Bill Bertka is getting ready for moving day.
The local basketball coaching legend spent much of last week packing, filling box after box as he gets ready for a major move into the L.A. Lakers’ new practice facility.
“We just built a magnificent new facility on Mariposa, right down the street from the Toyota Center,” said Bertka during a telephone interview Tuesday. “For years we’ve had a practice facility at the Toyota Center but our new home – it’s called the UCLA Health Training Center — is the finest practice facility in the United States. Everything is brand new. It’s a magnificent facility.”
Bertka is also trying to work a visit to Santa Maria into his busy schedule.
“I know the annual Joe White Memorial Dinner is coming up and I’d like to be there,” said Bertka. “I’ve been able to attend most of them and, if I can work it out, I’ll be there. I’ll try to fit it in — we’ll see what works out.”
The 16th annual Joe White Memorial Dinner is coming up onSaturday, Aug. 26, at the Santa Maria Elks Lodge.
But fitting anything other than the Lakers into his always busy schedule is no easy task.
“I just got back from two weeks in Las Vegas,” said Bertka. “The NBA had 24 teams playing in the rookie summer league and I’m proud to say we won the tournament.”
Bertka has been involved in the NBA for 44 years, 38 of them with the Lakers as a scout, assistant coach and director of scouting.
“I have a fancy title now. I’m the Lakers’ Special Assistant and Consultant,” said Bertka.
And he’s still working full time even though he’ll turn 90 on Aug. 8.
“I started as a scout with the Lakers in 1968 and worked my way up to Director of Player Personnel in 1974,” said Bertka.
Later in 1974, Bertka left the Lakers, becoming a part owner and General Manager of the New Orleans Jazz.
“But after the Jazz moved to Salt Lake City (in 1981), I went back to the Lakers and have been here ever since.”
Along the way, Bertka picked up 10 NBA championship rings as part of the Lakers’ family.
And the road to all those championships began right here on the Central Coast.
“Santa Maria is where it all started,” said Bertka. "I’m forever grateful to Santa Maria and Hancock College.”
Without Hancock College, Bertka’s road to success may have gone on a completely different path.
“After I graduated from Kent State University, I got a job teaching and coaching basketball at the Midland School,” said Bertka of the small, private high school in Los Olivos.
“I was there from 1951 through the end of the 1954 school year,” said Bertka. “While I was there, I heard about the Santa Maria Golden Dukes basketball team. They let me play a little bit.”
That was where Bertka first met Joe White, one of his Golden Dukes teammates.
“In 1954, the superintendent of Santa Maria Schools offered me a job at Hancock,” said Bertka. “I was the college’s first athletic director, first basketball coach and I was also the Dean of Students.”
Bertka coached at Hancock for three years, leading the Bulldogs to the 1957 state junior college championship.
He was later named to the California Junior College Athletic Hall of Fame.
But after the championship season, Bertka returned to his alma mater, taking over the Kent State program.
Joe White replaced Bertka as Hancock’s A.D. and began his own legendary run on the old Hancock Airfield campus.
“It was a mistake leaving Hancock,” said Bertka. “But in the long run, it worked out, I’m happy to say.”
In 1961, Bertka returned to the Central Coast, settling in Santa Barbara with his wife of 61 years, Solveig, and their two daughters Chris and Britt.
“My wife and I started a basketball scouting service — Bertka’s Views,” said Bertka. “It was the largest collegiate scouting service in the country. It wasn’t a service where you could find out about high school athletes. We offered coaches detailed analysis on college players, team tendencies, how they played offense and defense. Coaches made their game plans from our information.”
Sports continues to run deep in his family.
Daughter Chris in married to longtime Santa Barbara Foresters head coach and New York Yankees scout Bill Pentard.
And daughter Britt is married to Jim Eyen, currently an assistant coach with the Minnesota Timberwolves who has also coached for the Lakers, Clippers and Portland Trail Blazers.
“We’ve been in Santa Barbara ever since,” said Bertka. “It was tough when I was with the Jazz — difficult going back and forth to New Orleans — but that’s the life of NBA coaches.”
That life included his two week’s work in Las Vegas and a full schedule preparing for the upcoming season.
But when he’s not in Los Angeles, Bertka heads right back home to the Central Coast.
So after packing at the Toyota Center and unpacking at the UCLA Health Training Center, he’s hoping his next trip brings him home to Santa Maria.
To find out more about the Joe White Memorial Dinner and Auction, call Jada Clark at (805) 720-7493 or visit athletics.hancockcollege.edu.