Saturday, February 25, 2006

L.A. Sports Arena (Which Has GOTC Ties) Loses Last Major Client in USC

Tonight, the last college basketball game (presumably ever) will be played in the Los Angeles Sports Arena, as the USC Trojans host Oregon State.

The Sports Arena, which opened in 1959 in the Exposition Park area of L.A. (which also includes the USC campus and football's L.A. Memorial Coliseum), will no longer be needed for Trojan basketball, as the on-campus Galen Center will open for next season (construction cam).

The NBA's L.A. Clippers, of course, vacated the Sports Arena for the Staples Center about seven years ago (a photo of the Sports Arena's exterior is shown on this Clippers' historical website).

Although I couldn't find any definitive information on what will become of the Sports Arena, this newspaper column suggests that it could be torn down for parking should the Coliseum area be renovated to accommodate a new NFL team.

As many of you are probably aware, the significance of the L.A. Sports Arena for the Houston-UCLA basketball rivalry is two-fold:

First, when the Houston Astrodome was set up for the 1968 UH-UCLA Game of the Century, it was the Sports Arena's hardwood that Elvin Hayes, Lew Alcindor (now Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), et al., were playing on.

Then, when the Cougars and Bruins met again later that season in a semi-final game of the Final Four, they played in L.A. at the Sports Arena.

Houston's coach at the time, Guy V. Lewis, discussed his team's two 1968 games against UCLA in a January 2004 interview published in the new book How March Became Madness. This book was compiled by Eddie Einhorn, who put together the television package for the GOTC, with Ron Rapoport. Said Lewis:

...What's funny is that we lost on the same floor we beat them on. The floor we used in the Astrodome originally came from the Sports Arena in Los Angeles. They just bundled it up and put it on a truck and brought it here (p. 40).

A bonus feature of the book is that it comes with a DVD of the UH-UCLA Game of the Century broadcast. You get the last few minutes of the first half and the entire second half. One thing evident from the DVD is that the folks in Houston either used their woodcrafting skills to make a new center circle or painted over the one that arrived from L.A. At the GOTC, the center circle featured the word ASTRO arched over the top, the word DOME arched up from the bottom, and a UH logo in the small interior circle.

Between the DVD and the interviews with many of the principals from the Game of the Century (as well as with many other college hoops luminaries not associated with UH or UCLA), the book is an amazing resource for GOTC aficionados, in particular, and all those interested in the history of modern college basketball, in general.

I will be doing one or more future entries on How March Became Madness.

Friday, February 17, 2006

NBA All-Star Weekend in Houston; Hayes Involved in Activities

Tonight begins the annual NBA All-Star Weekend, this year being held in Houston. Among tonight's events is the game between top NBA rookies and second-year players.

Activities surrounding all-star games often try to involve local heroes, and this year is no exception. Elvin Hayes, who led the UH Cougars to victory over UCLA in the Game of the Century and later played professionally for the Houston Rockets, is serving as an assistant coach for the rookie team.

In conjunction with his appearance back in Houston, Hayes was the subject of an article in today's Houston Chronicle. The article talks about Hayes's role in the GOTC, to be sure, but primarily features his reflections on playing in NBA all-star games. Hayes saw these games as opportunities to develop camaraderie with other elite players around the league. In fact, the article discusses how Hayes feels these gatherings helped warm up relations between him and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (formerly Lew Alcindor), his rival from UCLA in the GOTC:

Hayes credits his All-Star appearances for easing a rift between him and Abdul-Jabbar. After they were pitted as rivals in college, the tensions carried over to the NBA.

"Once we got an opportunity to get into the All-Star situation and really begin to talk and be around each other, it became less strenuous," Hayes said. "It was less of a strain and effort to put forth, 'Hello, how do you do?' That kind of breaks the ice, breaks the walls down. The All-Star Game can resolve a lot of problems that players have on the court."

With Houston becoming the basketball hub of the universe this weekend, the city also served as the site for the announcement of this year's nominees for the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Guy V. Lewis, the UH coach in the GOTC, will still have to wait to get in the Hall, as he was not among this year's nominees. One discussant on the CoogFans chat board thought Lewis might not be eligible any longer for election via the regular route and must now go through a veterans' screening process; this may or may not be true. (I'm "AlanTech" in the discussion thread.)

How coaches such as former Purdue skipper Gene Keady, whose best NCAA showings are two Elite Eights, can be nominated ahead of Lewis, who coached UH to five Final Fours (including two title game appearances), has baffled a lot of people (nothing personal against Keady, of course).