Tucked between Lot 6 and Drake Stadium, just a stone's throw from the Bruin Bear, sits the greatest venue in all of sports: Pauley Pavilion. It is where
It is where I shot 0-for-11 in an intramural championship (I still don't know how we won) and where I saw my mother's smiling face on my graduation day.
It is where
It is also where I saw
We were both in an elevator inside Pauley, riding down. We were both in gym shorts, T-shirts and hi-tops. We were both looking for a game.
He was somewhat taller.
We rode to the bottom floor, him a college standout at LSU on his way to becoming an NBA force, me a hoops washout who failed to walk-on at UCLA on his way to a career in journalism. The court was filled with NBA players and college ones, stretching out, shooting around and awaiting instructions.
In a final warm up, we ran the weave, one of those basketball drills passed down through the generations. I lined up with Shaq and Cheryl and off we went, passing the basketball back and forth, me making my lay-up on the way out, Cheryl making hers on the way back. Was this real? I had just run the weave with maybe the greatest female basketball player of all time and a player who would end up on the short list of greatest centers to ever play.
Which was about the time Magic walked up to me and asked a question.
"Who do you play for?" he said.
"Uh, no one," I said, staring up at my childhood hero. "I'm a student."
"Well, we're about to play," he said, motioning me toward the bench.
Just like that, Magic had made his final cuts, sending me to the sideline for the rest of my life. I stuck around to watch Shaq, who I'd only seen on CBS and in the pages of
After 30 minutes, I was ready to go. I headed out of Pauley, taking the stairs this time, every step bringing me closer and closer to those championship banners.
It was as close as I would get.