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David Kohler is a 48-year-old professional who lives with his wife and kids in a house that looks like any other home in the Southern California neighborhood of Laguna Niguel. But step through his front door and head into the bar room -- a floor-to-ceiling temple of trinkets and timepieces chronicling the Lakers franchise from Minneapolis to Los Angeles -- and you'd swear you've just stumbled through a secret passageway to the mythical Province of Purple and Gold.
|David Kohler prizes items from Jerry West, such as these game-worn, autographed shoes from the 1971-72 championship season.|
What began as an honest homage has multiplied into a madcap home makeover. "It's the biggest collection of Lakers memorabilia known," Kohler tells me proudly. "It started just by growing up in Southern California and loving the Lakers and has continued to grow over the last 25 years."
In that time, Kohler has built what looks like a life-size Lakers diorama and feels like a full-court press on a fan's sensory system.
It's all there, just as you remember it.
Pick a moment in Lakers history, and you're sure to find it represented in tactile form. Start with the franchise's first dynastic years from 1948 to 1954. In honor of the early glory, Kohler has George Mikan's 1953 NBA MVP trophy. Fast-forward through a few dark years to 1958, the top overall draft pick and the Lakers Rookie of the Year selection. For its commemoration, Kohler has Elgin Baylor's actual rookie jersey and warm-up jacket -- signed, too, of course.
Some sage Lakers fans may recall the retirement of the mighty George Mikan in 1954, but in case you don't, Kohler preserves the legacy of the great Lakers big man with a college All-Star uniform (circa 1940), his Minneapolis Lakers shooting jersey and a pair of his signature eyeglasses worn on the court.
The 10,000 Lakes uniforms and Minneapolis megaphones predate the team's move to Los Angeles before the 1960-1961 season, and Kohler's collection makes a seamless transition.
The Lakers moved into the "Fabulous" Forum in 1967, and Kohler's house is now host to the original rim, net and even a slab of the hardwood. In 1972, when the Lakers won their first championship in LA under the direction of Bill Sharman, a game ball was presented to the coach after clinching the title with a Game 5 win over the Knicks. Sharman later gifted the basketball to Kohler. It now sits in a glass case, carefully enshrined and complete with a bottle of bubbly. Also from that first title era is a pair of the championship-worn sneaks of Jerry West -- Kohler's favorite player.
"Jerry West was always my favorite," he says. "The items of his are the ones I'm really fond of. His vintage jerseys, his shoes, his equipment bag from the '60s. And it all has a story; it's really neat. I just have a lot of fun taking it all in."
Some of Kohler's idols have had fun taking it in, too. Several greats have made the pilgrimage to Kohler's house after having heard about the collection and wanting to see it for themselves. Jerry West, Magic Johnson, Jamaal Wilkes, George Mikan, Rudy LaRusso, James Worthy, AC Green, Bill Sharman and Marge Hearn (widow of longtime Lakers voice Chick Hearn) have all come to see the shrine (and signed the door on their way out).
Kareem's goggles, Wilt's Samsonite suitcase and white Converse shoes, Shaq's size-22s, Kobe's game-worn throwback, trainer Frank O'Neill's med kit, Magic Johnson's jerseys, and symbols of the '80s Showtime era -- if you'd want to see it, Kohler's probably got it.
It all began as a card-collecting hobby that Kohler happened into in high school. An innocent adoration of the Lakers gave way to his unrivaled shrine, but the business of memorabilia also evolved into Kohler's professional M.O.
Now the president and CEO of SCP Auctions, Kohler works as a sports memorabilia dealer and auctioneer. In 1979, after the boom of the first sports-card price guides and convention shows, he founded SCP Auctions (from Sports Cards Plus) and now runs the online auction house based in Orange County that handles the sales of the rarest and most highly coveted collectibles, such as the famous Honus Wagner baseball card (which sold for a cool $2.8 million) and Barry Bond's 756th home run baseball (which sold for $752,467.20).
|Kohler's love of the Lakers spawned his impressive collection that includes this Wilt Chamberlain-signed, game-worn jersey from the late 1960s.|
Kohler manages to keep his business suit and collector's cap in separate spaces and says they are actually very separate entities of his life.
"Sometimes my work presents me with things that I'd like to have for my collection," he says. "Obviously, stuff tugs at you, but there's definitely a business side of it and that's pretty cut and dry -- we buy, sell and auction to the highest bidder; that's what we do. That's the nature of the business; I can't afford to keep it all. Most of what I've acquired for my personal Lakers collection has been given to me by folks -- some of whom have passed away now. I've been really lucky and feel really blessed to be a part of that history and the interconnectedness of it all."
As for the elusive piece of the puzzle that David Kohler still seeks, he's not even sure it exists, but finding out seems to be his last crusade.
"I would love to have Jerry West's rookie uniform; that's it for me," he says. "It may not even exist. No one really knows. The Basketball Hall of Fame does not have it; Jerry himself does not have it -- I don't know if it's out there, but that would be the holy grail for me, personally."
For a sports-memorabilia archaeologist, the adventure never ends; in fact, with each new NBA season, the temple only deepens. Go forth today, for another year of memories.
Mary Buckheit is an ESPN.com Page 2 columnist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.