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The Rise Of Basketball In Southern California

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With thirty-one seconds left on the game clock and the score 111-100, the Los Angeles Lakers were on their way to surmounting what would be one of their greatest victories against the Boston Celtics in 1985 Championship game. "This game is in the refrigerator: the door is closed, the lights are out, the eggs are cooling, the butter's getting hard, and the Jell-O's jigglin!" echoed throughout the airwaves of Southern California ushering in a new era for the infamous Lakers dynasty. Los Angelenos of all ages celebrated in the streets as the streak of disappointing losses to the Celtics had finally come to an end. Sports historians often argued that the sport of basketball in Southern California was at its prime in the 1980s. Yet this all could be attained to its strong foundation established in the 1960s. Under the direction of John Wooden, the Bruins of the University of California at Los Angeles had developed a unique program that would undeniably change the way Los Angelenos would look at the sport of basketball to this day. The relocation of the Lakers to Los Angeles in 1960 introduced a professional basketball team to a city that was quite unfamiliar to the sport. However, the numerous denials of a championship by the Boston Celtics, led to the creation of a relentless Los Angeles Lakers fan base. Towards the end of the decade, the construction of a new arena, The Forum, was a reward to Los Angelenos for their passionate commitment to the Lakers franchise. The Los Angeles Lakers might have lost the championship game several times throughout the 1960s, but through the help of a successful collegiate counterpart, the development of an exciting rivalry, and the existence of the Forum, Los Angelenos welcomed the sport of basketball and embraced the purple and gold into their Southern Californian identity.

In a city that was already enthusiastic for its professional football and baseball teams, the Rams and the Dodgers respectively, the sport of basketball emerged in the 60s through the success of the UCLA Bruins. Prior to the arrival of the Lakers to Los Angeles, Coach John Wooden had recruited a handful of young and talented athletes into the UCLA men's basketball program. Through Wooden's rigorous coaching style that demanded quickness and discipline, UCLA basketball had created itself a niche in the culture of Southern Californian sports.

Although the Lakers were not winning the NBA Championship, their collegiate counterparts, the University of California at Los Angeles Bruins captured five out of their eleven national titles during the 1960s. Under Coach John Wooden, the Bruins brought to Los Angeles what the Lakers simply could not achieve. Prior to the arrival of the Lakers in Los Angeles, there was no niche for basketball in Southern Californian sports as the Dodgers and Rams regularly drew large crowds. One Laker historian, Roland Lazenby, highlighted that "for years the game existed, but basketball was merely a sideshow" (Lazenby 69). Collegiate basketball was even more overlooked at until the success of Bruins program in the 1960s. Now that basketball was even considered a major sport, the Bruins and the Lakers, made fans out of Los Angelenos left and right. The UCLA Basketball dynasty became another reason for the increased the popularity of basketball in Southern California. With such a success in the sport of basketball, mainstream sports such as football and baseball lost much interest in the 1960s. The Lakers and Bruins enjoyed the increasing support of the fans of Los Angeles. Having won NCAA titles in 1964 and 1965, the UCLA Bruins sought for a new on-campus arena that would later be known as Pauley Pavilion to accommodate the growing crowds. This move by UCLA might have also triggered the Lakers to break ground on a new venue. In 1967, Lakers owner Cooke unveiled the Forum, a new multimillion-dollar state-of-the art arena, that would house not only the Lakers but the National Hockey League's Los Angeles Kings as well. Both the Forum and Pauley Pavilion would become landmarks in the Greater Los Angeles Area that served the new generation of basketball fans. Yet despite their new venue, the Lakers would suffer another title game defeat to the Boston Celtics in the same year. The Bruins, on the other hand led by a young Lew Alcindor, would defeat Dayton in the 1967 NCAA Championship game. Southern Californians knew that their city had become a mecca for collegiate basketball, but the success of the Bruins only contributed to the thirst of an NBA title by the Lakers.

With the Lakers aggravating in their defeat, the franchise sought to draft UCLA Bruin starts Gail Goodrich and Walt Hazzard to the team. What better way is there to bring a championship to the Lakers then by drafting two Bruins that knew what it took to win a title. Los Angeles basketball fans were likened to the idea because of their support of Goodrich and Hazzard on the Bruins. Yet instead of finally winning a championship with the Lakers, the combined efforts of Hazzard, Jerry West, and Elgin Baylor, led to more disappointment. With three stars all playing the guard position, Hazzard believed that "there was a conflict between [his] style and the Lakers" (Springer 78). Goodrich on the other hand would become another major role player for the Lakers but would also undergo the disappointing losses to the Celtics.

Little did the Los Angelenos know that the ideas of a man by the name of Bob Short would change the way the sport of basketball was conceived in Southern California. The year 1960 marked the arrival of the Minneapolis Lakers to Los Angeles and the creation of a Southern Californian basketball culture that remains eminent today. However, the move to Los Angeles would only be the first step in generating one of the city's largest fanbase for a professional sporting team. Throughout the span of the 1960s, the Los Angeles Lakers became a symbol of the city although it did not necessarily do it by winning. This team would not have gained the notoriety that they have today if they did not have their failures in 1960s. The Lakers might have lost the Championship game several times throughout the decade, but the birth of a rivalry, a winning collegiate counterpart, and the creation of "Showtime" basketball would be more than enough to capture the hearts of Los Angelenos.

Bob Short's decision to move the Lakers to Los Angeles marked the beginning of a new chapter in the franchise's history. With the arrival of the Los Angeles Rams in 1946 and the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1958, the Lakers would be the first team to mark the National Basketball Association's (NBA) move toward the west coast on April 28, 1960. Although the Minneapolis Lakers were a successful team, when led by future Hall of Famer George Mikan, his retirement



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