Mondays With Murray: Remember Those Early Laker Days?




Remember Those Early Laker Days?

  The letter came right after the Lakers’ win over the Celtics. It opened a window on memory.

  “Dear Mr. Murray,” it began.

  “In reflecting on yesterday’s stupendous Lakers’ victory, I felt compelled to write you ‘in remembrance of things past,’ of my father, Lou Mohs, and for the mondaysmurray2sake of my mother, Alice, who lives with me and is alive with such memories of Lakers’ early days.

  “I remember so well coming out to Los Angeles with the Minneapolis Lakers all those years ago (1960). It was difficult in the beginning. Bob Short, the owner, had sent my Dad out with the team and a debt of $300,000 with the order, ‘Call me for anything but money.’

  “That very first year was lean. My Mom recalls, quite happily, how our family bought the first basketballs, how Mom washed the team jerseys at home, how we all sat up late at night after home games, counting ticket stubs, how the young players, out before their families arrived, would come over for home cooking.

  “The team in the early ’60s was a family nucleus with all the wives and children gathering for holiday parties while the team was on the road. At each home game, everyone involved sat in one corner area of the old Sports Arena and silently prayed, not necessarily for the team but watching the counter mark for each fan’s arrival. Once it had marked 4,000, we knew we had made it into the black for the game — and sometimes that was a struggle.

  “But with marvellous players, the likes of Baylor and West, and with LaRusso, Selvy, Hawkins, Felix, Hundley, Schaus, along with the voice of Chick Hearn, L.A. soon learned to love the Lakers.

  “With the memory of so many almost-wons against the Celtics . . . it was with such pleasure to see this year’s team blow away the ghost of the past. I am sure (the late) Lou Mohs, Bob Short and Jim Krebs were all rooting loudly, wherever they are. Do you remember those days?”

        Martha Mohs Higgins

         Rancho Mirage.


  Dear Martha:

  Do I remember those years?! Better than last year.

  I recall so well the last story I did as a magazine reporter was a 10-day trip with the Lakers called in the book, “Ten Tall Men Take a Trip.”

  I hate to brag, Martha, but I was one of the only writers west of the Pecos writing on pro basketball in those days. I know I was the only columnist. Even in New York, the citadel of basketball, the journalistic heavyweights like Red Smith, Jimmy Cannon, and Dick Young pretty much ignored basketball.

  In order to draw in those days, pro basketball had to schedule doubleheaders with the Harlem Globetrotters. I remember, I went to the Sports Arena one Sunday afternoon in the first few months I was writing a column, and the Lakers were playing a playoff game against the St. Louis Hawks — and the “crowd” on the Sports Arena counter was 2,400. They get that to watch them practise today.

  Your Dad, Lou Mohs, told me Wilt Chamberlain was making $15,000 a year in those seasons, and that was also what they paid Jerry West.

  You bet, I remember Lou Mohs and Fred Schaus and Hot Rod and Elg and all the guys. I learned more basketball in one trip with those guys than I have since. The game kind of passed me by when they stopped having 3-to-make-2, and something called the “loose ball foul” came into being. We didn’t have any fancy-schmancy rules about “loose ball fouls.” You got a foul, you went to the line in those days.

  We used to go on trips in quaking, asthmatic old planes, one of which had plowed up a cornfield in a blizzard with the Lakers one night, and often, the little two-engine wheezer would be occupied by both Lakers and Knicks en route to a doubleheader in Syracuse or Kankakee.

  I remember those days proudly, as you do, because Lou Mohs commissioned a portrait of me by the Laker center, Gene Wiley, a painting that still hangs in my living room. “That’s in appreciation,” Lou told me. But about that time, Bob Short got a whole bunch of portraits of General Grant, or whoever it is on thousand-dollar bills, when Jack Kent Cooke bought the club from him for $5,175,000 in cash.

  I like to think we all kind of washed jerseys for the Lakers in those days, Martha. But you and I and Chick Hearn and Jerry West and Elgin are the only ones around who remember it. Thanks for bringing it up.


        JIM MURRAY, 1985


Reprinted with the permission of the Los Angeles Times

Jim Murray Memorial Foundation P.O. Box 661532, Arcadia, CA 91066



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