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Kiki Vandeweghe netting profits.

Kiki. It's a rather little name for a guy who's 6'8" and regularly hits 12-foot jumpers for the National Basketball Association's Denver Nuggets. To make a long story short, Kiki was born in Germany while his dad was stationed there in the Air Force. He was christened Ernest Vandeweghe III; but his German nursemaid called him Kiki, and that name has stuck up, up and up to where he is now--last sesons's second-leading scorer in the NBA with a 26.7 points-per-game average.

A crowd pleaser, Vandeweghe is bullish on the court. But he's equally bullish in the off-season when he focuses his skills on his favorite pastime--investment interests. The lis of this business associates sounds like the ocver possibilities for Forbes magazine: financier Bunker Hunt, sports producer Alan Landsberg and former California senator John Tunney.

"I get involved in things I like," says Vandeweghe, explaining why a t age 25 he's achieved phenomenal success at both his vocation and his avocations. "If you pick fields you enjoy, you're going to be interested, and you'll do that little extra than the next guy would, just because you enjoyt yourself."

What Vandeweghe calls doing a little extra, however, is what most people call hard work. Take the game of basketball, for example. Kiki does not possess the natural ability of someone like the L.A. LAkers' Jamaal Wilkes, the forward they call the "BAryshnikov of Basketball." Vandeweghe's success is rather a credit to sheer grit, gumption and gusto. Asa struggling substitute on a not especially impressive UCLA Bruins team his freshman year, Vandeweghe spent some eight hours a day, seven days a week, practicing his moves and shots. Asked in those days by an L.A. reporter about his fish-belly complexion, Kiki replied, "The sun doesn't shine in the gym."

While growing up in Pacific Palisades, a ten-minute ride across Sunset Boulevard in light traffic from UCLA, only Kiki himself believed he'd someday play for the Bruins, let alone the pros. Not until the last day of recruiting allowed by the NCAA did UCLA, as an after-thought, offer him its single remaining scholarship.

Even Vandeweghe's family demonstrated little confidence in his basketball ability. His father, Dr. Ernest VAndeweghe, a prominent L.A. pediatrician who himself starred with the New York Knicks in the '50s, took a long, hard and critical look at Kiki's adolescent skills. Dr. Vandeweghe recommended that Kiki stick to swimming, a sport in which both Kiki and his sister Tauna (who once made the Olympic team) showed exceptional ability.

But his father's skepticism was not catching. Kiki became even more determined to follow in his old man's sneaker steps. And once the decision was made, the elder Vandeweghe, to his credit, offered encouragement, advice and many a backyard game of one-on-one. Kiki insists he would offer teh same honest judgment if in a few years a son of his own asked for an opinion. "I would handle the situation very similar to the way my daad did it. He told me realistically what he was thinking. Ater he said all that, he did what he could. It made me want to work harder. He tried to help me learn and do what he could to teach me."

no one attended more of Kiki's games than the good doctor, who, rather ironically., has recently gained additional fame with a basketball self-help book aimed at the youth market. Vandeweghe bloomed at UCLA, despite having three head coaches in four years. His .569 field-goal percentage placed him third-best among all-time Bruins players. And when the Dallas Mavericks drafted him first in 1980, he went, perhaps not surprisingly, to Dr. Ernest for advice. The prognosis? Kiki's best league. As a result, the rookie boldly sat out the first two months of the season until the Mavs capitulated and sold him to Denver. "I signed in one day," he recalls.

The new NBA player's relatives, while suitably happy for him, were unmoved by the signing. Frame is after all expected of those who bear the unspellable family name. Besides Kiki, Ernest, Sr., and Tauna (who has made the unprecedented switch from the U.S. Olympic swim team to the '84 U.S. volleyball team), there are Kiki's mother, Colleen, a former Miss Utah, Miss Amerca and Broadway actress; his grandfather, also an Ernest, who played profesional soccer; and his cousin Al, another Olympic swimmer. Rumor has it the Vandeweghes have been banned from "Family Feud" for fear no one could ever beat them.

At Denver, Kiki Vandeweghe has done nothing to tarnish the family name. In fact, he has improved in giant leaps and bounds each season. He hit for a respectable 11.5-per game-average his shortened rookie year; he nearly doubled that figure in '81-'82 when he dropped 706 buckets and 347 free thrwos for a 21.5 average. Second only to his teammate Alex English in scoring last year, Vandeweghe increased his stats to 841 field goals and 489 freebies. He and English became only the third teammate duo in NBA history to score more than 2,000 points in a single season, as the two men each made the All-Star squad for the first time.

Around the league, Vandeweghe is known as the perfect forward, suitably geared for coach Doug Moe's fast-breaking style of play, His jump shot and feel for the basket remind observers of Bill Bradley's pre-senatorial days. His strength allows him to drive consistently close to the glass; his hips and moving legs invite stray elbows to connect and give him a gift third point at the four line. And on defense--well, as we say, he's a great shooter...but since nobody works at hisgame harder, by this season's end Vandeweghe may finally be regarded as a truly complete player. Doug Moe's only complaint about Vandeweghe is his rather unchic apparel, a complaint the player gallantly admits is justified.

"I'm not a real fancy dresser," says Vandeweghe, who painfully recalls his off-season job as a sports reporter for an ABC Los Angeles affiliate. He had to wear a tie daily for three weeks. "It nearly killed me," he says. His preferred dress is a familiar bulky, white sweater. "The players claim I wore it to every game," he says with a laugh. "It's not true--although close, I'm sure. It's the only sweater I have that's warm, so I swear it and wear it all the time."

Understandably, his penchant for investments matches his own free-wheeling personality. Although he owns stocks and bonds, he prefers less tame ways of scoring big in the marketplace. Vandeweghe collects antique roman coins; wheels 'n deals in antique automobiles; and relaxes after work, not at the nearest singles bar, but at a hopkido studio, where "I practice the martial arts to keep in shape." At home you'll find him curled up with a sci-fi book. Frank Herbert's Dune is his all-time favorite.

Vandeweghe also dabbles in syndicated horses, an interest that dates to his college days, when he and several friends pooled $8,500 to purchase a "claimer" horse at the Santa Anita racetrack.

"He won a lot of races for us," says Vandeweghe. How much, exactly? "50,000."

But the Nuggets' star reishes the Damon Runyon atmosphere around the track more than the money. "My favorite part is going out to the stables in the mornings to watch my trainer and my horses." His love for the track brought him into contact three years back with silver king Bunker Hunt, who invited the player to purchase an interst in his Blue Grass Syndicate--a move that gave him partial ownership of more than 70 fine hourses. "All our horses are bred toward classic races," he says. "We have the best three-year-old in Europe, a horse by the name of Load-the-Cannon."

Bunker Hunt, in addition, just may be Kiki's only friend in Dallas., where the long memories of Dallasites cause them to boo Vandeweghe lustily whenever he is introduced. Hunt sits behind the nuggets' bench and loyally root for this stable mate. "He's not a bad guy to have on your side," says Vandeweghe.

His interest in Roman coins was sparked by a friendship with numismatist Bruce McNall. McNall's seach for rare coins has taken him to remote digging expeditions around the world; he has even taught the basketball player the complexities of coin-dating. "I think it's unbelievable that you could be holding a coin in your hand that was around in Caesar's time," says Vandeweghe.

Kiki's interest in antique cars goes gack to his high-school days; his one "untouchable," decidedly not for sale, is a 1969 Shelby--red with gold stripes--"the first car I owned." Pressed for advice on auto investments today, he proceeds cautiously. "If you buy a car like a Ferrari, a good, solid model, you almost can't go wrong," he says. "I also like the well-made American cars usch as the new Corvettes."

His next off-season project, he says, will be feature films. The plunge will not come, however, until he is confident he's learned as much as he can from experts in cable-made movies.

The ubiquitous Vandeweghe is already looking ahead to his post-playing days, although he insists retirement is a long way off. His mentor, as previously mentioned, is former Senator Tunney, because he believes his future, like New Jersey senator Bardley's, is in politics. "Senator Tunney is also into horses, and we've become pretty good friends," says Vandeweghe, whose principal residence remains in California. "He' s aboviously a great person for political advice; he's very, very knowledgeable."

But for now, the NBA's grueling schedule absorbs his energies. "I'd like to play as long as the team wants me to play," says Denver's scoring ace. And that, after all, may be a long, long time. The way he's going in business, Kiki Vandeweghe should own his own NBA team before he's 35.
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Title Annotation:basketball player's interests
Author:Nuwer, Hank
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Article Type:Biography
Date:Jan 1, 1984
Words:1645
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