Sam Gilbert (businessman)

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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. He was the husband of a well-known Los Angeles area teacher, Rose Gilbert.[2]

Personal life[edit]

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.

Rose Gilbert[edit]

Sam Gilbert met his second wife, Rose, through his younger brother.[2] Rose was a graduate of UCLA, and became a renowned teacher at Palisades Charter High School. 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] Rose Gilbert died on December 16, 2013 at the age of 95.[4]

Rose was named by Star Wars: The Force Awakens writer/director J. J. Abrams as the influence for the character of Maz Kanata. Abrams told his home town newspaper, the Palisadian-Post, that he based Maz on his late Palisades Charter High School English teacher Rose Gilbert.[5] He said:

We really wanted the story to feel authentic, despite being a wild fantasy. I mentioned Rose in an early story meeting as a sort of timeless, wise figure that I'd actually known in my life ... While we experimented with many looks and styles before settling on the character's final design, Rose was always at the center of the inspiration for Maz.[5]


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

He developed inventions, including metal studs and a door lock that made him wealthy.[6]

Athletic booster[edit]

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.[7] He opened up his Bel-Air, Los Angeles home to the players and became an advisor to many.[8][9] He bought clothes, cars, and even arranged abortions for players' girlfriends.[10]

Sam became the sports agent for the professional contracts of Alcindor, Allen, Sidney Wicks, Henry Bibby, Bill Walton and Swen Nater.[11][12][13] He and Los Angeles businessman Ralph Shapiro negotiated a $1.4 million contract for Alcindor with the Milwaukee Bucks at no charge to Alcindor.[7][14]

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.[15]

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.[16]

A 1981 investigation by the Los Angeles Times found that Gilbert had regularly helped athletes get discounts on items such as automobiles, stereos and airline tickets for UCLA players, and in so doing, apparently committed numerous violations of NCAA regulations.[17][18][19] The investigation did not uncover evidence that Wooden had explicit personal awareness of Gilbert's activities.[17] However, Gilbert's overall influence in the lives of the players was no secret.[20] This led the Times reporters to conclude that if Wooden was not aware of the specifics of Gilbert's favors for players, it was only because Wooden made no effort to discover those details.[17][21] For his part, Wooden acknowledged that he had always felt uneasy about Gilbert's relationship with the players, but steadfastly denied having knowledge at the time of anything done by Gilbert that was in violation of NCAA regulations.[17][22][23][24][25] He also asserted that both he and UCLA athletic director J.D. Morgan had advised players to steer clear of Gilbert, but that ultimately they could not control the players' or Gilbert's actions.[26] Given what later came to light, however, Wooden granted that he may have had "tunnel vision"[17][24] and that he perhaps "trusted too much". Nonetheless, Wooden said that his "conscience [was] clear" with regard to his own role in the matter.[17]

Following the investigation in 1981, in which, according to the Los Angeles Times, 15 years worth of evidence of transgressions had been collected,[10][27] the UCLA basketball team was given two years NCAA probation.[28] 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.[29]

HBO producer George Roy believes he was journalistically responsible to include it or face criticism.[27]


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.[30] According to one criminal complaint,

Gilbert was indicted in Miami 4 days after his death.[32] His son Michael also was indicted.

George Hardie and The Park Place Associates ownership were exonerated in 1990, and they regained their 35% stake.[33] LCP partners Julianne Coyne and former California Assemblyman David C. Pierson settled before the civil hearing. In 1991, they agreed to give up about half of their interest in LCP, which had a 65% stake in the casino.[34]

UCLA Endowments from the Gilbert family[edit]

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.[35]

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.[36]


  1. ^ a b c d "Sam Gilbert Is Dead at Age 74: Controversial UCLA Booster Succumbs After Long Illness. Los Angeles Times, November 23, 1987.
  2. ^ a b c Danielle Gillespie Teaching Legend Gilbert Named Parade Marshal. Pacific Palisades Post, June 11, 2008
  3. ^ Teacher Magazine May/June 2007
  4. ^ "Rose Gilbert dies at 95; revered Palisades High English teacher", Los Angeles Times, December 17, 2013.
  5. ^ a b Sharpe, Frances (December 24, 2015). "Star Wars Character Based on Late Pali High English Teacher". Palisadian-Post. Retrieved January 14, 2016. 
  6. ^ Bunting, Glenn F - At Home With 'Papa G'--Basketball Stars, Estranged Sons. Los Angeles Times, April 23, 1990
  7. ^ a b Florence, Mal - Papa Sam Gilbert is someone special to UCLA Cagers. Los Angeles Times. Reprinted in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, April 5, 1974
  8. ^ Undue process:, Don Yaeger
  9. ^ Sport: A patron called Papa Sam Time Magazine, February 25, 1974
  10. ^ a b Mike Littwin and Alan Greenberg - How Sugar Daddy Stuck UCLA. Los Angeles Times, February 1, 1982
  11. ^ Sport: A Patron Called Papa Sam. Time Magazine, Monday, Feb. 25, 1974
  12. ^ Abdul-Jabbar Giant Steps
  13. ^ Jack Scott Bill Walton
  14. ^ Scorecard. Sports Illustrated, April 7, 1969
  15. ^ Bartow: Ending NCAA probe saved my life. Associated Press, August 4, 1993
  16. ^ Alexander Wolff - Call Him Irreplaceable-Nobody has been able to fill John Wooden's shoes at UCLA. Now the job is open again. Sports Illustrated April 11, 1988
  17. ^ a b c d e f Chris Dufresne (June 8, 2010). "The dark side of the UCLA basketball dynasty". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 11 June 2010. 
  18. ^ William C. Rhoden (March 14, 2003). "Sports of The Times; The Ghosts and Goblins of Westwood". The New York Times. Retrieved 11 June 2010. 
  19. ^ Bruce Jenkins (April 1, 2004). "Debate has become a pain in the asterisk". The San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 11 June 2010. 
  20. ^ Jim Murray (January 22, 1975). "Saga of Papa Sam and the One That Got Away". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 11 June 2010. 
  21. ^ For the record, Los Angeles Times, July 2, 2010
  22. ^ Ed Graney (March 8, 2008). "Wooden's greatness impressive, imperfect". Las Vegas Review-Journal. Retrieved 11 June 2010. 
  23. ^ Mike Littwin, Alan Greenberg (January 31, 1982). "Former NCAA Investigator Tells of a Coverup". Los Angeles Times. 
  24. ^ a b Neil Amdur (February 4, 1982). "Wooden remembers booster". The New York Times. Retrieved 11 June 2010. 
  25. ^ "UCLA godfather says LA Times way off base". Lakeland Ledger. Associated Press. February 2, 1982. Retrieved 11 June 2010. 
  26. ^ Seth Davis (August 24, 2009). "Checking in on John Wooden". Retrieved 11 June 2010. 
  27. ^ a b UCLA dynasty film to debut. Los Angeles Times, March 26, 2007
  28. ^ U.C.L.A. ON PROBATION IN BASKETBALL. UPI (The New York Times), December 9, 1981
  29. ^ The UCLA Dynasty (2007) (TV)
  30. ^ GLENN F. BUNTING and TINA GRIEGO - Miami Trial Gives Startling New Portrait of Sam Gilbert. Los Angeles Times, April 23, 1990
  31. ^ 44 F3d 888 United States of America v. Michael Gilbert 244 F.3d 888 (11th Cir. 2001)
  32. ^ WILLIAM OVEREND and WILLIAM NOTTINGHAM - Sports Figure Is Indicted--4 Days After Death. Los Angeles Times, November 26, 1987
  33. ^ Griego, Tina. Court Clears Casino Manager and Partners : George G. Hardie and his financial partners will regain ownership rights to the profitable Bicycle Club in Bell Gardens. Los Angeles Times, October 04, 1990
  34. ^ Griego, Tina. Forfeiture Laws Give U.S. a Piece of a Casino : Narcotics: Government now owns about 30% of Bicycle Club in Bell Gardens, which was built to a large extent with smuggled drug money. Los Angeles Times, August 22, 1990
  35. ^ UCLA Graduate division Fellowships and Grants for Entering Graduate Students
  36. ^ Friends: Chairs of Distinction UCLA Health Magazine, 23 November 2009

Further reading[edit]