DEL MAR, Calif. -- He's the white-haired dude in a floppy hat and flip-flops at skateboarding's biggest contest.
Bill Frieder? Skateboarding? Seriously?
That's usually the reaction when people recognize Frieder, the former basketball coach at Michigan and Arizona State. It seems odd, considering that Frieder is 69 and a grandfather, but it makes perfect sense.
Frieder helped Sacramento Kings owners Joe and Gavin Maloof launch the richest contest in skateboarding in 2008. The Maloof Money Cup opened its most ambitious season last weekend in New York with the first of four contests that will pay potentially more than $2 million.
"Surprised isn't the word. They're floored," Joe Maloof said. "They look at him cross-eyed and they turn their head sideways. The first question is, 'What are you doing?' And then he goes into his spiel, and they all love Frieder, so they understand when he explains it to them."
In July 2006, Maloof called Frieder and asked if he could run a skateboarding camp.
"I say, 'Yeah," recalled Frieder, who had run basketball camps for the Kings, Phoenix Suns and a Michael Jordan camp in Las Vegas since retiring from coaching in 1997.
"He said, 'What do you know about skateboarding?' I said, 'Nothing.' He said, "Well, how can you run a camp then?' I said, 'Well, Joe, you just get a facility, you get a date, you hire a pro, you put his picture on the brochure and you put a price on it and you've got a three-day camp."
The funny thing is, they never did run that camp. After talking to skaters, who suggested a contest with prize money, they went straight to the first Maloof Money Cup in Orange County in 2008. They expanded to New York last year, and this year will add contests in Washington, D.C., and South Africa before returning to Orange County in the fall.
Not surprisingly, Frieder has never been on a skateboard.
"But I really enjoy meeting the skaters," said Frieder, who's also an analyst on Westwood One college basketball radio broadcasts. "These guys are a completely different breed from the team sport type of thing. They're individual. But that's how they developed the sport. They went out and did things their way on a skateboard. They developed a lifestyle that's becoming a big-time sport. They're very talented, they're very athletic. It's scary what they do with this thing. It's very dangerous. They're great guys."
The Maloof Money Cup has at one time or another attracted the biggest names in the sport, including Paul Rodriguez, Shaun White, Chris Cole and Ryan Sheckler.
Frieder has become friends with many of the skaters who live in the San Diego area, including Pierre-Luc Gagnon, a two-time winner of the Maloof Money Cup Orange County vert title, and Jake Brown, who is best known for his spectacular 40-foot fall during the 2007 X Games.
"When I got into this I knew who Jake Brown was because I saw his fall on ESPN," Frieder said. "I knew who Sheckler was. We had a Ryan Sheckler night our first year up at Sacramento. There was a line all the way around the arena and out the door to get his autograph. It was incredible."
Brown, an Australian, didn't know anything about Frieder's coaching past when they met.
"Bill Frieder's an amazing guy," Brown said. "He comes from a history of sports, with basketball and stuff, and he's just a great all-around dude."
Frieder doesn't help pick the skaters. He handles the money, makes sure things run smoothly during the contests, and with the Maloofs and general manager Tim McFerran -- a former hoops player at Willamette University -- helps make business decisions, including on expanding the contests domestically and internationally.
"He knows sports," said Maloof, who's been a game-changer in pro skateboarding. "Frieder's been around sports his whole life. He understands young people, athletes. The people 40-70 know who he is, but it's the young people that are attracted to Frieder. He just knows how to relate to young people, like he did his whole career, like recruiting basketball players. Skaters trust him."
Frieder, of course, is the coach who, while at Michigan in 1989, accepted the job at Arizona State on the eve of the NCAA tournament. Athletic director Bo Schembechler immediately promoted Steve Fisher to interim head coach, saying, "A Michigan man will coach Michigan, not an Arizona State man." The Wolverines won the national championship.
Fisher, who just finished his 12th season as San Diego State's coach, remains friends with Frieder. The two live about a mile apart in this upscale seaside town in northern San Diego County.
Fisher was among those who were surprised when Frieder surfaced with the Maloof Money Cup.
"It doesn't fit and yet when you think about it, you know, he is a guy that's successful at everything he's done, from a little kid selling fruit with his dad on a corner in Flint, Mich., to making money in the stock market to being a poker player, to being a great basketball coach," Fisher said. "He knows how to get things done. I'm sure he didn't know, what's it called, a vert, from a 2-iron once he got going, but he knows how to get people around him, how to delegate, how to get things done."
Frieder knows the halfpipe now.
"I really do love the vert," Frieder said. "I don't want to downplay the street skaters. They do a great job. But it just amazes me on that vert how high they go up in the air and come back down and keep their balance. It's incredible."
FUEL TV will have live broadcasts of the Maloof Money Cup New York, which features street skateboarding only, on Saturday and Sunday from Flushing Meadows Corona Park in Queens. The total prize purse is $300,000, with the winner getting $160,000.
Tony Hawk's 18-year-old son, Riley, will compete in the amateur contest on Saturday.