Marvin’s Proudest Memory

Former Coach Reflects on Palisades’ 1969 City Basketball Championship

Jerry Marvin thumbs through the official program of the '69 L.A. City Basketball Championships. In his right hand is a blue commemorative patch.
Jerry Marvin thumbs through the official program of the ’69 L.A. City Basketball Championships. In his right hand is a blue commemorative patch.
Photo by Rich Schmitt, Staff Photographer

Yes, it is safe to say Jerry Marvin is still very much addicted to basketball. So much so, in fact, that he celebrated his 79th birthday last Wednesday by taking his son to the Palisades High boys’ varsity game against University. Sitting in the stands he was subtly reminded that his legacy lives on every time he happened to glance at the City Championship banner hanging on the near wall of the Palisades gym. Embroidered into its fabric are the numbers 1-9-6-9, representing the magical year when Marvin led the Dolphins to their first and only section hoops crown. “Has it really been that long?” he joked upon being told that this Sunday marks the 40th anniversary of that team’s historic victory–by far the most cherished memory in his 37 years as a high school coach. “I remember that game it was yesterday,” said Marvin, who lives at the top of Las Lomas, just a couple half-court heaves above campus. “It was very special because they were all local kids. This was before busing, before transfers. The entire community was behind us. We had a huge crowd. It seemed like the whole town was there.” Marvin was the head coach at Bell for seven years before taking over at Palisades when the school opened in 1961, partly to compete in the same league as his dad, Jerry, Sr., whom he played for at University. Little did he know it then, but Marvin would stay at Palisades until he retired in 1991, piloting the Dolphins to 29 straight playoff appearances. Even a short conversation with Marvin produces countless fascinating stories and he is happy to share a few “blasts from the past” if his favorite subject comes up. And when he talks, you listen… and learn. “Jerry is my mentor. He’s a great man and a great friend,” said current Palisades coach James Paleno, who took over for Marvin and has continued his predecessor’s winning tradition despite coaching in the City’s toughest league–one that includes perennial state powers Westchester and Fairfax. “We’re still trying to put another banner up there for him. He set such a high standard.” Palisades’ opponent on that rainy night 40 years ago was Reseda, which had dealt the Dolphins their only defeat that season. “Coach [Marvin] Lee had an excellent team led by his son Greg, who went on to play at UCLA,” Marvin recalled. “It was our last nonleague game and three of my starters had the flu. We had one or two few close calls after that but we never lost again.” The championship game proved anticlimactic. Palisades took charge from the opening tip and built a sizeable lead by halftime. “I could hear one of their players telling his coach that we were playing zone [defense], then the next timeout another player told him we were in man-to-man,” Marvin recalled. “I knew then that we had them completely confused.” Marvin made sure his team did not lose its focus in the second half and the Dolphins wound up winning 85-57–then the most lopsided margin in finals history–in front of 6,040 fans at UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion. “I had my subs in as early as the second quarter,” Marvin said. “I wasn’t a proponent of laying it on. Afterwards I said something like ‘You’ll remember this for the rest of your life.’ Then they took me into the shower and drenched me.” Kenny Baker poured in 30 points and Chris Marlowe added 29, completing a “dream season” in which the Dolphins finished undefeated in the Western League, then vanquished Taft, Fremont and Jefferson in the playoffs, setting up a rematch with the West Valley League champion Regents. “That was a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing,” Marvin admitted. “We were the epitome of slow white guys. We weren’t particularly fast. [Kenny] Baker was our tallest player and he was only about 6′ 4″ or so. That group really defied the odds. But actually I saw it coming two years ahead of time. I knew we’d be good if we stayed healthy but we turned out to be even better than I thought.” The game has changed immeasurably since Marvin paced the sidelines–and not necessarily for the better: “When I coached there was no ninth grade, no three-point line and no shot clock. We ran a version of the triangle offense called the ‘double post’ and we used a matching zone defense call the ‘Jitterbug.'” Marvin’s mind is still sharp as a knife and he not only has vivid memories of January 25, 1969, he can also remember every player and the role each of them had on the team. Reminiscing about the good old days before watching the Lakers-Cavaliers game on Monday night, Marvin revealed what made that championship squad so special. “Unity was the real strength of that team,” he said. “It was the best team I ever had but not the most talented. The next year we were physically better and we may have been the year before as well. But that year we put it all together. It was a special group. Every one of those kids went to college.” When it comes to the 1968-69 season, Marvin is a walking encyclopedia. Following are his recollections of all 13 players, many of whom attended the “Silver Anniversary” celebration in 1994, when the court in the main gym was officially dubbed “Marvin’s Garden”: #35 Chris Marlowe, forward: “He was the best competitor I ever had. He wanted the ball in the clutch and you always knew he?d make it. He made All-City in basketball and of course captained the 1984 Olympic volleyball team. I guess you could say he became a pretty successful broadcaster, too.” #34 Don Shaw, forward: “I nicknamed him ‘Stubby’ because he had the smallest hands in the world. But he was a deadly corner shooter. You just couldn?t sag on him and he could single-handedly break down a zone defense. He went on to coach the Stanford women’s volleyball team to the 1992 NCAA title.” #42 Kenny Baker, forward: “He was our captain and our high-post center but he could really play anywhere on the floor. He was good in the key and he was a great passer. He captained the San Diego State volleyball team to a championship in 1973.” #24 Doug King, point guard: “He was the quarterback of the offense and I believe the only kid I ever had who played three years on varsity. He was only a junior but he was like a coach out there. He never cared too much about scoring.” #23 Kris Jamtaas, forward: “He rounded out our starting lineup and he was all hustle. He was left-handed so he played on the right side and he was a defensive stopper. He was good at volleyball too and won a club title at Washington State.” #22 John LeLevier, guard: “Our second-string point guard, a very capable guy to have out there if Doug [King] needed a rest or got in foul trouble.” #21 Bruce Feingold, guard: “Highest GPA in his class. He could run the offense also. In fact, he and John [LeLevier] had been the starting guards for Coach Bud Ware?s Bee team, which was undefeated in league. They would?ve started on most of my teams.” #43 Mark Weiss, forward: “Another junior who played like a senior. Went on to play basketball at Cal Lutheran University. He married his high school sweetheart [Susie Honig]. He died of brain cancer about 10 years ago.” #31 Jay Hanseth, forward: “Best athlete on the team. Played basketball and volleyball at UC Santa Barbara. Very steady and dependable.” #40 John Berlin, center: “I remember he lived near Riviera Country Club. He was our second-string center. Moved to Pebble Beach where he worked in public relations. Big force on the boards.” #41 Jeff Jacobs, center: “He was another of the three pivot men I had coming off the bench. He was basically our third-string center behind Don [Shaw] and John [Berlin]. Great rebounder. Was an All-American volleyball player at UCLA.” #33 Kelly Broom, forward: “Fourth junior on the team. He played behind Don [Shaw] in the corner. Also played on the Santa Monica College championship team in 1971. As I recall he was a beach volleyball player too.” #30 Ron Cox, center: “Ronnie’s biggest claim to fame was he was a great surfer. Honestly, that’s what I remember most about him. But he came back from Australia to attend my retirement party which I appreciated.”