Commentary

Pauley Pavilion: What's Not to Love?

Updated: February 16, 2009, 7:40 PM ET
By Doug Ward | Special to ESPN SportsTravel

It's two hours before tip-off at Pauley Pavilion, and Westwood's winter weather is so incredible it borders on being an NCAA violation.

Inside UCLA's bookstore, basketball fans crowd the cash registers like cars backed up on the nearby 405 freeway at rush hour, clamoring for all things powder blue (known on campus as "Bruin Blue"). Sixty-two styles of Bruins T-shirts line the walls, and dozens of others crowd the racks. In this particular college bookstore, however, books are almost as essential for basketball fans as they are for students.

A local author of note has his own section here, and the available titles include "They Call Me Coach," "Values, Victory and Peace of Mind" and "Be Quick – But Don't Hurry!"

The scribe, of course, is John Wooden, more famous for authoring 10 NCAA titles across the way at Pauley Pavilion. (Well, sort of. His first championships came consecutively in the two years preceding the facility's opening in June 1965.) A dozen books chronicling that unparalleled success, either written by or about Wooden, are available here on the campus he turned into a basketball think tank.

Buy one of those tomes, which range from memoir to motivational, and you'll take it home in a plastic bag adorned with the image of a youthful Bill Walton during his glory days as a UCLA undergrad. It's not the first time the two men have teamed up to bag a title.

During his 27 years on the Bruins' bench, Wooden wrote the book on college basketball supremacy, including a stretch of seven consecutive national titles from 1967 to 1973, two of which had Walton at center and three of which featured Lew Alcindor -- later, of course, to be Kareem Abdul-Jabbar -- in the post. That span of years also included the NCAA winning-streak record of 88 games, as well as 38 straight NCAA Tournament victories.

A visit to Pauley Pavilion takes you to a place the scholarly Wooden still haunts and gives you the ultimate lesson in college hoops history. On occasion, you can catch the 97-year-old signing his books here. But he already has left his name all over UCLA.

Wooden isn't the only familiar name on this campus. A pregame stroll of UCLA is like a taking a walk among L.A.'s best and brightest. A tour of the immaculate grounds winds past the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, alongside the Arthur Ashe Student Health & Wellness Center and inside the John Wooden Recreation and Sports Center.

If you were to attend medical school at UCLA, you'd do it at the David Geffen School of Medicine. Members of the UCLA staff include former presidential candidate Michael Dukakis and movie producer Peter Guber. Baseball games are played at nearby Jackie Robinson Stadium. Administration is conducted in the Ueberroth Building.

Yes, a visit to UCLA puts you in good company, indeed.

Even the basketball fans seen milling about the campus on this Bruins basketball game day seem different from the ones you find across town at a Lakers game. Blue- and gold-clad alumni and basketball purists populate this group, with not a Hollywood poseur in the bunch.

Halfway between the bookstore and Pauley sits the UCLA Hall of Fame, which celebrates the school's 100 NCAA titles.

UCLA has arguably the finest film school in the land (Francis Ford Coppola and Alexander Payne are among its alumni), but one of its most irresistible features is the seven-minute short on Wooden in the Hall of Fame's Spirit Theater. In it, Wooden says that when he first arrived in 1948 from Indiana State, he was surprised to find that high school basketball back home generated more of a following than the Bruins. He, of course, changed all that.

Elsewhere in the Hall, you'll find quarterback Gary Beban's 1967 Heisman Trophy and a video tribute to Red Sanders' 1954 national championship football team. There's even a photo of a two-inch blanket of snow dusting the campus, circa 1932. More snow fell on the premises in 1949. Snowstorms, it seems, hit Westwood at the same frequency of Heisman Trophy winners and national championship football teams – which each occurred once. It's a vivid reminder that you are visiting a basketball school.

However, UCLA already has a display in its Hall of Fame dedicated to new football coach Rick Neuheisel, and the outlook for that sport matches the local weather forecast, which typically calls for blue skies and bright sunshine.

Enrollment at the school, founded in 1919, is more than 38,000. Since the Westwood campus opened in 1929, Jim Morrison, James Dean and Tim Robbins have been among those who have walked these grounds. When you do the same, you'll probably forget you're in middle of a sprawling megalopolis that's home to almost 18 million people.

Although UCLA is a vibrant urban campus, the main quad of Royce Hall and Powell Library offers up a quiet and contemplative vibe. It's the kind of campus that can run-and-gun, or slow it down and beat you in a half-court game.

The original Italian Renaissance-style red brick buildings wear their nearly eight decades well. The rest of Los Angeles, a city where architecture seems to come with a shot clock attached, could learn a lesson here. So could the Botox-and-collagen crowd found in nearby Beverly Hills.

A walking tour of the campus ends at Janns Steps, the original 87-step entry to UCLA that has witnessed speeches by John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. The steps also are where John Cusack and Daphne Zuniga parted company at the end of their cross-country road trip in "The Sure Thing" (directed by UCLA alum Rob Reiner) and where Will Ferrell, Luke Wilson and Vince Vaughn strutted in matching collegiate sweaters in "Old School."

The steps land within a long outlet pass of Pauley Pavilion. Inside, eleven NCAA championship banners hang above the glistening hardwood, billowing like apparitions of Walton, Alcindor and Marques Johnson.

But, it's not the buildings or even the banners that make a trip to a UCLA game like attending the ultimate history class. It's not the timeless uniforms, which look exactly as they did when Abdul-Jabbar was known as Alcindor, either.

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