Old Friends Gary Cunninghaman and George Raveling
Long-time friends and college basketball coaching legends George Raveling and Gary Cunningham reunited at Monday’s Santa Barbara Athletic Round Table March Madness event. (Felipe Garcia photo)

Basketball has taken George Raveling all over the world, including annual visits to Santa Barbara for 22 years.

He directed Michael Jordan’s Flight School Basketball Camp at UCSB for 22 summers.

Raveling, a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and the College Basketball Hall of Fame, was back in Santa Barbara Monday night as the featured speaker at the Athletic Round Table’s March Madness event at the New Vic Theater.

The event features the local college basketball coaches breaking down the NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments and serves as a fundraiser and membership drive for the Round Table.

In the house were UCSB men’s basketball coach Joe Pasternack, Westmont women’s coach Kirsten Moore and UCSB women’s assistant Nate Fripp.

Hall of Fame coach George Raveling talks about his basketball journey at the New Vic Theater.

Hall of Fame coach George Raveling talks about his basketball journey at the New Vic Theater. (Felipe Garcia photo)

Raveling worked at Washington State, Iowa and USC and was an assistant coach under Bobby Knight on the 1984 Olympics gold-medal winning USA Basketball team.

As part of the Olympic team, Raveling got to know Michael Jordan. He said he, Jordan, Patrick Ewing and Vern Fleming “were inseparable that whole year.

“Michael and I built a sustainable and trusting relationship till this day. One day, Michael asked if I wanted to run a basketball camp for him. I said, ‘Depends if you’re going to be there every day.’ He said OK.

“I began searching around for a place to put the camp and Santa Barbara came up. We did it for 22 years. That’s my tie to Santa Barbara.”

Raveling retired from coaching after suffering major injuries in a serious car accident. He then got a call from Nike founder Phil Knight and began “a long, meaningful career with Nike.”

Dr. Gary Cunningham, who coached against Raveling when he was an assistant for John Wooden at UCLA and Raveling was the head coach at Washington State, introduced the legendary coach. 

He recalled the time they first met at a coaching conference in Washington D.C. Raveling was an assistant at Maryland at the time.

He said they debated on who was the better player, Cunningham claiming it was Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) of UCLA and Raveling pulling for Maryland’s Tom McMillan.

From that debate, a friendship blossomed, and it remains strong to this day.

“To have a person like Gary in my life, I want to publicly say he’s such a special person,” said Raveling in his opening remarks.  “Driving up from L.A., I said to myself, ‘George, you never told Gary that.’ I wanted to publicly make a declaration on how I feel about him as a person. 

“Because of Gary, I’m going to donate $1,000 to the fund.”

Raveling admired at how Cunningham has been giving back to the game and to the community since retiring from college coaching and administration.

He said, at age 81, he’s looking to reinvent himself and “try to be a giver and never a taker. I’ll do what I can to be a difference maker. When I die, I want to die on empty. 

“Now you’ll understand why I’m the luckiest person in the world.”

— Noozhawk sports editor Barry Punzal can be reached at bpunzal@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk Sports on Twitter: @NoozhawkSports. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.