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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, November 14, 2002

Haenisch helped 'Swords slay Cavs

Learn about Hawai'i sports history and those who figured prominently in it in this feature. We'll ask a question Wednesday and present the answer in an in-depth profile on Thursday

Q: Twenty years ago, this former Punahou star, pictured with actress Kelly Hu in a recent photo, had a memorable court date, helping a tiny Hawai'i NAIA school score one of the biggest upsets in college basketball history. Who is he?

By Stephen Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer

A: Richard Haenisch, now a financial planner in Los Angeles, helped Chaminade shock then-No. 1 Virginia and Ralph Sampson, 77-72, in 1982. Haenisch celebrating on the rim was the most lasting image of what some call the biggest upset in college basketball history.

It just isn't fair.

It wasn't enough to be a central figure in what ESPN ranks as the "greatest upset in college basketball history," or to develop into a successful financial planner, or to be known as "Rico," as in "Rico Suave," on the L.A. party circuit.

Nope, now inquiring minds learn that Richard Haenisch, who has turned 15 minutes of fame into a 20-year run, once dated every frat guy's dream, Brooke Burke, former hostess of E's "Wild On ..."

"She wasn't so wild back then," said Haenisch, with an easy laugh that has charmed basketball fans, clients and friends during his 40 years of a wonderful life.

At the Maui Classic this month, Haenisch will be reunited with Chaminade University teammates to raise a toast to the Silverswords' astonishing 77-72 victory over then-No. 1 Virginia on Dec. 23, 1982 in the Blaisdell Arena.

"It's actually mind-boggling to think it's been 20 years," Haenisch said. "Of course, I don't like to admit it's been 20 years. I still try to tell women I'm 28. Hey, I'm single. I'm trying to work that angle."

Then again, even if you were there — "I think 35,000 people claimed to be there," he said, laughing — it still is difficult to grasp the magnitude of that game.

In 1981, then-No. 6 Virginia had easily beaten Chaminade, 75-59, then known as "Chaminade College." A week before the rematch, in 1982, Chaminade had lost to Wayland Baptist University of Plainsville, Texas.

But, somehow, the stars began to align the Silverswords' way.

"It was a weird time" for the Cavaliers, Haenisch recalled. "They were coming back from Japan. It was, like, a bus stop for them: 'Get off the bus, spank the local team and go back to Virginia.' Well, we all know what happened."

In the pre-game practice, 5-foot manager Curley Fujihara stood on a chair, with his raised hands holding a broomstick, giving the Silverswords a preview of what it would be like to shoot over 7-foot-4 Ralph Sampson, Virginia's All-America center.

Then in the locker room before the game, head coach Merv Lopes offered his usual advice: "Meditate."

"He would tell us to 'concentrate on your mind, then your hands' and so forth," Haenisch said. "We were supposed to be in deep concentration, but then I heard Earnest (Pettway) snoring away. After a while, all of us were asleep."

A few minutes later, Haenisch recalled, "Coach would yell, 'Let's go!' Somehow, in our own way, it helped us. It certainly worked against Virginia."

The Silverswords, whose tallest players were Haenisch and Tony Randolph, each measuring 6 feet 6, hit big shot after big shot. Randolph finished with 19 points and Haenisch added nine.

On defense, the Silverswords swarmed the perimeter, pressuring the passers, then retreating to double up on Sampson, who finished with just 12 points. Sampson, who made just two field goals while being guarded by Randolph, was forced to shoot turn-around jumpers — his bread-and-butter shot as one of the NBA's top power forwards in the 1980s, but a skill he had not developed in college.

As the clock ticked down to what Advertiser writer Andy Yamaguchi described as "The Miracle on Ward Avenue," 6-foot point guard Mark Rodrigues tried to scale the basketball goal's support beam.

Inspired by Rodrigues, Haenisch raced to other side of the court, grabbed the rim with one hand and the backboard with the other, and shimmied up, managing to turn the goal into a throne.

"Since we felt on top of the world, we felt that was the most appropriate place to be," Haenisch said. "I think Mark is still trying to get up there (on the rim)."

In a coincidence of scheduling, two Washington Post reporters, including Michael Wilbon, now co-host of ESPN's "Pardon the Interruption," were in town to cover the Maryland football team's appearance in the Aloha Bowl. Looking to kill time, the scribes decided to watch the Virginia basketball game. They were among the crowd of 3,500, roughly half of the Blaisdell's seating capacity.

Soon after the game ended, the Washington Post reporters filed stories of the upset, and the picture of Haenisch sitting on the rim was circulated nationally. A few hours later, CNN declared, "Yes, Virginia, there is a Chaminade."

Chaminade soon became the symbol of the modern-day David. "The Shack," the school's portable building that served as the athletic department, and the story of how the team's towels were "borrowed" from a Waikiki hotel enhanced Chaminade's giant-killing image.

The Silverswords' popularity exceeded the University of Hawai'i's, and enrollment soared at the small school at the ankle of St. Louis Heights.

The Silverswords went on to beat Louisville twice and Southern Methodist. Haenisch was the Los Angeles Lakers' seventh-round pick in 1984. That draft included Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon and Karl Malone. "... And Richard Haenisch," he said, laughing. "I think I just missed the Hall (of Fame). I'm back on the ballot next year."

Haenisch actually was the Lakers' last cut in training camp. After playing a season in the Continental Basketball Association, he earned another tryout with the Lakers. This time, his career ended for good when he sustained a broken nose from Greg Kite's swinging elbow. "He was a butcher," Haenisch said. "It was difficult to play with a mask after that."

After being waived again, Haenisch decided to retire from basketball, but not Los Angeles.

"I made two decisions," he said. "I liked L.A., and I didn't want to chase the dream anymore."

Indeed, he already had gained more from basketball than he ever imagined. The son of a Yugoslavian mother and an African-American father who was killed in Vietnam, Richard Bradic was raised in Germany. After his mother's death, he was adopted by Kate Haenisch, a family friend who used to live in Hawai'i and dreamed of retiring in the Islands.

In Germany, Bradic was known on the soccer fields as the "Black Pearl." But as a sophomore at Roosevelt High in 1978, Haenisch, now using his adopted surname, was a diamond in the rough, especially on the basketball court.

"I was 5-10, but taller than most guys at Roosevelt," he said. "One of the guys said, 'You should play basketball.' I started to play, and I totally loved it."

Haenisch had planned to attend Punahou School after moving to Hawai'i, but he arrived too late to take the entrance exam. He passed the Punahou test during his sophomore year, and enrolled there as a junior.

The Roosevelt coaches "wanted me to stay," Haenisch recalled. "They thought Punahou recruited me, but that wasn't the case."

Haenisch was 6 feet 4 and 155 pounds as a Punahou senior, and received offers from Kansas State and Chaminade. He wanted to remain in Hawai'i, but with no offers from UH, opted to attend Chaminade.

"I'm glad I did it," he said. "I had a good time, and they provided me with a good education."

Haenisch said he always has had a knack for numbers. "I always knew what my stats were," he said.

After a brief acting career — he appeared in several national commercials — he decided to pursue a career in investing. His portfolio was boosted from his contacts with the Lakers and in the entertainment business.

He said it doesn't hurt when people learn of his ties to Chaminade.

"Over time, the story changes," he said. "Now people say, 'So, you beat Georgetown?' "

Of course, he admitted, the Silverswords know what life is like on the other side.

"Wayland Baptist players started bragging they beat us," Haenisch said. "Because they beat us before we beat Virginia, they tell people, 'We beat the team that beat Virginia.' "