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Lakers' return to Forum is anticipated

The team hasn't played there since leaving for Staples Center in 1999 but will do so for the franchise's 50th year in Los Angeles, in exhibition game against Golden State.

October 09, 2009|Mike Bresnahan

The facility might not be entirely cooperative, but tonight could still shape up to be Fabulous.

The Lakers return to the Forum in Inglewood for an exhibition game against Golden State, a blast from the past in a season that holds a promising future.

The Lakers haven't played there since leaving for Staples Center in 1999, but owner Jerry Buss has wanted to return to the Forum for years. Now seemed like a good time, the franchise's 50th year in Los Angeles.

The Lakers have had to work overtime to get the building in game shape. The gradually deteriorating arena is owned by Faithful Central Bible Church, which purchased it for $22.5 million in December 2000 and has never had to put on a full-scale basketball production.

The Lakers had to transport their basketball court from Staples Center to the Forum. There's no longer a scoreboard, so they will hang two large LED screens over the court. They will also bring their lighting trusses, basketball hoops and scorer's table from Staples Center.

In fact, leaving no chance for faulty locker-room plumbing, the Lakers don't plan to shower at the Forum after the game. Players will take a team bus bound for the training facility in El Segundo, where hot water is guaranteed to await them.

It might seem like a lot of extra work for an exhibition game, but, well, this is the former site of six Lakers championship teams.

"Ever since we left the Forum, people have been asking us if and when we're going to return," said Tim Harris, senior vice president of business operations for the Lakers. "It doesn't take much to understand why the Forum is so important . . . given the success and all the memories we had there."

Of the current Lakers players, only Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher played at the Forum. Their memories there weren't exactly comparable to when the Lakers began their championship run in 2000.

"We got our [behinds] kicked in that building," Bryant said. "The 'Showtime' Lakers had a great time, though our home is Staples Center."

On the other hand . . .

"There's so much history and tradition," Bryant said. "It'll be good to see what it looks like. That's where it all started [for me]. The locker, the smell of it, the orange seats, it'll be cool to get back there."

The Lakers' last meaningful game at the Forum was against San Antonio on May 23, 1999, a Game 4 loss in the Western Conference semifinals that quickly ended their season. (The Lakers also played two exhibition games there in October 1999.)

Since the Lakers left, the church group has held religious assemblies in the building, the Rolling Stones and Pearl Jam have played to sellout crowds, and high school basketball championships have been won in front of sparse gatherings. Lakers Coach Phil Jackson has special ties to the Forum -- he won a championship as a player with the New York Knicks on the Forum hardwood in 1973 and guided the Chicago Bulls to his first championship as a coach in 1991 -- but he didn't seem nostalgic about returning to the site.

"I think the rats are one of the things you remember a lot," he said. "They were very large rats that ran around under those bleachers."

The Forum Club will be open, and longtime season-ticket holders have been given the option of sitting in the seats they held at the Forum. "It's like going back to the home you used to live in," Harris said.

As it is, setting up shop at the Forum has been a hands-on production.

"It's a different Forum than when we left 10 years ago," Harris said. "It's not evolved to where it can put on a current-day NBA game. We've had to go in and retrofit the building to accommodate what is now a bigger ordeal -- putting on an NBA game -- than when we left."

Decisions, decisions

When will Jackson select Fisher's backup?

It might not happen.

Jackson will probably see-saw between guards Shannon Brown and Jordan Farmar on a game-to-game basis.

Brown and Farmar each had 11 points in the exhibition opener Wednesday against Golden State.

"I don't know if I'll ever decide on that," Jackson said. "I don't know if there's going to be a permanent decision. I think that works really well for us."

Farmar, listed at 6 feet 2 and 180 pounds, will get more time against small, quick guards such as New Orleans' Chris Paul and San Antonio's Tony Parker.

Brown, listed at 6 feet 4 and 210 pounds, will get more time against physical guards such as Utah's Deron Williams.

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mike.bresnahan@latimes.com

twitter.com/Mike_Bresnahan

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