Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Los Angeles Lakers First Venue

Before Staples Center opened in 1999, where did the Lakers play? The Great Western Forum, of course--but before that?

The Lakers moved to Los Angeles in 1960, becoming the NBA's first West Coast team. That was also the year they acquired Jerry West. In their last year in Minnesota, the Lakers were 25 and 50--which is, quite frankly, the reason they were able to get West in the draft.

According to the team's history webpage, Lakers owner Bob Short was inspired by the financial success of the Dodgers, who'd moved here from Brooklyn in 1958. In Los Angeles, the Lakers were 36-43, and got to the Western Division Finals. Here's the team in 1961--that's Elgin Baylor, blocking the shot of Joe Roberts, who played for the Syracuse Nationals.

The new Los Angeles Lakers played at the Sports Arena, because the Forum didn't open until late in 1967.

Bob Short sold his basketball team to Jack Kent Cooke in 1965, and it was Cooke who planned, developed and built the Fabulous Forum. Charles Luckman--who also designed the LAX Theme Building--was the architect. The Los Angeles Public Library has these fabulous picture in their Herald Examiner Collection. The one just below shows Luckman and Cooke during the construction--March 5, 1967.

After fifteen months of work and $16 million, the building opened on December 30, 1967, a glorious event! Lorne Greene of Bonanza introduced Cooke to an opening night crowd of 14, 366 screaming fans. Harve Presnell sang the National Anthem. TV luminaries like Jim Backus (Thurston Howell III and Mr. Magoo) and Jack Palance (long before City Slickers and his one-handed pushups) were there, along with Broadway/movie stars like Janet Blair and Robert Morse.

But the home team lost! Dang. To the Philadelphia Flyers. Double dang. The home team in this case was not the Lakers, but Los Angeles Kings, a franchise started by Cooke and close to his heart.

The Sparks and Britney Spears are indirectly responsible for this post, btw. Thanks to a decided lack of faith combined with avarice, the Sparks are playing their third playoff game not at Staples, but at Pauley Pavilion, at UCLA. Why? Because Britney's Circus has booked Staples, and she draws a bigger crowd. Hometeam pride doesn't pay the bills, apparently.

But it did get me thinking about basketball venues.


Art in Torrance said...

Fun story. I'm amazed that there are three(!) arenas within 2.5 miles of each other on Figueroa -- Staples Center, Galen Center and the Sports Arena ... all still in use.

Vix said...

Thanks for checking in, and you're right about how close the places are. Don't forget the Coliseum, though!

Art in Torrance said...

Yep, the Coliseum is nearby, but I was focusing on indoor/basketball arenas. If outside counts too, then there's Dodger Stadium and the Rose Bowl all along the Harbor/Pasadena Freeway corridor as well. Too bad we can't get an NFL team to play here somewhere ...