Saturday, February 13, 2010

Remembering Fred Schaus
The memories of the first L.A. Lakers team came rushing back with the recent news of the death of Coach Fred Schaus, who guided the team for seven seasons after owner Bob Short moved the franchise from Minneapolis.
That Laker team, with veterans Elgin Baylor, Rudy LaRusso and Daryl Imhoff, and rookies Jerry West and Hot Rod Hundley, was Los Angeles' first exposure to high-level basketball, even before John Wooden put UCLA on the map in the college ranks.
In the early 1960s, the NBA was a small league, Los Angeles was an outpost with St. Louis its nearest Western neighbor until the Philadelphia Warriors moved to San Francisco in 1964.
Because of the distances in travel, clubs from the East Coast such as the New York Knicks, Boston Celtics and Cincinnati Royals, would come to town for two- and three-game series, and the Lakers would return the favor when they traveled back to those cities.
This meant that great players such as Bill Russell, Bob Cousy, Wilt Chamberlain, Bob Petit, Oscar Robertson and Dolph Schayes would give the league some valuable exposure to thousands of new fans in Southern California.
In those days, Laker games were mostly heard on the radio and almost never televised at home unless the game was a playoff. I remember listening to a young Chick Hearn call the games on my small Japanese transistor which I kept under my pillow. On school nights, I'd listen to the game in the dark after going to bed, then talk about what happened the next morning with my friends on the porch outside our 8th grade classroom.
Most of us played on the St. Cyril's basketball team and our following the Lakers during the 1961-62 season made that experience even more enjoyable. I had a picture of West stealing the ball from Bob Cousy pasted on my school folder.
Fred Schaus' team played at the Sports Arena, the Staples Center of its era, and to us his Lakers, with West and Baylor, were just as big and important as Phil Jackson's with Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol.

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