Thanks to my brother David, I met Larry 45-plus year ago through a Sunday morning basketball game that took place for many years at Carpinteria High School. This was somewhat of an old guys’ game — full court, but no fast breaks allowed. It included Carpinterian Lionel Purcell, who had coached at Seattle University and later as an assistant coach at USC, architect Barry Berkus, and Bill Bertka, a fine player himself, as well as a scout for the Lakers at the time. Dave and I will never forgive ourselves for missing the Sunday that Bill brought Elgin Baylor along to join our game.
For his part, Larry, then in his late forties, was also a serious competitor, having played major college basketball at Syracuse Uinversity. More to the point, I have learned through a lifetime of sports that competing in athletics is a very efficient way to get to know someone. The intensity of the activity, and the tremendous amount of ego in play, open windows to a person’s psyche that might not be revealed in years of a typical friendship. In this context, Larry revealed himself as the same person who presented himself in public — intelligent, insightful, always gracious, and, of course, possessed of an enormous sense of humor. And a skilled and intense competitor.
Later in his life, Larry missed the game for a while after suffering a heart attack. When he returned, he announced his doctor had told him that his heart attack was caused by playing too much defense, so he’d have to cut down on that in the future.
I had the pleasure of attending Larry’s last birthday party, graciously hosted at McDonald’s by David Peterson, a longtime family friend. It had been quite a while since I had seen him, and he was showing his age, like all the rest of us. But he still had witty retorts and observations, and a twinkle in his eye. It is just as I would like to remember a most unusual man.