-oriented play over the flashy individualism that’s become the hallmark of modern AAU hoops. That Steve and Luke (and now fellow ARC alum Jarron Collins) have turned Golden State into basketball’s present paragon of unselfish basketball is just another reason for Rich to smile.

“I like watching that kind of play,” he says. “They’re the only NBA team that I think plays the game the right way.”

Luke Walton Steve Kerr

Luke Walton and Steve Kerr each played for ARC long before reaching the NBA as players and coaches. (Associated Press)

Rich isn’t done yet. Even into his 70s. Even after procedures on his knee and hip.

With Rhonda long gone from his life, Rich continues to date. The birth of his first grandson, Arian, last year helped him reconnect and reconcile with his two daughters, Delilah and Crystal.

Family aside, Rich still has his regrets—that he didn’t pursue baseball more seriously, that he didn’t do more in Hollywood.

Nor has Rich avoided criticism and scorn, as an influential figure in a world that’s become rife with corruption and exploitation. He’s been ripped by the Los Angeles Times, taken to task on ESPN and cast as a villain in Raw Recruits, a 1990 expose on college basketball recruiting by Alexander Wolff and Armen Keteyian.

“By the end of that, I learned that sometimes bad publicity is better than no publicity because we got a lot of bad publicity,” Rich says, “but people didn’t buy into it.”

It's because of the system. It's not because these are bad people,” Steve says, after noting that he “never saw” anything seedy “because nobody ever offered me anything.”

Steve adds, “They're basketball coaches. They're put into an impossible position, so there needs to be reform—both at the NCAA level, but also at the club circuit [level] because it's all tied together.”

Outside of basketball, Rich continues to pursue projects in entertainment. Like so many in LA, he has a stack of scripts just waiting to get made. He’s had a hand in commercials with Michael Jordan and Penny Hardaway, and helped to cast and direct basketball-related scenes in the classic sitcom Parks and Recreation.

All the while, Rich has kept creating opportunities for kids to hoop. He still runs ARC in six-week sessions year-round, with tournaments sometimes drawing upwards of 250 teams. He’s exploring taking his organization national again, albeit in smaller markets and without the backing of a major shoe brand.

“I think it’s so commendable that he’s stayed committed to this and helping kids get better at basketball for so long,” Don says, “and providing the instruments—not only leagues, but tournaments, forming teams and really just giving kids an opportunity to get better in a different environment where maybe some kids wouldn’t get it.”

This spring, Rich and Don will be coaching together on a sixth-grade ARC All-Star team featuring Don’s son, Trent.

“I used to wonder how the program would perpetuate itself over the years,” Rich says. “I stopped doing that a long time ago when I started seeing second generation, and now I’m seeing third generation coming in.”

Tyler, whose father Jerrid Dorsey played for ARC, is holding it down in the NBA with the Grizzlies. Max Hazzard did so in this year’s NCAA tournament, as a star of UC Irvine’s almost-Cinderella run in March Madness.

For Rich, the proudest moment of all came in 2014. That year, he went up to San Francisco for a 50-year reunion with one of his teams from Dolores Park. Those kids—who’d grown up to become broadcasters, actors, firefighters and multimillionaire investors—treated him to a celebratory dinner featuring a slideshow of photos from his childhood in Brooklyn set to the theme song of Welcome Back, Kotter.

“It was one of the greatest days of my life,” he says.

As much as Rich enjoys seeing his former pupils succeed in life after ARC, on or off the court, it’s the relationships he’s formed over his decades in youth coaching that he finds most fulfilling.

“When you meet great people and you remember them as great people, that’s what you tend to remember most,” he says. “At least, I do.”

 

Josh Martin is the Editorial Director of CloseUp360. He previously covered the NBA for Bleacher Report and USA Today Sports Media Group, and has written for Yahoo! Sports and Complex. He is also the co-host of the Hollywood Hoops podcast. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.