YOU DON’T KNOW JACK
In Los Angeles, celebrities and sports go together like peanut butter and jelly. In the 1920s and ‘30s, when USC football coach Howard Jones presided over his legendary four-time national champion “Thundering Herd” Trojans, silent film stars of the era were regulars at the Coliseum. Gary Cooper and others wrote letters to Jones, asking question about strategy.
UCLA and Rams quarterback Bob Waterfield got as much attention for his girlfriend, bombshell actress Jane Russell, as he did for his great skills. In the 1960s, Angels playboy lefty Bo Belinsky was the most publicized player in the game, not because he was much on the mound but because his love life included trysts with Mamie van Doren, Tina Louise, and Playboy Playmate of the Year Jo Collins.
When the Dodgers came to town they were an immediate hit. Danny Kaye, Walter Mathau, Doris Day, Cary Grant and countless others were regulars at Dodger Stadium.
But no team in “Hollywood” is more associated with Hollywood than the Los Angeles Lakers. Beautiful actresses and models could dress in their best finery without regard to weather conditions at their games. But from the time the Forum was built, the Lakers’ Hollywood connection was symbolized by legendary actor Jack Nicholson.
One of the biggest stars of all time, Nicholson hit the scene as the drunken lawyer in Easy Rider. His reputation starting with that movie was as something of a rebel, a ‘60s kind of guy. He has never lost that quirky image.
In 1974 he starred in the classic Chinatown, one of the great movies ever made about Los Angeles. His credits are too numerous to list, but his performance as Lt. Col. Nathan Jessup in A Few Good Men, opposite Tom Cruise, was bravura.
Nicholson just loves basketball. A glimpse of this is seen in his 1976 hit One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, when he tries to get the recalcitrant, towering Indian “Chief” to dunk a basketball, and in so doing sparks the idea for an “escape” from the mental hospital.
Nicholson became a fixture on the floor of Laker games. Jack Kent Cooke ruffled feathers by promoting this. Traditionally, those seats were reserved for the press, who sat at a long table. Cooke was unimpressed by the scruffy writers with their beards, unkempt hair and lack of respect. He moved them to a press area up in the stands, replacing the table with comfortable seats for high-profile Hollywood types to see and be seen.
More often than not, beautiful girls were strategically placed in these seats, causing distraction for fans, writers, players and cameras. Over the years, the scene has gotten out of hand. When the Lakers moved to STAPLES Center in 1999, the battle for front row seats became a symbol of Hollywood power. Middle-aged power brokers would show up with bombshell 20-year olds, often recognized by fans as porn star-escorts. It is uniquely L.A.
Aside from Nicholson, longtime actress Dyan Cannon has been a regular at Laker games for decades. She and Jack have remained faithful fans regardless of record in a notoriously front-runner’s city. Other regulars include Whoopi Goldberg, John McEnroe, Johnny Carson, and Henry Winkler.
In game four of the 1987 Finals at the Boston Garden Nicholson managed a seat in the upper press area. Boston fans gave him the choke sign.
“There was one guy,” Nicholson said. “He was giving me the choke sign so hard, I almost sent for the paramedics. He was wearing a gray sweatshirt, and his face turned almost as gray as his shirt. I couldn’t believe it.”
Then Nicholson mooned his tormentors.
“I was surprised he didn’t get arrested,” said equipment manager Rudy Garciduenas. “But the Boston fans loved him being there. He gave them somebody to jeer at.”
L.A. won by a point.
Many movies have been filmed at the Forum and STAPLES, too. In recent years, this included a scene from the HBO series Entourage. Perhaps the greatest interaction between basketball and film occurred when Larry David filmed a scene in which he accidentally trips Shaquille O’Neal, causing the big man a serious injury that makes David a pariah in Los Angeles.
A subsequent scene shows Larry visiting O’Neal, who has acted with some critical acclaim (he was great in Blue Chips) in the hospital, where it is determined that to Larry’s relief Shaq’s injury is not serious and he will return to the team quickly.
Probably the two longest-lasting and famous celebrities to populate courtside seats at the Forum and STAPLES Center are Jack Nicholson and Dyan Cannon. Have they ever appeared in the same film?
A: Carnal Knowledge (1971).
“I had to educate my players who the Celtics were. One day in practice, I asked if anyone knew. Finally Kareem raised his hand. He said the Celtics were a warring race of Danes who invaded Ireland. I had to explain that they were also a cunning, secretive race.”
- Pat Riley
Causes Steven Travers Supports
Conservative, Christian, USC, American patriotism