Lakers I Miss: The Fabulous Forum

Gatinho —  September 5, 2008


“Let there be a new NBA basketball champion ensconced in my fabulous new Fabulous Forum.”

-Jack Kent Cooke

A building that in its later years seemed dated and cavernous. The place where all the tired Laker fan stereotypes were born. The same ones that were trotted out once again during this years Finals. Fair weather celebrity fans, those who went to the game to be watched instead of watching. The format of the Forum being unique to arenas of today where one could walk around the “inside track”, while still being able to watch the game.

But those of us who cut our NBA teeth in its confines, have other more positive memories of the column encircled edifice on Manchester Boulevard and Prairie Avenue.

Its story is inextricably entwined with the man whose eccentric vision spawned its existence.

Hey, Jack, why do they call this place Fabulous?”

“…That’s the most stupid question ever to pass through your lips,” Cooke answered. The Forum was packed. Chandeliers hung high over customers ordering drinks from lovely, toga-draped waitresses. A highly paid basketball team cavorted below in its underwear. “What else could they call it?”

When Cooke first owned the Lakers, bought from previous owner Bob Short for in excess of $5 million dollars and paid for in cash, he wanted a hockey team, too.

In order to acquire the expansion NHL franchise that would bring professional hockey to the west coast, Cooke would have to promise to build a new building, and that he did.

“About 2,000 years ago and 6,000 miles east of here.”

Cooke tabbed the architectural firm of Charles Luckman and Associates who had just designed the newly built Madison Square Garden and would later design the LAX Theme Building among other famous American structures. Cooke disliked the preliminary drawings that were presented and asked for something that recalled the architecture of antiquity, a modern day Roman Coliseum.

Cooke would end up spending upwards of $16 million dollars on the land and property combined for Hollywood Park’s new neighbor. It would be Chick that would dub it “Fabulous” and Cooke that would remark that for such a great idea, Hearn would receive “something extra” in his next paycheck. In a vintage Cooke maneuver, Hearn would open the envelope to find a wallet sized photo of the Laker owner.

The Kings would have the honor of playing first on December 30, 1967 with a win over the Philadelphia Flyers. A day later the Lakers would follow suit, christening the new building and the New Year by pounding the San Diego Rockets.

“The most confusing, complex transaction in the history of sports.”

Cooke was getting divorced and his wife was about to be awarded a huge chunk of his $100 million dollar empire. (People’s Court judge Joseph Wapner would preside) Subsequently and for tax reasons, Cooke wanted to trade Jerry Buss the Forum, the Kings, and the Lakers for land holdings instead of cash. Buss would have to tap friend and Clipper owner Donald Sterling for help with funds in a deal that was said to include the lease to The Chrysler Building.

Buss would turn the court side seats that Cooke had famously kicked the press out of to the hottest, and most expensive, ticket in town. With Magic Johnson, who Buss famously insisted the team pick instead of Sidney Moncrief, at the helm the Lakers would dominate the ’80′s and solidify Inglewood as “The City of Champions”.

Like watching the game from the top of a building across the street…

Buss, whose customary seat at the Forum was in the “end zone” underneath the retired numbers, a trick he learned from football scouts so he could see plays develop, was also an innovator. A hybrid owner who placed winning as a priority while still having the business acumen to find new ways to bring in money for the team and the building. He was the first owner to sell the naming rights to a building. In a move that was painful to most fans and begat such silly names as Petco Park, Buss had the Forum renamed The Great Western Forum in a licensing deal that would net $17.8 million dollars.

But the lack of luxury boxes to attract corporate buyers would be the death knell of the Lakers stay. And in 2000 the Lakers would baptize their new building with another championship. Ringed with luxury boxes and having “cheap seats” that were ridiculously high above the action would solidify the perception that the Lakers were a team of the famous, the corporate, and the privileged.

But last year in a move that was applauded by all, the team paid homage to the charm of the Forum with its Lakers only “Lights Out” theatrical flair.

Championships clinched in the Forum:

West and Riley hugging as they ran off the floor in 1972

Cooper battling Dr. J as the Lakers would take the title in 1982

Kareem and Magic hitting big free throws down the stretchin 1987

Isaiah Thomas’ valiant effort in defeat and Big Game James Finals MVP in 1988

Other memorable non-Laker Forum events:

1968: The first Forum concert featured the duo of Tony Bennett and Duke Ellington.

1973: Muhammad Ali defeats Ken Norton in a split decision, avenging a loss that saw Norton break Ali’s jaw.

1984: Venue for the basketball competition of the XXIII Olympiad in which both USA teams won gold.

I was 11 in 1981 when I saw my first game… When was your first time? What are your best memories?

A Laker I Miss… The Fabulous Forum

-Scott Thompson aka Gatinho

Gatinho

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33 responses to Lakers I Miss: The Fabulous Forum

  1. Fabulous. Great post Gatinho.

  2. I saw Cap score 42 there once.

  3. I went to one game there. One.

    However, it was courtside, first row behind the bench, had dinner in the Forum Club before the game, hanging around near (not with, but he did say, “Excuse me” as he walked past) Magic at halftime, and the Lakers defeated the hated Payton-Kemp Sonics in a fantastic 96-95 nailbiter.

    Certainly a highlight. The tickets were a gift, and I’m ruined for any future games as a result.

  4. I saw the Laker DESTROY defending champion Seattle in Magic’s rookie year. That’s when I knew they had something special.

  5. Well, the very first time I was at an event at the Forum was for Van Halen’s concert ‘Diver Down’, but I did enjoy many Laker games there also.

  6. I saw the magic-worthy cap team go out 29 to 2 against the kings in the first quarter, it was amazing, the crowd was screaming for shut out!

  7. I got to take my hat in front of you. Fantastic. On my 2 trips to LA i’ve got to drive to inglewood just to stare at the Forum for some minutes.

  8. It was 1989, game 1 of WCF vs Suns. I think Magic was knocked unconsious by a blow to the head. Cheers of COOOOOOOOOOP every time Cooper got the ball. Chants of “bullsh*t! bullsh*t!” for every bad call vs the home team. I even got a poster of Kareem’s farewell ceremony (the one with him on a big rocking chair). Almost 20 years ago…. geez, how time flies.

  9. i have a lot of memories stemming from visits to that fabulous building….one that sticks out is from the mid eighties. sitting in the “senate seating” section where an actual waitress waited on you, arsenio hall a couple of rows down, lakers down by 17 to the dreaded houston rockets at the end of the first half of a first round playoff game. a putrid, uninspired first 2 quarters really had the home crowd anxious. they came out in the 3rd quarter like beasts. erased the deficit by the end of the 3rd and went on to win by double figures. the crowd was deafening during that whole quarter. still the loudest i’ve ever encountered. simply awesome……….i still love the architecture of all those columns encircling the arena……….man, i’m gettin’ old!

  10. My dad used to take me to Forum Club in the late 70s for Lakers and Kings (my godfather is Kings Hall of Famer Dave Taylor)… Eddie Vedder mentioned sneaking into “this place back when it was still called the Fabulous Forum” during 2006 Pearl Jam show at GWF… speaking of celebs at Forum, Tim Robbins joined PJ for cover of X’s “Must Not Think Bad Thoughts” at that show — which was OK, except only Tim and Eddie seemed to know the song, band followed along but missed changes a couple times. Miss it more as a psychic space than a physical one. –WKS, Thrill

  11. 1971- 15 years old. Dad took me to see the Cleveland Cavaliers play the Lakers. C;eveland was awful back then. Coached by Bill Fitch and the butt of jokes in the NBA and sports world in general. Anyway, it’s halftime and unaware they announce it’s camera night. We are able to walk down to the floor from where we are seated. We are down there a short time and slowly turn around as I feel a very large presence behind me and lo and behold “Uncle Wilty is right there and I get a very gentle smile from him! Didn’t have a camera- but that memory will and has lived on. Oh, Lakers blew them out and that was a year before the 71-72 Lakers wreaked havoc on the league. What a memory.

  12. I was a Laker fan trapped in Arizona for the Forum years, but I still love the place. Aside from watching my favorite player to ever don short shorts, Magic Johnson, I had something cool happen to me there a month ago. I’m an actor and I just became SAG eligible from working on Hannah Montana: the Movie there. So, I have to say that the forum has been a pretty positive influence in my life.

  13. I saw Guns and Roses in their Illusions Tour, Bowie with Nine Inch Nails, and Metalica when they were first transitioning from Metalica to whatever it is they’ve become. As for the Lakers, thinking about it, its such a weird concept that I’m not even sure this happened but I remember going to the Forum with my dad, who has contempt for sports but would occasionally take us to games just because, and we saw a Summer League game of Lakers and Clippers players going against the Israeli National Team or it might have been Macabi Tel-Aviv. I seem to remember Divac playing in that game but I can’t be sure.

  14. I have never seen a game (in person or on TV) that took place in the Forum, so thank you for this wonderful post!

    Just chiming in on the comments format issue — I personally prefer nested comments, but I understand that it’s a matter of personal preference. Aren’t there some sites out there (like IMDb) that let each user select which format they wish to use? Is that something that can be implemented for this blog? That way, everyone is happy :)

  15. Kurt I love the read that BP offered me from the last thread… its about the MLE and it definitely makes us feel better about our own Luke Walton and Vlade Radman.

    If we may talk about it…

    MLE (mid-level exception) is supposed to be offered to the “average” NBA joe. So to be expecting an above-average performance from the one “willing” to take this deal is kinda stretching it. I don’t have the numbers that BP possess to support this claim, but we only have face value and “impact” as our own gauge.

    The question would be: do we consider Luke and Vlad overpaid? Lets make one thing very clear though – the MLE is for the average joe – so the Billupses and the McDyesses and the Turkey Glues do not really represent this group. Instead, we look at our own guys and try to mirror them from the others who “took a pay cut” or the others that simply blossomed.

    So let it be said once more – the MLE is not someone we should look at for immediate help. We simply use it for “impact”. I bet the last signing we made using this exception (Fish) worked out pretty well. Again, not much on the numbers, but on the impact.

  16. Nice reminder Warren.

  17. since it’s the summer dolddrums, only thing interesting is the dogers in a playoff race, baskeball still a month or so away…how about we list the celebrities we’ve seen at games, (in person), I’ll start with the obvious-
    jack
    diane whatsername
    arsenio (forum)
    mohamid ali (that was cool!)
    mike tyson
    the oldest daughter of the Cosby show
    denzel
    gary shandling
    …just to name a few

  18. man, the only laker game i’ve ever attended i was seated in the nosebleeds; and if i remember correctly, the lakers lost to a cavs team led by terrell brandon.

  19. Saw Kareem’s last regular season game – Lakers beat Seattle, the team gave him a Rolls.

    Saw Magic break Oscar’s career assists record – Terry Teagle (?!?) made the bucket.

    Saw my first rock concert there at age 9. My parents took me to see Peter Frampton!!!

  20. I just heard that Monte Ellis has now confessed that he was playing in a pickup basketball game when he got hurt. Just signed a 66 million dollar deal and he risked that by playing in a game, now he may have his contract nullified! Wow!!

    Well, at least he was playing basketball, I guess, unlike one certain long haired player that was snowboarding. But man, GSW’s must be furious. Please, please, all Lakers beware!

  21. Plenty Forum memories but I loved the ‘Magic Johnson Mid-Summer Madness’ games because you got a chance to see players playing together that would not otherwise, except in an all-star game. Sometimes not even then because Magic’s games were played with the East and the West players intermixed.

    Magic used to stack his team for the win, but also so that he could play with certain players. If memory serves me correctly the first one that he had pitted Isaiha? Thomas and Magic against Mark Aguirre and company. I should pull out my programs and look at them to see who actually played.

    The last one that I attended, Kobe Bryant and Tracy McGrady were incoming rookies. They played on the same team together, Kobe was giving T-Mac lobs, shooting threes and dunking. Watching Kobe play back then I knew that he was going to be a very good player.

    Of course, his first year I retracted my opinion, no really, he was no Magic Johnson rookie, but you could see the skill set, the hunger and the willingness to take the big shot.

    Again, I’d have to pull out the program of that game to remember who else played. The problem with that is they are in a storage some 400 miles away from me.

    Good times at the Fabulous Forum with games and concerts.

    I believe that one of the larger churches purchased it and they now have services there. Can anyone corroborate that with details?

  22. The guy I saw most recently at the Forum was none other than Shaquille O’Neal–but not playing basketball–not even a member of the Lakers. I was able to greet him and congratulate him just before he received his Master’s degree at a UOP graduation ceremony. O’Neal joked around as he stepped forward in his graduation robe, so don’t say that Shaq never “played” at the Forum!

    I’ve been doing a great deal of speculating about our incredible team for the upcoming season, and I’m more and more convinced that our X factor this coming season will be Trevor Ariza–not Lamar.

    Part of this thinking is old in that Trevor has always been targeted for extensive playing time at the 3–possibly starting. Part has come from recent interviews I’ve heard with Andrew, who comes off as a very smart “with-it” player whose role may define the roles of other frontline teammates. Part has come from cash crunch realities that will be part of contract time for a number of Laker players next season.

    It might be interesting to think a bit about Trevor’s expiring contract.

  23. I like the “lights out” theme. But I sometimes miss the well-lit surroundings that ushered in the three-peat.

  24. Faithful Central Bible Church now owns the Forum for its Sunday services.

  25. I went to the last regular season game there. It was Tyrone Lue’s birthday. As the blowout moved apace, everyone chanted let Lue play. He did and scored a bucket – i think.

    After we walked court side and took pictures. It was such a great place. You could see from everywhere. kind of like an oversized gym; it was much more intimate than staples.

    I also remember the rickety record player they’d play the national anthem on.

    I miss that place, JohnnyP

  26. Thanks, Gatinho!

  27. December 9th ,1977…although over 30 yrs ago, I still have vivid memories of Rudy T walking into that Kermit Washington punch at half court. It was the only and last game I ever went to there.

  28. my first game there was in ’86 against the Knicks. I was so dazzled to just be there…we were up top…but…man it was so awesome!!!

    I saw Van Halen there…the weekend after the riots…the show was actaully supposed to be the day of the riots…but the powers that be thought it was probably not a good idea to have a bunch of heavy metal long haired white kids (which was not me but I was going anyway) in Inglewood that particular night. So the postponed it to the weekend after.

    I saw the Beastie Boys there too…2 different times.

  29. new post up, talking Drew and more.

  30. I saw every home game of the 1987-88 season, and ran on the court when we knocked off the pistons. The first home game of that season was my first at the forum. That building will always be the home of the lakers.

  31. I saw Jordan Farmar and his YMCA teammate win a two ball competition there before a game versus the Knicks in 1997.

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