Barrett, now 46, is a burly specter in a sweat suit who played at San Jose State during the mid-1970s. Except for a brief stretch in the mid-1980s, when he drove a forklift in a nut-packaging factory, he has made his living through basketball. Barrett, who declined SI's repeated requests for an interview, first gained a reputation in the mid-'80s as a youth coach, when his efforts to land a no-show job for himself in exchange for delivering his first top player-eventual USC and Pepperdine star Tommy Lewis—led Jerry Tarkanian, then the coach at UNLV, to call him "the biggest whore I ever met." ( Barrett has said he wanted a job at Lewis's school so he could look out for his player's well-being.)
Since 1994, when Nike first staked him to an annual stipend in six figures along with $50,000 in shoes and gear, Barrett has cultivated prospects in his basketball hothouse. His nonprofit organization, originally called Orange County Hoops and since 1999 known as the Southern California All-Stars, fields a dozen teams for ballplayers aged 10 to 18, the best of whom are placed at Dominguez and other Nike-sponsored high schools in the Los Angeles area.
Unlike the heads of most nonprofits that solicit donations, Barrett doesn't court publicity. Perhaps that's because when the spotlight has found him, the picture hasn't always been flattering. Nike stood by him despite Barrett's boast to the Los Angeles Times in 1996 that, as someone beyond the oversight of college or high school authorities, he was subject to no rules, least of all any restrictions on what he could give a teenager who played for him. Nike renewed its support even after an L.A. Times report in 1997 that he had hired as a coach of one of his youth teams a man out of a halfway house—a former cocaine addict with convictions for embezzlement and having sex with an underage girl. Says Joe Keller, the Inland Stars coach who started working with Tyson when Tyson was a 6'6" seventh-grader, "Pat is more of a businessman than he is a basketball coach."
And business has been good. According to tax filings and published reports, between 1993 and '95 Orange County Hoops received more than $350,000 in contributions from Frank Pritt, a software mogul from Charleston, W.Va. During that same period Pritt, a childhood friend of Jim Harrick, then the UCLA coach, was also donating six-figure sums to the Bruins athletic department. According to a report in the L.A. Times, in January 1995 Barrett signed over a Honda Accord he had purchased for $13,265 to one of his best players, Olujimi Mann. (Mann's father, Richard, said he repaid $5,000 to Barrett, but Department of Motor Vehicles records indicate only that the car was a gift.) Two months later Mann announced he would attend UCLA, touching off a Pac-10 investigation into the chummy relationships among Harrick, Pritt and Barrett.
Academic problems kept Mann from enrolling in Westwood, rendering moot the Pac-10's interest, and Pritt's support of Barrett had ended by the time UCLA fired Harrick in 1996 for expense-account irregularities. (In August '95 Pritt brought in his own accountant to try to detail how Barrett had been spending his funds, and Pritt and Barrett parted ways soon thereafter.) But Barrett's players continued to live the good life. Soon after his All-Stars lost that 1996 game to the Inland Stars, Barrett began lavishing Nike gear on Tyson and his teammates. He paid the way for Tyson and his Inland Stars coach to travel to out-of-state AAU tournaments. By December, Barrett had added Tyson to his flagship traveling team, which included the finest young players in the L.A. area, and continued to supply him with gifts, shoes, gear and more. Sensing that the swoosh was gaining an advantage, an Adidas operative named Elvert ( Kool-Aid) Perry sent Tyson a care package of product.
Within a month, however, after Nike had trumped its rival with a massive shipment containing warmups, bags and some 20 pairs of shoes, all in Tyson's size, Adidas gave up. Eventually, says an associate of Tyson's, Barrett took Tyson out for movies, dinners and shopping sprees sometimes worth more than a thousand dollars. Last summer, the associate says, Barrett even flew in female friends that Tyson had made at tournaments around the country.
"I think Tyson felt uncomfortable at first with Pat giving him all this stuff," says Mark Soderberg, whose son was one of Tyson's teammates on the Inland Stars. "He was a 14-year-old kid who was getting mixed signals about what this was all about. Pat never says no. He's the ultimate Santa Claus. He comes 365 days a year."
During his freshman year of high school Tyson moved into Barrett's home in Orange County to shorten his commute to Dominguez until his own family could move west—first to Montclair, 37 miles from Compton, before Tyson's sophomore season, and finally into its current home in Buena Park. Tyson makes the trip from there to school in his 2000 Escalade, which has a blue-book value of $47,000 and is leased in his mother's name.
There is no evidence to suggest that Barrett had anything to do with Tyson's getting a car, but one former Barrett player has his suspicions. "Everybody knows if you play for Pat Barrett, there are benefits," says Kenny Brunner, a former Dominguez star who had troubled stints at Georgetown and Fresno State before landing at a juco, the College of Southern Idaho, for a season and then disappearing into pro basketball's minor leagues. "That's one reason I changed AAU teams—to play for Pat Barrett and reap the benefits. I received a car via Pat Barrett, a Ford." There were other incentives too. For example, Brunner says, "when I got MVP at the Easter Classic [AAU tournament, in Las Vegas], I got taken to Foot Locker and received $300 extra from Pat." In all, Brunner estimates that over six years of playing for Barrett, he collected $10,000 in cash.
Barrett's generosity has not always brought out the best in his players. Such prot�g�s as Don MacLean, Chris Mills, Cedric Ceballos and Jelani McCoy reached the NBA and carved out careers there. But more recently Barrett has produced a succession of disappointments. The Angelenos who have made it lately—Austin Croshere, Baron Davis, Cherokee Parks, Paul Pierce, Jacque Vaughn—have limited or no connection to Barrett. In the end, such Barrett products as Lewis, Mann, Charles O'Bannon, Ed O'Bannon, Schea Cotton, Chris Burgess, Keilon Fortune and Brunner either got sidetracked by trouble or have yet to fulfill their promise. Brunner thinks he knows why.