Little was anything but to the Kamikaze Kids
Back in 2002, the Pac-12 Conference established its Hall of Honor – a pantheon of its top basketball players, one per school annually. Then, curiously, in 2018, it decided to begin including athletes from all sports, which makes the Hall a totally different beast, suddenly opening its eligibility to the likes of Jackie Robinson, Dick Fosbury, Pat Tillman and Tiger Woods.
Bill Walton might say it’s not called the Conference of Champions for nothing.
Here’s a tip for the University of Oregon: When it gets time to circle back to basketball, don’t overlook the first Kamikaze.
In the most outrageous, boisterous era of UO basketball, Doug Little was first to commit to the ways of Dick Harter, first to dive on the floor, first to give up his body in taking a charge. Before Harter could really launch his Kamikaze Kids era (1971-78) in earnest, he had to have a symbolic spark for the campaign, and that was Little. The buy-in of the 1971-72 Ducks to a frenetic, hard-driving regime wasn’t always without reservation, but not where it concerned Little.
As I documented in my book “Mad Hoops,” Little’s sophomore year of 1970-71 was essentially wasted in the final year of Coach Steve Belko, when he averaged 2.7 points. A redshirt season then could have given him a senior year in 1973-74 with two future NBA first-round draft picks, Ronnie Lee and Greg Ballard.
Then there was the All-Pac-8 coaches vote of 1972-73, back when they did something quaint: Select a five-man first team. In an era when the Pac-8 was truly a force – and not always recognized nationally – Lee made the team as a freshman, joined by UCLA’s Bill Walton and Keith Wilkes, Stanford center Rich Kelley and Washington guard Louie Nelson. Lee averaged 18.7 points, Little contributed 17.7 points, 6.1 rebounds and 2.9 assists a game.
“They’re not going to put two guys from the third-place team (Oregon) on the first team,” Little said when I researched Mad Hoops, “which I think I deserved.”
Instead, those spoils went to Wilkes, who averaged 14.8 points and 7.3 rebounds. Little, an indefatigable 6-3 forward, was left mostly to archives and long memories.
He went to Buffalo in the fourth round of the 1973 NBA draft, but eventually found himself property of the San Diego Conquistadors of the rival ABA. And if you look up the legendary Wilt Chamberlain on Wikipedia, you’ll find a single, one-year entry for Wilt as a coach: With the ’73-74 Conquistadors.
“Wilt and I didn’t really see eye-to-eye,” Little told me last week over the phone. One night, Little, rehabbing from a knee injury, was sitting at the bar of a popular athletes’ hangout in San Diego called Jabberwocky’s when Wilt walked in, as Little recalls, “with a blonde under one arm and a blonde under the other arm. I’m telling you, these women were 10s.” Of course, an urban legend around Wilt had it that he had gone to bed with some 20,000 women, which is far more jaw-dropping even than the fact he scored 31,419 points in his NBA career.
The next day at practice, Little says, Chamberlain beckoned him over and said, “No more Jabberwocky. That’s my place.”
The Conqs didn’t work out, and Little ended up on an AAU team touring Europe, one night playing before Prince Rainier and Princess Grace in Monaco.
Little gravitated to a long career in the lumber business, and he and his wife Carla had three children. Kendra Little, the youngest, was a high-level golfer at Oregon and a two-year professional. A couple of years ago, she went public with a revelation that at the age of 12, she was diagnosed with partial androgen insensitivity syndrome, which results in the physical appearance of a female but with considerable male genetic makeup. Doug Little and his wife decided to let their daughter be the guardian of that information. It wasn’t until 2018, in a letter, that she told her brother and sister, and not long after, the world, that she was “intersex.”
Kendra told the Portland Tribune in 2019 that reaction has been “heartwarming,” including a video produced by LeBron James’ digital-media company, “Uninterrupted.”
“You couldn’t have handled it any better,” said her father. “To get that off her chest was a real relief.”
Doug Little’s life changed in 2017 when an episode of sky-high blood pressure revealed that his kidneys were shutting down. He’s been on regular dialysis since, and is hopeful of a transplant. He’s been told that a typical wait for a match is 5-7 years, so he’s getting close to that ballpark.
His era of Duck hoops has been recognized heavily by the Pac-12 Hall of Honor. Lee and Ballard, those first-round picks, were named, and a couple of years ago, the Hall welcomed forward Stu Jackson, the third-leading scorer on both the 1974-75 and 1975-76 teams. Harter himself was inducted in 2007.
But when the Ducks get around to celebrating another founder of a key piece of their basketball history, the unforgettable Dick Harter era, they need to take a hard look at Doug Little.