Commentary

Banner outing: Expect highest hoops standards at Pauley Pavilion

Updated: February 17, 2009, 6:28 PM ET
By Doug Ward | Special to ESPN SportsTravel


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LOS ANGELES — Pauley Pavilion isn't content to leave visitors with a strong first impression. It insists on making 11 of them, in the form of the stately NCAA championship banners that drape the facility's upper reaches.

Across campus, at UCLA's renowned film school, they teach the value of elegance, preaching that sometimes what gets left out of a movie is more important than what gets put in. Consider the standards in the school's latter-day basketball mecca as Exhibit A: There isn't a single conference title or a mere Final Four appearance commemorated in the bunch, and the impact of the championship banners is all the more powerful for it.

There are lessons to learned everywhere at UCLA, and they don't all come inside the classrooms.

The basketball team's media guide practically doubles as an NCAA tournament record book. A walk through the school's athletic Hall of Fame is like taking a course in the history of intercollegiate athletics. Over at the school's bookstore, just steps from Pauley, a local author of note has his own section, and the available titles that include "They Call Me Coach," "Victory, Values and Peace of Mind" and "Be Quick, But Don't Hurry" are virtually textbooks for aspiring coaches.

The scribe, of course, is John Wooden, more famous for hanging 10 of those 11 NCAA titles across the way at Pauley Pavilion. 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 by winning 10 NCAA titles -- including seven in a row from 1967 to '73, two of which had Walton at center. A visit to Pauley Pavilion takes you to a place the scholarly Wooden still haunts, both literally and figuratively, for the ultimate tutorial in college hoops history.

Wooden has done numerous book signings here, and he has also left his name all over UCLA.

The Wooden Recreation and Sports Center is a fitting place to begin a pregame tour of the immaculate grounds. Along the way, you'll find that Wooden isn't the only outlier to have made his name -- or left it -- at UCLA.

The Student Health & Wellness Center is named for Arthur Ashe, who led UCLA to the 1965 NCAA tennis championship. Not far away is the Ronald Reagan Medical Center. If you were to attend medical school at UCLA, you would do it at the David Geffen School of Medicine. Baseball games are played at nearby Jackie Robinson Stadium. Administration is conducted in the Ueberroth Building.

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

Even the basketball fans seen milling about the campus on a typical Bruins basketball game day seem different from the ones you find across town at a Lakers game. A mixture of blue-and-gold clad alumni and basketball purists populates the group, nary a Hollywood poseur in the bunch.

Halfway between the bookstore and Pauley sits the UCLA Hall of Fame, which celebrates the more than 100 national titles won by the school. UCLA has one of the finest film schools in the land (Francis Ford Coppola and Alexander Payne are among its alumni), but one of the most irresistible features to come out of the campus is the low-budget, seven-minute short on Wooden in the Hall of Fame's Spirit Theater.

In it, Wooden says that when he first arrived at UCLA from Indiana State in 1948, he was surprised to find that high school basketball back in his home state generated more of a following than did the Bruins. Wooden, of course, changed all that, and his success with the program led to the construction of Pauley Pavilion.

Elsewhere in the Hall, you'll find Gary Beban's 1967 Heisman Trophy and a video tribute to Red Sanders' 1954 national championship football team.

The one thing missing from UCLA, it seems, is a football stadium, which also serves to underscore the school's reputation as a basketball school. Because football is played 28 miles away at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, basketball games tend to be the big thing on campus.

Enrollment at the school, which was 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 the middle of an urban sprawl that's home to 15 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 first opened in 1929, but they wear their 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.

A walking tour of the campus ends at Janss Steps, the original 87-step entry to UCLA, which has been the site of speeches by John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. The steps are also 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, those 11 NCAA championship banners hang above the glistening hardwood, billowing like the ghosts of Bill Walton, Lew Alcindor, Marques Johnson and all the others who helped raise them.

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

When you attend a Bruins game you might find yourself in the same building as Wooden, who is seated in the risers behind the UCLA bench on occasion. Wooden hasn't coached the Bruins in 34 years, but you get the sense he's still guiding them. Whereas a trip to Notre Dame enables you to feel the presence of Knute Rockne, taking in a basketball game at UCLA often enables you to actually be in the company of Wooden.

Wizard that he is, Wooden has the ability to make time stand still.

The building is named for Edwin W. Pauley, a Los Angeles oil executive and real estate developer. Pauley donated $1 million toward the $5 million construction costs for the building, which opened in 1965. Not bad. In today's troubled housing market, $1 million wouldn't get your name on the title of a guesthouse in neighboring Bel Air.

Wooden isn't the only Bruin who is drawn back to the place. Don MacLean, the Pac-10's all-time leading scorer, can be spotted regularly at midcourt, providing commentary on the Bruins radio network. Johnson, a member of Wooden's final NCAA title team in 1975, often is in the house as a TV analyst. Reggie Miller still drops in to check up on his alma mater.

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