Late ’60s marked a dangerous era of tensions over Vietnam, Civil Rights

Posters by Walt Kelly with the popular slogan “We have met the enemy and he is us” (1970) occasionally appear at auction.

By Jim O’Neal

In 1968, we were living in San Jose when national politics got complicated after President Lyndon Johnson made a speech that concluded, “Accordingly, I shall not seek and will not accept the nomination of my party for another term as your president.”

The date was March 31 and less than a week later, on April 4, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis. The assassin, James Earl Ray, was on the loose and believed to have fled the country. Later, he would be apprehended at London’s Heathrow Airport and extradited to face first-degree murder charges. He pled guilty in return for a 99-year sentence and died in 1998 while still in prison.

The year had started off with an upset on Jan. 20 when the University of Houston, led by Elvin Hayes, defeated top-ranked UCLA, 71-69, in the Astrodome before 52,693 fans. It had been billed as the “Game of the Century” and was the first NCAA basketball game to be nationally televised in prime time, ultimately leading to “March Madness.” Although UCLA would go on to thrash Houston in the semi-finals (101-69) and defeat North Carolina in the championship game, the loss to Houston snapped a 47-game winning streak. Coach John Wooden simply commented, “I guess we’ll just have to start over.” From 1971 to 1974, UCLA won another 88 straight games.

Ten days after the UCLA upset, on Jan. 30, 1968, about 80,000 enemy troops launched a surprise attack on over 100 cities and towns in South Vietnam. It was the single most lethal day in terms of killed or mortally wounded U.S. military troops. Although the war would grind on for another six years, the “Tet Offensive” would turn out to be the beginning of the end, since it put the war into 50 million Americans’ living rooms every night on all three TV networks, which dutifully announced all the Viet Cong that had been killed. Even then, I never understood the logic on keeping track of enemy KIA and territory gained in the vain hope it would somehow boost public support (especially since it was the same territory we had won six weeks previously). It seemed analogous to fighting the Battle of Gettysburg (once a week) and then reporting on whether the North or South had won.

After the April murder of MLK, a wave of shock and distress spread across the nation, with riots and burning in more than 100 cities. Then two months later, disaster struck again when Bobby Kennedy was killed on June 5 at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. Tensions over Vietnam and Civil Rights were at a dangerous level and America’s leadership was being questioned. Walt Kelly’s frequently quoted Pogo line from that era – “We have met the enemy and he is us” – captured the mood of the country.

In August, we had dinner at the five-star Stanford Court Hotel on California Street on Nob Hill. Our host told us an amusing story about their last visit to the restaurant. Without mentioning any names, he explained that during dinner, the wife of his client had slipped a plate from the table into her handbag. Nothing was said, but when the check came, there was one line listed: “One dinner plate $75.” In a perverse way, it eased my concern that discretion and gentility were being eroded during all the domestic chaos.

Later I would learn that the hotel had been built on the same site that Leland Stanford (1824-1893) had built his magnificent mansion, which was legendary for its luxury and art collection. Finished in 1876 for the astonishing cost of $2 million, it was perched on two superb acres surrounded by a grand wall of basalt and granite. The Stanford manse was among the most elegant in the nation, but had been destroyed by fire in the 1906 earthquake.

Leland Stanford was one of the Big Four responsible for building the Central Pacific railroad that started in Sacramento and met the Union Pacific at Promontory Point, Utah, in 1869. This was the joining of the first Transcontinental Railroad that completed an “iron belt” around the country. Leland Stanford and his wife Janie are responsible for creating Stanford University in honor of a son that died. Leland and his cronies – Mark Hopkins, Charles Crocker and Collis Huntington – were well known in 19th century history as “Robber Barons” and Stanford’s correspondence leaves no doubt that he used every trick in the book to cheat his partners, investors, the government and employees.

I suspect he never thought about stealing the silverware or china from restaurants.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chair and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Depth of the 1966-67 UCLA Bruins Team was Truly Amazing

A 1969-70 Topps Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) NBA rookie card, PSA Gem Mint 10, realized $501,900 at an August 2016 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

In 2011, the Sporting News conducted a poll of former players and coaches, current coaches and college basketball experts. The goal was to pick the “Greatest College Basketball Team” in history.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the winner was the 1966-67 UCLA Bruins, who finished the season 30-0, averaged 90.2 points a game and won all four NCAA tournament games that season by at least 15 points.

However, the story leading up to this distinction started a year earlier in 1965.

On Nov. 27, 1965, UCLA’s two-time defending national champions played for the first time in Pauley Pavilion, UCLA’s sparkling new basketball arena.

And got totally blown out 75-60.

It seemed bad enough for the losers that the winning team ran off the court with their index fingers raised, chanting in unison on their way to the locker room “We’re number one! We’re number one!”

No, the worst part was knowing the winners wouldn’t leave. They would be hanging around the entire season to remind the vaunted varsity … winner of 58 of 60 games in the past two seasons … that they had been totally overpowered by UCLA’s freshman team!

Perhaps the only one not perturbed was Coach John Wooden, since among those freshman was a 7-1 center who would be back to form the nucleus of a dynasty. His name was Lew Alcindor (he would later change it to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar after he left UCLA) and the next three years turned out to be quite remarkable.

Incidentally, despite the loss to the freshman team, UCLA’s varsity would still be ranked the No. 1 team in the nation the following week.

It seems somewhat ironic that the UCLA campus had the No. 1 team in college basketball, except for their “other” team, which was apparently far better. This was an abundance of talent that had never been assembled on a college – either before or after.

Still, one does have to wonder just how good a team they would have had if everyone got to play together.

Scary thought.

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

No Team Has Matched the Brilliance of John Wooden’s Bruins

The John R. Wooden Award Player of the Year perpetual trophy – presented to every winner between 1977 and 1984, including Larry Bird and Michael Jordan – realized $35,850 at a July 2015 Heritage auction. After each presentation ceremony, winners would receive their own copies of this award.

By Jim O’Neal

John Wooden had an extraordinary basketball career prior to his days as coach at UCLA. He was a three-time All-State player in high school as his team won the state championship for three consecutive years. He went on to play at Purdue, where he was the first player ever to be a three-time consensus All-American.

Later, he would become the first person to be inducted into the basketball Hall of Fame as both a player and a coach (Lenny Wilkins, Bill Sharman and Tommy Heinsohn now share this distinction).

Wooden went to UCLA in 1948 and took over the head coaching duties. During his tenure, he guided the Bruins to 10 National Championships, including seven in a row. At one stage, they won 88 straight games and in four separate seasons they were 30-0.

In 1964, UCLA sailed through the regular season without a defeat and wound up on top of both the AP and UPI polls. However, in the prior six seasons, not a single team that ranked No. 1 had won the championship.

The Final Four match-up was in Kansas City and featured Duke, Michigan, Kansas State and UCLA … all blue-chip contenders.

UCLA beat KS, and Duke had a surprisingly easy win over a Michigan team that featured the great Cazzie Russell and Bill Buntin.

In the championship game, the Duke Blue Devils hoped their height advantage and high-scoring machine (they were averaging 93 points per game) would be enough to counter the unique UCLA full-court press.


The Bruins were at their best, their fastest and most accurate, ringing up 50 points in the first half and another 48 in the second. Duke was never in the game, losing badly 98-83.

UCLA would win all the marbles again in 1965 and then return in 1967 to start a remarkable seven-year National Championship streak. They set records that will never be broken.

On and off the court, John Wooden was simply the best … ever.

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].