I know that this might border on the heretical, but I must confess to you, dear readers, that I don’t like basketball.
I didn’t like playing the game as a kid on the playground or in the gym. This may or may not have had something to do with the fact that I couldn’t jump, run, dribble or shoot very well. It might also have had something to do with the fact that the uniforms in the school-sanctioned version of the sport weren’t particularly flattering to my physique which was shorter and rounder then. I didn’t like college basketball, either, despite my having been paid by UPI for two seasons to sit on the sidelines at the University of Illinois’ Assembly Hall to photograph the action. You’ve got to be a really good photographer to capture basketball on film. In retrospect, I might have played the sport better than I photographed it.
For a few years in the mid-1980s, I went to a lot of the Los Angeles Lakers’ games at the Fabulous Forum, which really wasn’t all that fabulous, in Inglewood. The Lakers had some great teams in those days, with players like Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bryon Scott and James Worthy. While I’ll admit that it was pretty damned exciting watching those guys play, I went because I had free tickets.
Like most people, I like free stuff, even if it comes in the form of basketball tickets with VIP valet parking.
But my tickets to the Fabulous Forum, which really wasn’t all that fabulous (I know I already said that but trust me, it is important to remember), weren’t just any old nose-bleed section tickets where the peasants sat spilling Velveeta-laden nachos and cheap beer on each other for no apparent reason. My tickets came courtesy of a couple of companies that sold paper to The Hollywood Reporter, a trade paper for the world of show biz, where I toiled as an Important Industry Insider, Power-Broker and Deal-Maker. They were Senate Seats. Situated at mid-court, this exclusive section is where I sat with other Important Industry Insiders, Power-Brokers and Deal-Makers—just two rows behind where a typically harried-looking Jack Nicholson paced frantically in front the Lakers’ bench.
Poor Jack. He might have been court side on the floor, but he had no designated space to set a drink and when he chose to sit and agonize over every aspect of the game he had only a folding metal chair with no seat padding.
The few rows of Senate Seats at the Fabulous Forum, which really wasn’t all that fabulous, featured comfortable seats that were padded and had armrests you didn’t have to share. There was also a little table-high counter where you could place the adult beverage of your choice that attractive cocktail waitresses brought to you. You could also smoke there. Cigarettes were tolerated but big, fat contraband Cubanos were, shall we say, de rigueur. We “Senators” all wore dark suits, our yellow or red Power Ties loosened at the neck for that “it’s-time-for-recreation” look that doesn’t come naturally to guys who wear Power Ties and “do” lunch as opposed to “eat” lunch.
There wasn’t a lot of jumping or cheering in the Senate, which is what we called it for short. Most of our overt hand gestures were reserved for the waitresses to indicate that we were thirsty. And most of us sat watching the action as if we were assessing the box-office potential of a bad Michael Cimino movie. Every now and then, one of us might furrow a brow and roll our eyes to express some emotion that may or may not have pertained to the game. There was a lot of whispered talk about foreign distribution rights, runaway production and product placement.
Despite my aversion to the sport, I must admit that there were times when I listened to Lakers basketball games on the radio of my Mercury Topaz as I traversed the 405 and the 101, the two major arteries that took me in and out of the heart of Los Angeles. Chick Hearn called the games on KABC-AM and he was nothing short of incredible. I’ve never heard anybody talk so fast, even when I lived among Italians in New York. Lakers basketball was wonderfully entertaining on radio, despite my never being sure if Hearn was actually calling the game or auctioning cattle.
AS I SEE IT, THERE ARE SEVERAL problems with basketball, the first of which concerns the sounds the players’ shoes make on the hard maple wood used to floor the court at the Fabulous Forum, which I assume you’ve heard wasn’t so fabulous. That sound of rubber on wood was like one an eight-year-old might make if given an oboe with a broken reed—times ten. In retrospect, it was almost as annoying as a Trump press conference, though there weren’t as many lies. In Los Angeles, that sound of shoes-on-wood was pervasive during most of the first quarter because there was never enough crowd noise to drown it out. Angelenos tend to arrive to events—sports, concerts, the theater—late and leave early because of traffic and parking concerns, unless you have VIP valet parking.
Another problem with basketball is that the first forty-six minutes of the forty-eight minute game are completely unnecessary to determine a winner of any given contest.
Compared to football, basketball moves along at a fairly decent clip what with the players running up and down the court and rarely stopping to pat each other on the butt or form a huddle to plan the next four seconds of proposed action. When there’s a break in the action in a basketball game the players grab towels and wait for floor attendants to mop up the measurably deep puddles of sweat that threaten to warp the hardwood floor.
Although there can be wild fluctuations in scoring by up to three or four points at any point in the game, when the game clock shows that there are two minutes remaining, the game is always tied. Always. Always, always, always. I’m not kidding. Google it. At that two-minute point is when the game really begins and you are guaranteed another forty minutes of timeouts and intentional fouls, most of which are limited to the pushing, shoving, elbowing or ceremonial pantsing of an opposing player. These infractions are punished by allowing the pushed, shoved, elbowed or ceremoniously pantsed player to attempt a free throw or two, the second one sometimes predicated on the player having made the first one. Nobody is sure how that works, actually.
Don’t let anyone tell you differently, this is a complex game played with all the subtlety and grace one might expect from ten, seven-foot-tall men playing in an area equal in size to eight parking spaces at the local mall.
Sometimes the fouls cross the mere threshold of intentional, like when one player picks up another player and heaves him over the scorer’s table. That’s called a “flagrant” foul, which results in the fouler being ejected and sent to the locker room where he can shower without having to share the soap with the rest of the team. In the meantime, the foulee is allowed as many free-throw attempts as he’d like from the comfort of the gurney that will soon help transport him to a nearby hospital for X-rays and the mandatory concussion protocol, which actually may be a football thing. I really don’t know.
There is a subset of basketball fouls called “technical” fouls that seem somewhat arbitrary but always involve a referee having his feelings hurt. Those fouls might entail a player’s noticing—and then pointing out—that a referee is short, stupid, blind or unkind to his mother in an intimate way. Coaches, managers, water-boys and Jack Nicholson can commit technical fouls as well, the punishment for which is to sit on the court in a pool of sweat until they apologize.
After time runs out, one of the two teams will have won by a single point. Always. They all then shared sweaty hugs with each other, the coaches, their stock brokers and members of their legal defense teams. Those who happened to be thinking of a career in show business after their basketball careers ended would wander up to the Senate and high-five us Important Industry Insiders, Power-Brokers and Deal-Makers as they handed out scripts, movie outlines and ideas for new television game shows.
For the record: With Senate Seats, VIP valet parking and a Power Tie, the Forum was Fabulous.
East L.A. Nachos
Preheat oven to 350°.
On a baking sheet, evenly spread an entire bag of tortilla chips.
Squeeze the juice of one lime over the chips.
Layer Mexican-style cheese over chips, followed by a layer of shredded beef (see below). Spread one can of refried beans (heated) on top. Then add another layer of cheese, another layer of shredded beef and more cheese. Top with diced tomatoes, onions, jalapenos, and sliced black olives taste.
Bake until the cheese is thoroughly melted (15-25 minutes).
Serve with guacamole and sour cream.
Nacho Shredded Beef
1 Tbs. chili powder
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. onion powder
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. ground cumin
A pinch or two kosher salt
Add spice mixture to 1-1/2 cup of salsa and splash or 2 of water or beer.
Pour mixture over 1 – 1 1/2 lb. beef chuck roast in a slow cooker and cook on low for 7-8 hours.
Drain excess liquid and shred beef.
Photography and Nachos recipe by Courtney A. Liska