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For Many, It Looks Like Banner Event

January 10, 2002|STEVE HENSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Forum conjures images of the most fabulous Lakers--Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, James Worthy, Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain, Gail Goodrich.

Those names, in fact, are still listed on banners that hang above the court alongside six others commemorating the six NBA championships the team won there.

But since the Lakers moved to Staples Center in 2000, the Forum is more closely associated with Neil Diamond and Stevie Wonder--two of the top-name acts to perform recently--and with Bishop Kenneth C. Ulmer, who conducts services of the Faithful Central Bible Church, the current owner of the 17,600-seat facility.

Besides a few state high school playoff games every year, basketball was a thing of the past until USC scheduled four games there this season. The Trojans already have played Pepperdine, Washington and Washington State at the Forum, and tonight's game against UCLA is more than a matchup between cross-town rivals.

For the Bruins, playing at the Forum is a special treat. Memories are flooding back to players who idolized the Lakers while growing up in the Southland. In fact, UCLA's three freshmen--Cedric Bozeman, Dijon Thompson and Andre Patterson--spent much of their childhoods living near the corner of Manchester and Prairie.

A sampling of reflections on the Forum:

Thompson grew up in Inglewood and attended Redondo Union High: "I played my last high school game there, the state semifinals against Dominguez. When I walked on the floor I was like, 'Wow, I'm actually playing at the Forum.' But it was a rough game, a rough memory, we lost bad. This time when I walk out there I'll feel like I finally made it."

Senior Billy Knight grew up in Los Angeles and attended Westchester High: "I never went to a game there. The tickets were out of my reach. But I go to church there all the time now. I sneak a look at the banners and retired jerseys. I always did want to play there and it will be incredible to have that opportunity."

Bozeman attended Mater Dei High and was a McDonald's All-American: "It's really cool to play there, especially with all the tradition. I was always aware of that, and so is my dad. I played CIF games there and I grew up real close, just a few minutes away. I always looked up to Magic as a big man who could play point guard."

Sophomore T.J. Cummings is the son of former NBA veteran Terry Cummings: "It's in San Diego, right? Oh, that place. I have been there, to watch my dad when I was 14 or 15 and I lived in La Jolla. I think he was with San Antonio then. I just remember going in the back and waiting for him after games."

Patterson grew up in Inglewood, moved to Indiana before starting high school, then moved back and attended Washington Prep as a senior: "I played for five minutes at halftime of a Laker game when I was 7 or 8. I scored, I remember that, but it all happened so quick. I grew up three minutes from the Forum and went to a lot of Laker games. I didn't get a chance to play there in high school because we got eliminated in the playoffs. I was disappointed. I've always dreamed of playing there and now I'll have my family and all my friends there watching."

Junior Jason Kapono grew up in Long Beach and attended Artesia High: "When I think of the Forum, I think of Chick Hearn's voice. I've never played there, I never even went to a Laker game. In fact, I never saw a pro basketball game until [Dec. 14], I went to the Laker-Clipper game at Staples Center. But the Forum is all about Magic, Kareem, [Michael] Cooper, Byron [Scott], Worthy. It's where all the greats played. I will definitely be high thinking about all the great players. I hope it's a sellout."

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