Thursday, March 24, 2016
What do JFK, Jerry West, Elmer Bernstein, and Canned Heat have in common?
I mentioned this in passing on Monday – "the Dump that Jumps" (as Springsteen calls it) is being demolished very soon. As someone who grew up in LA, I’m sorry to see it go. Lots of personal memories.
The 1960 Democratic National Convention was held there. That’s the one where Kennedy got the nomination after some wild back room caucuses. No, I did not attend. I was just a little kid. But I got to stay up late and watch.
I did go to Laker games though. Thanks to the Sports Arena, LA finally got an NBA team. I never understood why they didn’t change their name. The franchise was originally in Minnesota where it made more sense. The only lakes I had ever seen in Los Angeles were trout farms.
I could never go to games on school nights, but fortunately, they would play on Sunday afternoons back then (to paltry crowds). My dad would take me to see Oscar Robertson, Bob Petit (from the St. Louis Hawks), Wilt Chamberlain, and my favorite opposing player, Dolph Schayes (he was Jewish).
UCLA and USC also shared the arena for their basketball programs. John Wooden’s first NCAA championship team was under that roof.
My father worked for a radio station (not the one that carried the Lakers) so got free tickets to other events. Sports Arena family outings were common. We saw indoor track meets, the Ice Capades (even as a kid I thought: “What the fuck is the point of this?”), indoor rodeos (“how did they get all that dirt?” I wondered), circuses, LA Blades minor league hockey, and the Harlem Globetrotters.
One weekend there was a boat show and Dad's station, KRKD, was doing a live remote. So we went. The station played middle-of-road music and had as their guest Elmer Bernstein. I spent a little time talking to him. Seemed like a nice man. No big deal. It was only later when I grew up that I realized, “Holy fuck! That was Elmer Bernstein! He composed some of the greatest scores in film history!” We talked about boats.
In the ‘80s the Clippers arrived and called the Sports Arena their home (the Lakers, Kings, and Elvis had left the building for the newer snazzier Inglewood Forum). I got season tickets and saw many horrible losses.
Come to think of it, the Sports Arena was rarely crowded when I went. The Clippers, Canned Heat, and indoor rodeos were not hot tickets.
Side note: The only good thing about the Ice Capades for me was that on CHEERS when we were looking for something for Eddie Lebec to do after his NHL career was over, I remembered that ice shows employed lots of former hockey players. So we put him in the ice show dressed as a penguin.
UCLA vacated in the mid ‘60s for Pauley Pavilion on campus, but USC remained there into this century before the Galen Center was erected.
In the mid ‘80s I began trying to launch my sportscasting career so would go to Clipper games to practice announcing basketball. It was great. I had entire sections to myself. No one around for sixty rows. I sat high above the action at center court calling games into my tape recorder. I wonder if the players heard me. Eventually the Clippers were nice enough to give my a press credential so I could enter early and get stat sheets, etc. Walking through the arena when it was empty, I was struck by how neglected it was. Nothing’s changed, and that was thirty years ago.
One year the Clippers needed a new public address announcer and as a lark I applied. I became a finalist. For the final audition, five or six of us were asked to show up one afternoon at the arena. The floor was completely bare. Just white concrete from end to end. And one little card table with a microphone. One-by-one we were asked to sit down, read line-ups, promotional material, etc. Clipper officials and their announcer Ralph Lawler then sat way up in the rafters and listened.
When it was my turn, I said, “Testing one two three.” It was weird hearing my voice swirl around this cavernous space. I decided to have some fun. I said, “This is God Almighty, and you people are starting to piss me off!” Then I did the line-ups, etc.
Astoundingly, I was offered the job. I was unable to take it because there were a number of Thursday night games and that was my CHEERS rewrite night so there were too many conflicts. Dave Williams got the job, who was a better choice than me anyway.
I attended a few more concerts over the years. I saw Springsteen for the first time there. The commute got longer. I was broadcasting baseball for the Syracuse Chiefs and flew home for a day just to see him.
Once the Staples Center opened the Sports Arena was effectively put out to pasture. The Boss always liked the venue so played there frequently. But for the most part it lay dormant. Now it’s being razed for a new soccer stadium.
I will miss the crumbling old gal. What if Canned Heat decides to have a reunion?