I grew up as a Los Angeles sports fan. Early in my life, I was able to go see some of the most famous teams and players in sports. One of those events was a game with the Los Angeles Lakers in 1970 (70-71 season) versus the San Francisco Warriors. The night was “basketball night”. The first 5000 fans (I don’t really remember how many it was) received a coupon redeemable at the local Goodyear tire store for your “official size and weight” basketball with all the players’ signatures plus the head coach. Little did I realize how fortunate I would become.
Now to be clear, as an eleven year old, I had no real grasp of want or need of this basketball and its signatures unless I could use it. I went through basketballs fast because I loved to play. I drove my neighbors nuts with an incessant drum beat of the basketball day-in and day-out – when I wasn’t swimming, playing football or volleyball; my other sport loves. Well, as fate would have it, it wasn’t a good basketball to play with. It reminded me of a kick ball with a rough texture. So in the closet it went … for a very long time and in fact is where it rests today.
Hall of Famers everywhere
The Lakers have an incredible history and are one of the premier teams in sports. As the years passed, with many moves from house to house, I kept track of the ball, to make sure it stayed with me because as years went by, I started to appreciate its value and even more, its meaning and significance. The key players are a who’s who of Hall of Famers: Wilt Chamberlin, Jerry West, Elgin Baylor and Gail Goodrich. Then there’s Pat Riley (always remember his long hair and bushy mustache), who was a valuable contributor off the bench and will become a Hall of Famer as a coach. Other notable players were Happy Hairston, Keith Erickson and Jim McMillan. Hairston got every rebound that Wilt didn’t get (what a rebounding duo). Erickson (who would go on to be a professional announcer just like his teammate Riley) and McMillan would stand in the corners and wait for Wilt getting double or triple-teamed and hit from the outside.
There were other signatures on the basketball including Willie McCarter, Rick Roberson, Earnie Killium and Fred Hetzel. If you asked me, do I remember these four guys, I’d say yes but not with confidence. Rick Roberson I remember but the others, uh, it’s sketchy. Last but not least of the signatures was the coach, Joe Mullaney. He was a good coach but I guess not good enough as the Lakers hired Bill Sharman the following 1971-1972 season. Joe Mullaney, an excellent coach in college, went on to the ABA and became very successful with the Kentucky Colonels.
I patterned many of my basketball moves (no snickering) after all these super heroes like Wilt’s finger roll (not real handy for a stubby forward), Baylor’s gliding layups (was not quite as long-armed), Goodrich’s left-handed ‘leapin’ lena shots (clever but I was really a right-hander) and West’s beautiful jump-shot (how did he do it with his eyes closed?).
40 years and counting
So the signed basketball is roughly 40 years old and except for being a little dirty – I never wash it – it is in fine condition. The team stayed pretty much together that following year (71-72) which would mark what maybe was the greatest basketball team in history. Can you imagine that much talent on one team! Yes, Baylor was at the end of his career and with very bad knees, played little for the Lakers; but with that many Hall of Famers, this ball from 1970, with all its dirt and grime will be with me forever. Someone once asked, “You mean, you went to the game and they gave you a basketball?” I can hardly envision what might have occurred had that actually happened.
Oh, by the way the Lakers won the game (at the Fabulous Forum) handily over Nate Thurmond and the Warriors. Ever since, the Lakers have been the team to beat.
More from Associated Content
My Unique Meeting with Gale Sayers
Is a Hybrid Car Worth It?
Surprise! Drag Racing is One of the Top 3 Sports in the U.S.