While many aspiring writers may gasp at the thought of turning down the chance to write a book, it was a tough decision to take the time to write it. It would be hard enough work compiling 100 years of history if that was your full time job, but Rivera had to split time with covering the Wildcat basketball team on a daily basis for the Citizen and having a wife and two kids. Add to that that the audience for such a tome is limited to a community of 900,000 and the various alumni spread throughout the country.
After finally delving into the project Rivera emerged after a year and a half with a 227-page book chronicling the 100+ year old program from it's humble beginnings to the heights of the national championship season.
"It's just about the history of Arizona basketball," he said. "It's a bunch of anecdotal stories about this thing happened on this date. It's just a long look at the history of Arizona basketball."
Although few know as much about Wildcat basketball than Steve, he had to do a load of research to put the stories together. Rivera sought out and spoke with numerous former players, coaches and others with ties to the program. His exhaustive research had him going through old newspapers, reading other books on the Wildcats and trying to talk to as many people as possible.
"I went back to old clippings," said Rivera who credits such sources as the Daily Star, the Citizen, the Los Angeles Times and the Wall Street Journal. "I read books that other people wrote way back when. I talked to more than 65 people in person and on the phone. It was a lot of fun hearing from some guys I had never talked to."
Some of the more memorable conversations included a two-hour lunch with Pete Williams and John Edgar, delving through Fred Enke Jr.'s volumes of clippings and several funny conversations with guys like Joe Turner, Sean Rooks and Steve Kerr.
"The more interesting stories were from Joe Turner," Rivera revealed. "He was just so funny and such a character."
Of course no book about Arizona basketball would be complete without several conversations with Lute Olson. Rivera has interviewed Olson too many times to count, but one long conversation with the Wildcat head coach proved to be more painful than he counted on.
"I had to go on a walk with him, an hour long hike really," said Rivera. "It was grueling but fun. It was painful two days later when I had to take ibuprofen just to walk."
Rivera joked that you know why Olson looks so young. Any man who can take that trek in stride has to be in good shape.
Since the book came out Rivera has hit the road peddling it. He may not be guesting on Regis and Kelly or being interviewed by Jay Leno, but he has been seen quite a bit. Rivera has done a number of book signings, plus interviews on the Lute Olson Coach's Show, Fox Sport's Wildcat Insider and the Wildcat pregame show.
"I figured if it's going to sell, it'll sell near the holidays," Rivera joked about the ‘media blitz'.
Even an established journalist like Rivera leaned things about the program, especially the early days of the program. While most know that the first games were played on a dirt court by Old Main, many don't know that the first basketball went flat and it would be a few more years before the sport would return to the school. When it did return in 1905 the players had to wear old football pants. It wasn't until the 1920's before there was room in the budget for basketball shorts.
While there was some amount of success in the early days, it wasn't until after World War II that the sport really took off.
"The thing that surprised me the most is how good they were after the war," Rivera said. "They had Fred Enke Jr. and Linc Richmond, guys like that."
Of course the book relies heavily on the Snowden and Olson eras. While the media spotlight was at it's brightest during the success of the past 20 years, there are still a few stories that weren't revealed until now. We all remember Lute Olson referring to Dick Vitale as "Dookie V", but do you know how the ESPN analyst responded? Many don't know that Mike Bibby once had to use a media guide to board a plane or that the normally fearless Jason Gardner once intentionally slept in so as not to have to snorkel at the Great Barrier Reef.
Considering it was a project he almost didn't take, the results are impressive. After finally deciding to tackle the project Rivera is glad he did.
"I am very proud of it," Rivera admitted. "It turned out to be a lot of fun."
Tales from the Arizona Wildcats Hardwood
Sport Publishing L.L.C.
"Tales" is a collection of short, anecdotal stories accumulated by Tucson Citizen basketball beat writer Steve Rivera. Although the book has a heavy emphasis on the Lute Olson era, the book does a great job delving into the vast history of the Wildcat basketball program.
It is perfect bathroom reading. That is not meant as an insult, the book is very well done. It is just an easy read because of the way it is laid out. Instead of writing long winded, history text accounts, Rivera instead chooses to use brief, poignant stories to paint the larger picture of the program. Each story ranges from just a couple paragraphs, to three pages. You can sit down and read just a few stories, or settle in and digest a few eras at a time.
Rivera spoke with over 65 people, mostly former players and coaches, in researching the book. The wide variety of people and personalities is what gives the book it's voice. "Tales" does not only focus on the big names and the superstars, but on all the many characters who wore the cardinal and navy.
A lot has happened in 100 years and Rivera delves into it all. From the humble beginnings when students bought a ball that went flat on a dirt court, to cutting down the nets in Indianapolis. Obviously there is great attention to the successes of the Olson era, but you can tell in reading that Rivera has some affinity to some of the older teams, especially the post-war teams of the late 40's and early 50's.
The book also includes a number of photographs. It is fun seeing old shots of Bruce Larsen prowling the hardwood at Bear Down gym or seeing the changes in uniforms from the 40's to today.
This is a very nice collection of stories. A great history lesson and a great reminder of all that has happened to Arizona's storied program. It is a great gift for Wildcat fans young and old. Whether you started watching with Lincoln Richmond or Richard Jefferson, odds are you'll learn a thing or two from the book.
Tales from the Arizona Wildcats Hardwood is available at bookstores all over Tucson, and other retailers such at the McKale Team Shop, Costco and Sam's Club. For those outside of Tucson, you can order it from Amazon.com or from sportspublishingllc.com