By Favorite Venues
July 23, 2008

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 John Wooden used to roll up his game program and where Lew Alcindor honed his sky hook. It is where I slept out for games as a freshman and where I did radio play-by-play as a senior.

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 Bill Walton, at a jersey retirement ceremony, got caught up in a 10-minute reverie on the beauty of the UCLA campus.

It is also where I saw Shaquille O'Neal in person for the very first time.

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.

This was Magic Johnson's summer game and one of the many basketball courts in Los Angeles where he worked out after retiring from the NBA in 1991. There must have been 20 of us on the court that day, our sneakers squeaking beneath Wooden's championship banners. Magic. Shaq. Cheryl Miller. Rodney Zimmerman, a former Mr. Colorado basketball. Many others I didn't recognize or can't remember.

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 Street and Smith's, and Magic, too, my favorite athlete and maybe the greatest team player in the history of basketball.

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.

2. Dodger StadiumHeaven: Vin Scully on the radio, two Dodger dogs before the seventh inning and one for the road.

3. The L.A. ForumIt was great to be a kid in Los Angeles in the 1980s.

4. The Old CourseOn a summer night, walk the grounds, close your eyes, and just be.

5. The Rose BowlWhy do you think Keith Jackson came out of retirement?

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