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Jerry Buss' Lonely Hearts Club Band

PEP | SO SoCal

April 06, 1997|Stacie Stukin

Thank you, Los Angeles--I love you all," Isaac Flores bellows into the chasm of the Great Western Forum during a sold-out Lakers-Knicks game. Flores and his cohorts in the Laker band have just finished a brassy version of the "Rocky" theme to desultory applause. Flores seems not to care. He puts down his trombone, picks up nachos smothered in orange-colored cheese substitute, and bellows some more. "You suuuuccccckkkk, ref!"

The Laker band, a 10-piece trumpets-trombones-bass-and-drummer ensemble, performs at the 41 regular season home games. Current and former USC marching band players, they sport nicknames like Butt Cheese, Pokey, Scooby and Squirrel, and the sort of superfan duende that can only be described as nerdy. In exchange for playing 10 or so songs per game and the inevitable "Charge" and "Defense" ditties, members get season tickets for themselves and a date, 10 bucks and free parking.

Jerry Buss commissioned the Laker band when he purchased the team in 1979. ("He wanted to spiff things up," says Arthur C. Bartner, director of the Trojan Marching Band). And today, when Buss arrives in the owner's box accompanied by a waif in a mini, the band pays its respects. "Box, box," Flores mutters, and before long all manner of frat-boy hooting and clapping is wafting down from Section 2 as the band pays homage to the guy who keeps them in business and the girl-du-jour who keeps things interesting.

Not that the band doesn't have other partisans. Halfway through the fourth quarter, an inebriated regular whom they have dubbed "Monkey Boy" pounds to the music on a wooden cabinet adjacent to his seat.

"He's cool," declares trumpet player Chris Gonzales, 27. "He buys us beer."

Gonzales is sidetracked mid-sentence by the Laker Girls, their perk in full court as they dance not to the band's tepid oldies but to canned hip-hop. "Chris likes the Laker Girls," says trumpeter Paul Brosche, "especially the one who looks like Courteney Cox."

Suddenly, band leader Rick Cox snaps his fingers like a dependable metronome, counting off the next song. Gonzales, smitten with his Laker Girl, is flustered but undaunted. He picks up his trumpet and starts to blow. And down from Section 2, washing over Monkey Boy and Buss and 17,000 pairs of mostly indifferent ears, come the strains of "Hip to Be Square."

The Laker band can sure play that tune.

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