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The Inside Track | MORNING BRIEFING

In This Crowd, It's Not Easy Being Green

February 16, 2004|Larry Stewart Times | Times Staff Writer

The NBA tried staging an All-Star old-timers game for legends from the past, but after too many pulled muscles and various injures, it decided to hold a brunch instead.

The fifth Legends of the Game brunch was held Sunday at the Renaissance Hotel in Hollywood, where the affair had a definite Laker feel. The 1982 and '87 championship teams were honored, along with a number of former Laker players.

Larry Bird, who was chosen to introduce James Worthy, couldn't be blamed for feeling a little out of place.

"Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think the day would come when I would be at a function in L.A. honoring the Lakers and I would be presenting an award to James Worthy," said the Boston Celtic Hall of Famer.

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Trivia time: Oscar Robertson, who presented Jerry West at Sunday's brunch, accomplished what feat during the 1961-62 season that almost certainly will never be duplicated?

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Select twosome: West singled out two people who he said had more impact on him than anyone else. One was Elgin Baylor, West's former teammate whom he called his mentor. The other was Robertson.

"Making the 1960 U.S. Olympic team with Oscar was the greatest thrill of my life," West said. "And practicing against Oscar made me realize how far I had to go to get close to him as a basketball player."

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Always connected: In a clip of the Lakers' winning the 1972 championship shown at the brunch, Pat Riley, the team's seventh man, can be seen jumping all over West in jubilation. It wasn't the only time Riley jumped on West. He did it all the time in practice.

Riley explained he originally became a Laker for one reason and one reason only.

"Fred Schaus, who was the Lakers' general manager, asked me if I would accept being a role player," Riley said. "That role was beating up on Jerry West in practice."

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Great heights: Bill Russell, who introduced Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, said, "When I first met Kareem he was 12 years old. And we were the same height."

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The real skinny: Although Swen Nater played only one season with the Lakers, 1983-84, he was among the players honored Sunday.

He played 13 years of professional basketball even though he never started a game at UCLA, where he played behind Bill Walton.

Nater was cut from his high school team at Long Beach Wilson but took up the game again at Cypress College.

Nater explained why he was a late bloomer.

"At Cypress, I was 6-9 and 180," he said. "I was so skinny I had to wear skis when I took a shower to keep from going down the drain."

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Trivia answer: Robertson averaged a triple-double for the season: 30.8 points, 12.5 rebounds and 11.4 assists.

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And finally: Walton introduced Nater and also presented him with a trophy that had a basketball-shaped top. Said Nater: "That's the first time you've ever passed me the ball."

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Larry Stewart can be reached at larry.stewart@latimes.com.

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