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Sam Gilbert (businessman)

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Title: Sam Gilbert (businessman)  
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Sam Gilbert (businessman)

Sam Gilbert (1913 - November 23, 1987)[1] was an American businessman who owned a construction company in Los Angeles, California. He is best known as a controversial athletic booster of the UCLA Bruins men's basketball team from the mid-1960s until UCLA was ordered to disassociate from him in 1981.[1] He ran a money-laundering enterprise to finance the now-famous World Poker Tour tour stop called the Bicycle Casino, for which he was posthumously indicted in 1987. The U.S Government seized the casino.

Personal life

Gilbert graduated from Hollywood High School, and then attended UCLA in the 1930s, but did not graduate.[1]

Gilbert had two sons, Michael and Robert from his first wife. He met his second wife, Rose, through his younger brother.[2] Rose was a graduate of UCLA, and became a renowned teacher in the Pacific Palisades area. She was acknowledged by the Los Angeles Unified School District by a Lifetime Teacher and Golden Apple Awards. Rose was named Harvard University's Impact Teacher of the Year. She has appeared on CBS Television shows 48 Hours and the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric. Rose also has appeared on the May 2007 cover of Teacher Magazine.[3] Rose had a daughter, Maggie, from her first marriage, who died of an embolism in 2004 at age 54.[2]


Gilbert owned Sam Gilbert and Associates, a construction company that built homes and commercial buildings in the West Los Angeles area.[1]

Athletic booster

Known as "Papa Sam" and "Papa G" to UCLA players, he began his relationship with UCLA basketball sometime around 1966-1967, when UCLA player Willie Naulls brought Lew Alcindor (now Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) and Lucius Allen to him for some counseling. He opened up his Pacific Palisades home to the players and became an advisor to many.[4] He bought clothes, cars, and even arranged abortions for players' girlfriends.[5]

Sam became the sports agent for the professional contracts of Alcindor, Allen, Sidney Wicks, Henry Bibby, Bill Walton and Swen Nater.[6][7][8]

Coach Gene Bartow, who followed John Wooden as coach of the Bruin men's basketball team, felt his life was threatened by Gilbert. He thanked the NCAA in 1993 for not investigating the UCLA program in 1976.[9]

Following the death of UCLA Athletic Director J.D. Morgan in 1980, Gilbert began to exert more influence on the UCLA basketball team. Coach Larry Brown "ran afoul" of Gilbert according to a 1988 Sports Illustrated article.[10]

Following an investigation in 1981, in which, according to the Los Angeles Times, 15 years worth of evidence of transgressions had been collected,[5][11] the UCLA basketball team was given two years NCAA probation.[12] UCLA also was forced to vacate its Final Four appearance in the 1980 NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Tournament due to recruiting violations involving Kiki Vandeweghe and Rod Foster.

In 2007 film, The UCLA Dynasty, produced by HBO, there is a 2 and 1/2 minute segment on Sam Gilbert.[13]
HBO producer George Roy believes he was journalistically responsible to include it or face criticism.[11]


In 1987, Gilbert was the subject of a federal investigation into money laundering and racketeering charges. According to the investigation, a scheme to launder the money received from smuggling marijuana was put together to finance the construction of the Bicycle Casino in Bell Gardens, California.[14] According to one criminal complaint,

"[Sam Gilbert] a wealthy Los Angeles businessman, was the first Gilbert to establish ties with the Kramer family when he befriended Benjamin Kramer's father, Jack Kramer, in 1978. At that time, Jack Kramer and Sam Gilbert came up with the idea of building a legal card club for the purposes of laundering Benjamin Kramer's dirty money. By 1983, Sam Gilbert was in contact with David Pierson, who was himself thinking of building a card club and was looking for legitimate investors. Pierson gave Sam Gilbert a prospectus, Sam liked what he saw, and Sam agreed to arrange the financing for the project in return for a sixty percent share of Pierson's ownership interest in the Club."[15]

Gilbert was indicted in Miami 4 days after his death.[16] His son Michael also was indicted.

David Pierson was able to prove to the authorities that he was an innocent victim, who believed reasonably that Sam Gilbert was a legitimate businessman. Pierson was allowed to retain his shares in the club.

UCLA Endowments from the Gilbert family

The Rose and Sam Gilbert Fellowship at UCLA pays fees for two graduate students who attended UCLA as undergraduates for at least two years and participated on men's or women's athletic teams.[17]

The Maggie G. Gilbert Endowed chair in Bipolar disorders, was established in 2008 at the Jane and Terry Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA.[18]


Further reading

  • Giant Steps, Kareem Abdul-Jabaar with Peter Knobler (1983) ISBN 0-553-05044-3
  • Bill Walton: on the road with the Portland Trail Blazers, Jack Scott (1978) ISBN 0-690-01694-8
  • Undue process: the NCAA's injustice for all, Don Yaeger, Sports Publishing LLC, (1991) ISBN 0-915611-34-1
  • John Wooden dies at 99; UCLA basketball coach won 10 national titles. Los Angeles Times, June 5, 2010. Known as the 'Wizard of Westwood,' Wooden's accomplishments during his 27-season tenure with the Bruins made him one of the greatest coaches in sports history. He also created the 'Pyramid of Success' motivational program.
  • John Wooden, Who Built Incomparable Dynasty at U.C.L.A., Dies at 99. New York Times, June 5, 2010.
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