When most basketball fans want to see artifacts and memorabilia from their favorite sport, their preferred destination is Springfield, Mass., and the hallowed halls of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. However, longtime Frisco resident Walt Kaser, 79, has a much shorter trip to make than most. He only has to travel up two flights of stairs to see his own homage to the sport which has given so much to him — a game which he has in turn devoted his life to. Some people collect stamps or model cars, but Mr. Kaser is all about basketball.
Mr. Kaser, who has spent much of his life playing and coaching basketball, has thousands of items spread across several rooms in the home he shares with his wife, Ann, also a basketball fan. There are posters featuring players from every era, like Walt “Clyde” Frazier, a former New York Knicks great who is now an equally-beloved television broadcaster, Magic Johnson and Shaquille O’Neal. Several of these posters are signed, including one by former Houston Rockets great Clyde Drexler.
Numerous framed magazine covers also adorn his basketball shrine, again coming from all eras, showing stars from yester-year like Jerry West, whose iconic silhouette was used for the logo of the National Basketball Association (NBA), a league our own Dallas Mavericks have been a member of since 1980. Mr. Kaiser is proud to say his collection even pre-dates the NBA, which started in 1946 as the Basketball Association of America (BAA).
Other items he is particularly proud of include several letters he has received from fellow N.J. native Dick Vitale, the iconic college basketball television announcer who is a member of the Pro Basketball Hall of Fame.
Like any collector, Mr. Kaser has his favorite items. When asked which ones he could never part with, he named two. The first is a basketball signed by the iconic John Wooden, the incomparable former coach at the University of California, Los Angeles, who won 10 national championships in 12 seasons between 1964 and 1975. A friend got Mr. Wooden, who became a successful motivational speaker after retiring from coaching, to sign the ball for Mr. Kaser and it is a centerpiece of his collection. Mr. Kaser met Mr. Wooden on several occasions and even has a photo of them together.
Another one of Mr. Kaser’s most prized items is a signed basketball, this one autographed by his former players at Houston MacArthur High School, a program he coached from 1974 through 1990 and built into a perennial powerhouse. It is a gold ball and lifetime achievement award. His former players signed it at an event honoring him in Aldine, Texas, in January 2016 when they thanked him for the impact he had on their lives. Mr. Kaiser shares, “My two daughters were amazed. They said my players never mentioned basketball. They mentioned the discipline and the little things I taught them. I was a fanatic on the little things, and that is what the kids picked up on. The greatest reward is when they tell you, ‘Coach, I am raising my son like you coached me.’ Wow.”
Mr. Kaser first caught the collecting bug back home in N.J. While growing up in Fair Lawn, Mr. Kaser’s room was his own mini basketball shrine, complete with photos and articles of his favorite players on the walls. In fact, it was back home that he got his first taste of coaching. At age 12, his coach asked him to work with some younger players, and it was a great fit. Mr. Kaser continued playing, including collegiately at the University of Southern Mississippi and McNeese State University, but he and college were not a great fit.
Mr. Kaser’s next stop was the Army, and after making a team touring Europe, he met Mrs. Kaser, and they celebrated their forty-fourth anniversary on July 20. “We met in Germany. Ann was teaching school,” Mr. Kaser shares. “When I first met Ann, it was at a party. A fellow teacher invited me and Ann said she had seen me play. She had played basketball in high school and she knew all about the game. She kept score at all the games.”
After leaving the military, Mr. and Mrs. Kaser returned to the Garden State, where he coached high school hoops from 1968 through 1973. The following year, they moved to Houston and began a long and successful run in the Bayou City. And, yes, the basketball collection accompanied them as Mr. Kaser proudly displayed his keepsakes in his office and locker room at MacArthur High School. In 1990, he left MacArthur, but continued teaching and coaching, this time working with at-risk kids at an alternative school until 1997, when the Kasers moved to Frisco to be closer to family. “I had a good knack with the kids, so they asked me to go to the alternative school where everybody had been damaged goods, and I always got along with those kinds of kids. That was my background,” Mr. Kaser says. “I was working with a bunch of kids who did not get along with Mom and Dad, went from job to job and played basketball all day long. That is what they gave me and I loved it. Every day, I would coach the kids on basketball, not on a team, but on skills.”
One benefit of moving to Frisco is that it allowed Mr. Kaser to work with his grandson, Andrew Guerrero, who played at Hebron High School and collegiately at Pfeiffer University, an NCAA Division III school in N.C. Mr. Kaser has several items in his collection from his grandson’s career, keepsakes which he is quite proud to display.
Mr. Kaser started his basketball shrine in his upstairs office, but once those walls became full, he expanded it into an adjoining open room, eventually appropriating part of another nearby room and a hall closet, which houses stacks of vintage basketball magazines. His collection remains a labor of love, his way to honor the game which has been central in his life. However, he admits he is almost out of room.
When not traveling the world with his wife or visiting family, Mr. Kaser still coaches. He currently works with two girls from Hebron High School, which he does free of charge, another way to give back to the game. “I coach them a couple days a week on just fundamentals,” he says. “I will never stop coaching. It is in your blood. They always said Larry Brown (a Hall of Fame coach) could drive down a street and see some kid on a playground who he would get out of the car to coach. I am the same way. If I drive by and see two kids, I love to go in there and show them a shortcut to be a good player.”
However, Mr. Kaser’s lessons have not entirely been about basketball. He also likes to use the game he loves as a metaphor for life, a vehicle for delivering sage advice for players to use on and off the court. “The greatest thing it teaches you is teamwork — how to work with people. The biggest thing kids maybe do not realize is that it teaches you about handling adversity,” Mr. Kaser says. “I think that is the biggest thing I learned from playing basketball and coaching: learning how to handle the down times. The biggest things I learned were life lessons.”