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No Ordinary Retirement Home : Pauley Pavilion: UCLA celebrates 25th anniversary of arena where John Wooden won eight of his 10 NCAA championships by hanging up jerseys of Lew Alcindor and Bill Walton today.

February 03, 1990|THOMAS BONK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In 1949, in his first year as basketball coach at UCLA, long before wizard and Westwood started being used in the same sentence, John Wooden began each practice by dust-mopping the floor of Men's Gym.

He used special oversized mops of his own design that he coaxed the school's maintenance department to make. After Wooden and the team managers had made sure that the dirt on the practice court had been swept away by a broom, he would sprinkle water in front of the oncoming six-foot mops, covered with towels.

That was how practice began on the second floor of Men's Gym, where basketball workouts shared space with wrestling mats and gymnastics equipment, such as trampolines. Students sometimes visited during basketball practice and started bouncing on the trampolines.

"I used to facetiously say, when coeds in leotards would come use the trampolines, that the players would notice them--and of course I wouldn't," Wooden said.

The practice routine never varied, though, and it was always in the same cramped, dusty locale, the upper floor of a building erected in 1932.

What were called UCLA home games were not often played at UCLA, although the last Bruin game at Men's Gym was not until March, 1959. Wooden's Bruins played most of their home games at the Sports Arena, Santa Monica City College, Venice High School, Long Beach City College, Long Beach Auditorium and Pan Pacific Auditorium.

"I had wanted a place and had been led to believe when I came to UCLA that within three years we would have a nice place on campus," Wooden said. "Of course, we didn't get it until after I had been there 17 years."

For the last 25 years, though, UCLA has had that nice place on campus. Pauley Pavilion, named after the former head of the State Board of Regents, is marking a quarter of a century of existence. In conjunction with the season-long observance of its anniversary, the No. 33 UCLA jersey of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who was Lew Alcindor in his UCLA days, and the No. 32 jersey of Bill Walton will be retired today in a ceremony at halftime of UCLA's game against DePaul. The jerseys of women's stars Ann Meyers and Denise Curry also will be retired.

When the building was still in the planning stages, Wooden fought for extra room along the sidelines and in the end zones, as well as for visiting locker rooms equal in size to UCLA's. Those were courtesies, he said, that should be extended if under one's control.

"I think that our winning the (national) championship in 1964 and then repeating it in 1965 was far more amazing than winning afterwards when we got to Pauley Pavilion," Wooden said. "In 1964, for example, Alcindor was a junior in New York City and (winning the national championship) attracted his attention. In his senior year, we repeated as champions and that solidified his interest.

"And when he visited us in that April, one of the things that I could do was take him up to Pauley Pavilion (and say), 'Now that's going to be open, (you're) going to play the first game ever played in it.' I think it's one of the reasons Alcindor came. And of course, that's what helped us get a string going.

"I'm sure he wouldn't have come if we hadn't had Pauley Pavilion. But on the other hand, he wouldn't have come had we not won in '64 and '65 and attracted his attention."

Since it opened in the fall of 1965, the Bruins have a 360-37 record there. In the first 10 years at Pauley, UCLA was 149-2. The Bruins once won 98 consecutive games there. The streak started with the 1970-'71 season opener and finally was ended on Feb. 21, 1976, when Oregon State won, 65-45. There are 10 NCAA championship banners hanging in Pauley and Abdul-Jabbar and Walton were around for five of them. Wooden, of course, was there for all 10.

"I think I had a part in it, of course," Wooden said. "But no coach has an exceptional record if he doesn't have exceptional players. I'm not trying to be naive or excessively modest or anything because just as quickly I'd say not every coach does well with exceptional players.

"Yes, I was part of building the tradition, but I was just a part."

Abdul-Jabbar and Walton played major parts.

"I don't believe there's been a more valuable player in college basketball than Kareem," Wooden said. "And I think that's pretty well proven. He would have to be considered the main cog in our three consecutive national championships. Now, of course, no other team has ever won three consecutive national championships. We won seven. I honestly think that had he been eligible as a freshman, we'd have won one more (which would have made it a mind-boggling 10 NCAA titles in a row).

"There were plenty of opposing coaches who said, 'Wait till he's gone, they'll get their comeuppance.' But after he graduated, we won two more in succession with Steve Patterson as center. He's sort of the answer to the trivia question: 'Who is the center of the national championship teams between Alcindor and Walton?'

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