Pete Newell, The Teacher, The Coach, The Mentor, My Friend and Father…

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(and grandfather and great-grandfather)

It isn’t everyday that you lose someone with all the aforementions above in ONE day…unexpectedly…I am so happy that last Saturday, November 15th, I placed a call to Papasan (my reverent address to him as he was well known in Japanese Basketball Circles as 'Petersan’)…Keep in mind, please, that NO ONE ever calls Pete Newell during a live broadcast of a football game, baseball game, basketball game and/or Horse Race, especially if the Kentucky Derby had the horses in the paddock area for viewing…I didn’t call during live action, rather I learned many many years ago, that “if” you wanted to speak to Coach, Pete, Papasan, Mr. Newell, you better have a very good reason OR during a Timeout…He hated Timeouts! So, remembering this was the day that Cal was playing the Beavers of Oregon State University, and it was also being televised live in the Northwest, I figured I had a great chance to “catch” him in the 4th Qtr. when there was a critical timeout and at least 2mins. were to be exchanged in conversation…I was perfect on my timing…As the Official raised his hands in motion signaling the TO, I had already begun my dialup…Why the 4th Qtr.? There weren’t any other games on until later, which meant that he would have the commercial distraction to disregard OR my call…

Rog (my wonderful caregiving brother under me) answered the phone and said 'just a minute’, and handed the phone off to Papasan…”Hello…tommy?” Hey Papasan…how are you? The Bears are hanging in there aren’t they? PN: “I like this quarterback kid…can’t remember his name, but he has real courage out there when he steps back to pass…” TN: “So how are you doing?” PN: coughs a little and replies “Not so good…I have to go to the Drs. on Monday and they’re going to check to see what’s wrong…I have difficulty breathing right now, lots of stuff in my chest…” TN: “Are you staying warm?” PN: “oh yes, Roger has been really good taking care of me, Pete ah, Greg, ah Roger, ah dammit, tommy…” (It was here that I KNEW he was okay as that is the same exchange that’s been a staple of conversation over the last 50 years... my 3 brothers names and then remembering me…and he did that with all of us…)

I knew that I had at least half a minute before the commercial was over (watching my own screen) and it was here that I told him about Chris, his Grandson, being the new Boys Freshman Basketball Coach at Eastside Catholic High School…he was so excited and elated to hear about that…PN: “that’s great, tommy, he’s going to be a great teacher and coach someday, you watch…he really listens well and studies the game…I am happy you told me this…” TN: “how did you like hearing about Ashleigh bringing you another Great Grandchild?”…PN: “oh, that’s wonderful…please tell her I am so happy for her…how is she doing? How’s my Paige doing?” TN: “both are doing well and ask about you all the time, hoping your feeling better and taking care of yourself…” PN: “tell them I don’t move so quick anymore but I can laugh…How’s Elaine? TN: told him she was well and was asking about him as well and hoping he was taking care of himself…PN: “Rog has been a godsend, tommy, he has done so much for me…I have not been sleeping very well at night and he’s always right there for me…he really has taken unbelievable care of me…be sure you and your brothers understand that…” TN: “ I know, Papasan, I know, and he has done an incredible service to keep you healthy and well these last several years…” PN: 'yes he has…yes he has’…

The game comes on, 8 mins. to go, Cal down 27-21 with Cal having possession…he tells me: “I think Cal is going to go down the field now and score…I feel they can do it with this quarterback (he couldn’t remember his name, I told him 'Reilly’)…it was here that I wanted to stop, one because his voice was tailing and two, it was LIVE action now, and that means the timeout is over and I need to finish the dialogue…TN:”okay Papasan, great to visit with you, take care of yourself, stay warm, I’ll call you on Monday and check in…I love you very much…PN:”okay tommy, I love you too, tell everyone there I love them also…take care, talk to you next week…”…Boy was that a PROFOUND closing comment: “take care, talk to you next week…”…Did he ever, read on…

Pete Newell passed away on Monday, November 17, 2008, approximately at 10:45am unexpectedly and without a doubt the “way” he would want to leave his incredible “ride” of 93 years…He told Earl Shultz, former player, as he sat in his favorite chair at Earl’s house in San Diego, “I’ll just take a little nap right now before Jerry (West) arrives…”…he closed his eyes and expired…quietly, no pain and suffering…his terms…no live games on TV, no timeouts, no nurses, doctors, examinations, phone calls, doorbells, awakenings, reminders, bathroom visits, changing clothes or having to eat when not feeling up to it…no, Pete, Papasan, Coach Newell, Mr. Newell took a deep breath and relaxed during live action…Wow…

Has he EVER talked to me this week!! The outpouring of love, kindness and respect by former players, camp players, coaches (globally), friends and relatives, has been the most humbling and remarkable experience I have ever witnessed in my life…Did he ever mean to “take care, talk to you next week…”…Whew…The emails, calls, voice mails, text messages and flowers have been so kind, I can’t begin to describe the surreal feeling that has overtaken me the last 48hrs…As an example, Derrick McKey, former Sonic and Pacers player, and Big Man Camp participant, called me out of the blue, 3 hours after Papasan passed away, telling me how sorry he was to hear about “your father, and how he helped me like you did also, tom…I just wanted you to know I was thinking of Coach and how many players he helped in their careers…”… Part sympathy? Part reflection? No, not now, this was from his heart, as it was with the 300 hundred other calls and emails and messages I received…Did he ever “talk to you next week…”, the voice inflections here, transcends any phonics recognition of foreign accents and email narratives, all identifying in their own selfless grief of losing a friend, a confidante, a mentor, a coach and especially their teacher…Have I been down? Most definitely…am I hurting? Not so much hurting as much as I feel like a bowling ball has been dropped on my tummy after I exhaled while laying down…The void is not so much a blank stare or a listless emotion, rather, it is a numbing sensation, kinda like when I went to my first overnight camp during the summer and saying goodbye for the first time to my Dad and Mom, scared worse than a King Kong mask on a tall kid visiting the same porch for Trick or Treat on any Halloween back in the early childhood days…Yes, a sensation that vacillates between a teargate and ego-posture, but in the end, so weak and sad for the moment, yet relieved that he is not suffering any more, although he wouldn’t 'fess up to that completely…Summary: I’m getting better, stronger each hour…

Shout outs to the community at large…basketball community that is…I can’t thank Earl and Karen Shultz enough for their undying love and affection for Papasan since the day Earl graduated from Cal back in ’61…he and Karen adopted Papasan into their lives and Rancho Sante Fe in the year 2000…They found the perfect Townhouse, setting and of course Del Mar being 10 mins. away, made the decision really easy when one researches “how” he ended up there…Earl Shultz was one of those unspoken and unheralded players that was often mentioned about the Cal Bears Finalists years at the NCAAs…he was by far one of the BEST defensive guards I have ever seen in basketball, and inspired me later when I played shooting guard in college and loved guarding the other team’s best guard…He was NEVER intimidated by any opponent, especially a Bruin or Trojan! Thank you Earl, Karen and Bob Wueste for your love and care of Pete…

Roger: whew…you will never hear about Rog’s divine interventions (middle of night episodes with Papasan), sacrifices and of course overall caregiving extraordinaire skills when being Papasan’s Shepherd these last several years…Thank you Rog for your love of Dad, thank you for the many personal sacrifices you made to take care of him, from Drs. appointments, the store shopping, his every beckoned call, and of course his “social schedule” and calendar, I’m sure one that rivaled any sitting-elect President…No, you are the ultimate Team Player, the Captain who listened and stayed close to the action daily, the one who chose to sacrifice his personal well being for that of his father’s…and made him so proud and humble for this love and devotion…YOU, are the hero here, Rog, and I thank you so much for keeping him on his “ride” all this time…

Cousin Yoli and Ken McKenzie…Papasan’s spiritual partners on Sundays and breakfast companions afterwards…Gosh he really looked forward to Mass and the visits with you and your Family after Church…thank you so much for “being there” also, extending your Family’s love and kindness to Uncle Pete…he loved all of the Villars (Papasan’s sister, Catherine’s family name) very much and of course the attention and kisses from your children…

To Pete Jr. …Pete was a wonderful joy to his father, celebrating with him his induction into the California High School Basketball Hall of Fame several years ago…I remember Papasan telling me about it, not once, not twice, but several times over, he was so proud of Pete’s accomplishments at Santa Cruz High School…Pete painstakingly took time away from his profession as a High School teacher to be with Papasan when he was recovering from his 2005 surgery, and between he and Roger and the late Stu Inman (former San Jose State Men’s coach and long time NBA Executive), Papasan was able to recover beyond the expectations of conventional medical wisdom: “no one in their late 80’s, losing 70% of one lung can expect to live very long after...”…Wrong…they forgot, he had a Big Man’s Camp coming up in the summer several months away and had to get ready for it…and he did…Thanks Pete for being there to help Rog when he needed relief and assistance…you too, made Papasan so proud with your success and the fact that you were able to take his idea of a Tall Woman’s Camp and implement this program with Bill McClintock…that was a great feat in itself…as well as taking over the Big Man’s Camp as Court Director…

To my Brother Greg: he was so happy for your children’s activities, from show horses by Taylor to jumpers by Peter…you made him so proud of their accomplishments and future successes…he also was extremely happy to receive your letters of late, and how happy you were at this time in your life…reuniting with your children, being an integral part of Peter’s education at Glendale Community College…Yes, he would tell me about your letters and share what was going on with Peter and Taylor…thank you for staying so close to Papasan…he knew now his 'ride’ was about over, on his terms, everything in place…

To ALL those Angels-in-disguise out there, and you know who I am talking about: former players, acquaintances, Doctors, scribes, ADs, coaches, current players, NBAers, foreign acquaintances, nurses, waiters, hostesses, owners, horse enthusiasts, friends, relatives, trainers, whomever I have forgotten, thank you thank you thank you, for your love and support during the most difficult time of his life when our late Mother, Florence , passed away 24 years ago last month…You have no idea how important your roles were when his “ride” came to a complete halt, and he went into a deep, saddening moment that as a son, I had never witnessed before in my life…Your phone calls, your visits, your schedules to include him on your trips, all of these made the difference in Papasan “getting off the ride” or continuing…Obviously, he continued, and we were all blessed for his extended journeys…He only made 5 videos and co-wrote 6 books at that time, plus a number of appearances all around the country…yes, YOU ALL had a hand in Pete’s survival at that pivotal point in his life…Thank you so much…

Finally, I would welcome any and all testimonials from one’s personal experience(s) with Papasan, Pete, Coach, Mr. Newell as I will be putting together a compilation of all for publishing later…thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences at this time…tom newell


Editor's note: Thanksgiving week there will be a Private Funeral for the family. In addition, there will be a Memorial Celebration for Pete Newell at Loyola Marymount University in LA, at Shaker Heart Cathedral on Monday, December 15th, Open to the Public.

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