Yesterday, as UCLA was gearing up for its first tournament game (an upset loss to Minnesota), the Los Angeles Times published a profile of the father of Pac-12 freshman of the year Shabazz Muhammad. The piece revealed, among other odd things, that he had been lying about his son's age for some time—in a separate article, the Los Angeles Times pointed to a video showing Muhammad calling himself 15 in 2009, when he was actually 16. (It's unclear how complicit Muhammad was, though presumably he noticed when he turned the same age on consecutive birthdays.) Muhammad is exactly a year older than UCLA listed him this year—he's a 20-year old freshman—and the disparity could knock him off the leaderboard in this year's NBA draft.
If this revelation was surprising, even stranger was the reaction of Ron Holmes, Muhammad's father:
Asked about the discrepancy, Holmes insisted his son was 19 and born in Nevada. "It must be a mistake," he said.
Several minutes later, he changed his account, saying that his son is, in fact, 20 and was born in Long Beach.
Holmes expressed concern about disclosure of his son's true age and his own criminal record and questioned whether either was newsworthy. He followed up with a text message.
"Bazz is going to blow up in the NBA lets team up and blow this thing up!!!" Holmes wrote to this reporter. "I'm going to need a publicist anyway why shouldn't it be you. We can do some big things together.
Of course, not every profile of an athlete's parent inspires the author to go looking for the athlete's birth certificate; Holmes is seedier than your average stage-dad. The Los Angeles Times dropped a few hints that he had supported his family through some scam—a conviction for mortgage fraud is mentioned in passing—but what's really unsettling is Holmes's admission (boast, even) that he essentially made Muhammad in a test tube for exactly the purpose he's serving:
As a student, Holmes said, he found himself fascinated by the careful breeding of thoroughbreds, the way that two fast, powerful horses could be crossed to create an even faster, more powerful colt.
Around that time he met Faye Paige, a point guard, sprinter and hurdler at Cal State Long Beach. Spotting her at a summer league game, Holmes recalled saying to a friend: "See that No. 10? She's going to be my wife, and we're going to make some All-Americans."
Creepy then, remarkably accurate now: Shabazz's sister, Asia Muhammad, is a tennis player that turned pro at 17. Holmes chose "Shabazz" and "Asia" because he believed the names would be "marketable worldwide." And when his son's path to the NBA started to emerge, Holmes sought certain qualities for Muhammad's one-and-done year. In particular, he wanted Shabazz surrounded by mediocrity
Westwood is close to Las Vegas, making it easy for Holmes to attend games. The team also had little depth. Head coach Ben Howland would have no choice but to showcase Muhammad, Holmes said. At Duke or Kentucky he would have had to share the spotlight or even risk sitting on the bench.
It worked to the end: In last night's loss to Minnesota, Muhammad was the Bruins' only real option on offense, and he scored 20 points. His team was crappy, but any scouts that were watching likely marveled at how much crappier they would have been without Muhammad. Maybe the Bobcats will take notice—they could use the veteran leadership.
With a season, and in all likelihood, a college career, that ended with a 20-point upset loss, the exposure of his false age, a profile of his father that includes a desperate offer to an investigative journalist to become his publicist and an aside describing how that father regularly told him he would have to work "that much harder" as a boy to play through his Tourette's, one thing remains a mystery: Why doesn't Shabazz Muhammad smile more?
NCAA To NBA Millions: UCLA Star's Father Mapped Out A Dream [Los Angeles Times]