A Look Back at the Palisades High Boys Basketball Team’s First City Section Championship in 1969
By STEVE GALLUZZO | Sports Editor
When the Palisades High boys basketball team captured the City Section Division I championship on February 29 it marked only the second title in the program’s 59-year history. The first came 51 years earlier, long before Dolphins head coach Donzell Hayes or any of his players were born.
On the rainy evening of January 25, 1969, the Dolphins arrived at UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion with revenge on their minds and in their hearts as they faced a team that had handed them their only defeat all season. Appearing in their first City final (there was only one playoff division back then), the Dolphins showed no signs of nerves and, before a crowd of 6,040, stormed to a huge halftime lead against Reseda and never looked back. Even Coach Jerry Marvin had to admit things were looking good in the locker room—and he was never satisfied until the clock reached zero. When the final buzzer sounded Palisades had won 85-57 and the 28-point margin was the widest in City finals history until Willie West’s Crenshaw Cougars crushed Manual Arts by 42 points in the 4A title game 10 years later.
Kenny Baker scored 30 points and fellow forward Chris Marlowe added 29 for the Dolphins, who finished 18-1 using a hybrid of the triangle offense called the “double post.” Marlowe was named Most Valuable Player of the City tournament and made the All-City team, but was second by one vote for Player of the Year behind Reseda’s Greg Lee, who was POY again the next year and went on to win back-to-back NCAA championships under John Wooden at UCLA. The Dolphins returned to the championship game in 1970 but fell 64-53 to LA Jordan.
Lee averaged 29 points a game in 1969, but the Dolphins’ “jitterbug” defense held him to just four-for-21 shooting—the worst game of his high school career.
Nobody had more affection for the 1969 Dolphins than their coach, who finally retired in 1991 after posting a career 284-130 record in his 30 years at the helm of the Palisades program.
Reflecting on that team in a Palisadian-Post interview in 2009 on the 40th anniversary of Palisades’ only upper division boys basketball crown, Marvin noted that what made the group special was chemistry.
“Everyone had grown up in Pacific Palisades and had known each other their whole lives,” a then-79-year-old Marvin said of his most cherished memory in his 37 years as a high school coach. “So teamwork was relatively easy to achieve with them.”
It became even tougher to build that type of chemistry once the Los Angeles Unified School District began busing students to schools beyond their attendance areas in the mid-1970s. For one magical season, however, the Dolphins were almost perfect.
“I remember that game like it was yesterday,” said Marvin, who lived at the top of Las Lomas until he died in 2017 at the age of 87. “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.”
Palisades’ worthy opponent on that drizzly winter night was a Regents squad that Marvin greatly respected. “Coach [Lonnie] Lee had an excellent team led by his son Greg,” Marvin said. “They beat us in our last nonleague game when three of my starters had the flu. We had one or two few close calls after that but we never lost again.”
The highly-anticipated championship game proved anticlimactic.
“I could hear one of their players telling his coach that we were playing zone [defense], then in the next timeout another player told him we were in man-to-man,” Marvin recalled. “I knew then that we had them completely confused. I had my subs in as early as the second quarter. 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.”
In its “dream season” Palisades went undefeated in the Western League, then dispatched Taft, Fremont and Jefferson in the playoffs to set up a finals rematch with the West Valley League champion.
“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 and culture have changed so much since then. For one thing, high school was only three grades (10-12), there was no shot clock and no three-point line. Marvin distinctly remembered every player and the role each played in bringing the school its first City hoops title.
“Unity was the real strength of that team,” he added. “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.”
The 1968-69 roster consisted of 13 players, many of whom attended the “Silver Anniversary” celebration in 1994, when the court in the main gym was officially named “Marvin’s Garden.”
Marvin called Marlowe the best competitor he ever had: “He wanted the ball in the clutch and you always knew he’d make it.”
Forward Don Shaw was nicknamed “Stubby” because he had, according to Marvin, the smallest hands in the world.
“Don was a deadly corner shooter,” the coach said. “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.”
About Baker, Marvin said: “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.”
Marvin called point guard Doug King the quarterback of the offense: “I believe he’s the only kid I ever had who played three years on varsity. He was only a junior but he was like a coach out long there. He never cared too much about scoring.”
Forward Kris Jamtaas rounded out the starting lineup.
“He was all hustle,” Marvin remembered. “He was left-handed so he played on the right side and was a defensive stopper. He was good at volleyball too and won a club title at Washington State.”
The bench was rock solid, led by guards John LeLevier, Bruce Feingold, forwards Mark Weiss, Jay Hanseth and Kelly Broom and centers John Berlin, Ron Cox and Jeff Jacobs.
Marvin described the reserves as follows: “John LeLevier was our second-string point guard and a very capable guy to have out there if Doug King needed a rest or got in foul trouble. Bruce Feingold had the highest GPA in his class and could run the offense also. Mark Weiss was another junior who played like a senior. Jay Hanseth was the best athlete on the team. He was very steady and dependable. John Berlin was our second-string center and was a big force on the boards. Jeff Jacobs 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. A great rebounder. Kelly Broom was the fourth junior on the team. He played behind Don Shaw in the corner. Ron Cox was a great surfer. That’s what I remember most about him. That and he came back from Australia to attend my retirement party, which I appreciated.”
Marlowe went on to play basketball and volleyball at San Diego State and was a member of the USA Olympic volleyball team that won the gold medal in 1984. He then started a career in broadcasting and is now the Denver Nuggets’ play-by-play announcer.
Marlowe made one of the biggest baskets of that championship season—a 40-foot buzzer-beater to stun archrival Venice 81-79—and after speaking at Marvin’s memorial service at Palisades Presbyterian Church in September 2017 he joined Hanseth, King, Shaw and Jamtaas in returning to the Dolphins’ gym to renact that memorable play.
“As I recall there was one second left on the clock… [Doug] King passed me the ball, I turned and shot,” Marlowe remembered. “No dribble, there wasn’t enough time. Luckily, I banked it in. We took our team picture after that game. It turned out pretty good.”
Marlowe was inducted into the City Section Hall of Fame in April 2017—a prestigious honor—but he is most proud of that 1969 basketball championship.
“That was a major achievement because volleyball wasn’t a sanctioned sport yet, but basketball was,” he said. “We’d lost to Reseda and I scored my career high and we beat them by the largest margin ever in the finals. We weren’t blessed with great athletic talent but we were all good friends, we ran our offense, we didn’t turn the ball over and we excelled at grinding teams down. That was the most gratifying win I’ve ever had, maybe because it was my first championship. It was so special.”
Marlowe believes a big factor in the team’s success was buying in to Marvin’s old-school style.
“I think our team understood Jerry more than perhaps any other and that’s why we did what we did,” he said. “He had a wonderful personality and was the funniest guy on the face of the earth, but he was also blunt and direct. He’s the best coach I ever had. There was never a situation he was flustered by. When I was a junior he told me I had to score more for us to win and the next game I scored 24 points—the most I’d ever had. That was the impetus for me to become a great player. He saw my potential before I ever did. I wish I could’ve taken him with me to college.”
Shaw, who grew up on El Medio, recalled how organized Marvin’s practices were.
“Jerry ran our practices the same way John Wooden ran his,” Shaw said. “He was unbelievably organized. He would write plays down on index cards or cocktail napkins. We were deep—all 13 of us could play. Jerry always knew who to go to down the stretch. We were always ready for any situation. It didn’t matter what they threw at us.”
King cited the team’s closeness and a deal Marlowe made with the Pali High Vice Principal as reasons the 1968-69 team went all the way.
“We did everything together,” King remembered. “We weren’t the most talented team, but we were the smartest. One day we snuck up to Mayfair Market, where Gelson’s is now, for sandwiches and the VP caught us. He was going to give us a week’s detention, but Marlowe made a deal that for every game we won in the playoffs, he’d take away a day of detention. Well, we won all four so we never did any detention.”
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