Pauley Pavilion (continued)


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Still, the most prominent name in the program's history is the one on the floor. In 2003, UCLA named its historic home court for its legendary coach, granting Wooden's one request: That his late wife, Nell, be included in the honor. So it is that UCLA games are now played on Nell & John Wooden Court.

The couple met in high school in Indiana and were married for 53 years before Nell passed away March 21, 1985. John still writes her a love letter on the 21st of each month, then places it on her side of the bed. Wooden says he knows he and his beloved wife will be together again someday.

Bruins fans have a similar devotion for their team. It's been more than 13 years since a national-title banner was added to the collection here. But after keeping the faith UCLA fans have been reunited with basketball greatness in recent years. Under Ben Howland, the Bruins reached the Final Four in each of the past three seasons.

With so much history in the air and so much excitement on the floor, Pauley Pavilion is part museum, part gymnasium. Fittingly, the place seems to attract two groups of fans, as different as museumgoers and gym rats.

Many of the upscale Westside Los Angeles residents in the house look as if they've been Pauley Pavilion regulars for as long as Wooden. And the atmosphere feels a little like the start of a Dodgers game, which is a euphemism for late arriving. That traffic on the 405 can be every bit as stifling and unrelenting as Howland's trademark defense. The climate -- typically 70 degrees and sunny -- is more forgiving. The UCLA Band is appropriately attired in Hawaiian shirts.

The student section, which stands throughout the game, is sufficiently raucous. They begin each game with a "B-R-U-I-N-S" spell out before the opening tip, followed by the school's signature eight-clap. Upstairs, in cushy seats, the older following of alumni and Westside residents treat the outing as if it's a night at the theater. For this faction of fans, a Bruins basketball game is something you appreciate and admire, but you don't participate in it.

When Wooden attends, his seat is directly behind the Bruins bench and he looks so much like he did when he was leading UCLA to those 10 NCAA titles from 1964 to 1975, you get the sense he could still be on the bench, guiding the team. Pauley Pavilion looks much the way it did during the Wooden era, which is both good and bad.

Since the signage is mostly confined to the scoreboard that hangs over center court and along press row, the building's old-timey feel is preserved. When you take in a game at Pauley Pavilion, you are almost assured of seeing a Bruins victory. The Bruins are in their 44th season in Pauley, where they have a 608-90 (.871) record. Wooden coached UCLA in their first 151 games in the facility, compiling a remarkable 149-2 record. From 1970 to '76, the Bruins won 98 consecutive games at Pauley under Wooden and his successor, Gene Bartow.

A major renovation of Pauley Pavilion is currently in the planning and fundraising stage. The original rededication goal of Oct. 14, 2010, to coincide with Wooden's 100th birthday, has been pushed back, with a 2012 completion target now more realistic. The Bruins would have to play one season off campus during the makeover; Staples Center, the Forum in Inglewood and Anaheim's Honda Center have all been contacted about the possibility of becoming the Bruins' temporary home away from home. One scenario would see the team's home games spread out among a combination of those venues during the construction.

Wooden had significant design input back in the early '60s and liked the idea of keeping a distance between the fans and the players. But among the changes now being considered is a new retractable seating system that will bring fans closer to the action along the baselines. Larry Brown tried unsuccessfully to do the same thing when he coached UCLA from 1979 to '81.

The new Pauley Pavilion will undoubtedly be better. But it also will be different.

For now, the place is such a throwback you practically expect teams to play without the 3-point shot.

It's not hard to understand why Wooden, at age 98, still does his best to make it to Pauley Pavilion as often as he can. The well-read coach considers himself a teacher and is fond of reciting a poem by Glennice Harmon about the joys of the profession. In it, the author writes: "They ask me why I teach, and I reply, 'Where could I find more splendid company?'"

Watch a game amid all that history and you might find yourself asking the same question.

The banners don't just hang high above the floor; they hang over everything, bringing historical subtext to all that proceeds below. Every Bruins player carries a piece of that incomparable history with him each time he takes the floor, and every fan in attendance is witness to it.

Pauley Pavilion doesn't just make a good first impression; it makes a lasting one.

This is an updated reprise of a previously published feature.

Doug Ward is a Southern California-based freelance writer.