The Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena once occupied a solid place in the heart of this city. It came in with a bang, hosting a bantamweight boxing title match in July of 1959. A year later, it hosted the 1960 Democratic National Convention, where John F. Kennedy won the presidential nomination. Later that year, it opened its doors to the Lakers, who'd come out west from Minnesota and needed a place to stay. It housed the LA Kings in their inaugural 1967 season and belonged to the USC Trojans for over 45 years. Final Fours were held here. So were Wrestlemanias. The Sports Arena and the Coliseum next door were one of the best duos in LA.
As the decades went on, however, bigger arenas were constructed and teams moved to different homes. The last high-profile team to leave was longstanding resident USC, when they moved down the street to the pristine Galen Center in 2006. Devoid of big-time sports, the Sports Arena now regularly hosted the occasional big rock concert (Bruce Springsteen, most recently), electronic music festivals, Halloween and New Year's celebrations, and Naturalization Ceremonies, at which immigrants take the Oath of Citizenship. Not quite the events of the past. But, this season, big-time basketball came back; the Bruins, awaiting renovation of Pauley Pavilion, were scheduled to play 14 home games here. They opened their temporary home with a loss to Loyola Marymount, who fell a couple days later to Middle Tennessee across town. Tonight, the Bruins hosted the Blue Raiders and it seemed unlikely they would lose again. Though it was sparsely attended, the atmosphere had the feel of a mother welcoming her child home after a long time away. Or a woman dressing her Sunday best for a man she loved and lost long ago. It just felt like a void was being filled.
Once I focused on the game, I became excited to see how the Blue Raiders would stack up against UCLA. After watching them take down Loyola Marymount, I thought they had a good chance to compete. To everyone's surprise, Middle Tennessee did more than compete--they pulled off a resounding Red Line Upset. It wasn't even close. The Blue Raiders came out firing and nearly set a single-game record from beyond the arc, sinking their first nine threes, finishing 10 for 11, good for the third-highest percentage in NCAA history and the best with the current three-point line. The whole game belonged to the Blue Raiders--they defended better, made crisper passes, and hit what seemed like all their shots. In the second half, UCLA would make runs but the Blue Raiders would squelch them quickly. They won by 20 but it felt like more. After the game, the Blue Raider players hopped around, high-fived, hugged each other. They clapped emphatically. Their celebration brought a smile to my face. They'd come to LA and left 2-0. It really couldn't have been a more successful trip. I even saw on Twitter that media and fans would be welcoming them back to the airport in Nashville later that night.
As I thought of returning home, I thought of an empty Sports Arena. I thought of the Laker Girls who had performed at halftime and how their presence also belied an absence. I thought of what it meant to be alone, to be left. I thought it may be stupid to romanticize this place, to personify it and call it lonely. Alive or not, though, this season, the Sports Arena will relive the old times. The Bruins look nothing like the champions they were in the 60s but at least they're here. The place can't compare anymore to the palatial Staples Center or the elegant Honda Center. And because it seats over 15,000, it won't ever be full. Yet, even if it's as empty as it was tonight, on twelve more days this year the Sports Arena will be a home.
MIDDLE TENNESSEE 86, at UCLA 66 11/15/2011
MIDDLE TENNESSEE 3-0 (0-0) -- M. Knight 6-10 2-5 15; L. Dendy 6-11 3-4 16; B. Massey 5-6 1-1 14; J. Sulton 4-5 0-0 8; K. Hammonds 2-2 0-0 5; S. Jones 6-8 0-3 12; R. Cintron 4-4 0-0 11; J. Gallman 2-3 0-0 5; J. Oden 0-0 0-0 0; J. Rozier 0-0 0-0 0; J. Edmonson 0-0 0-0 0; Z. Gibson 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 35-49 6-13 86. UCLA 0-2 (0-0) -- L. Jones 2-9 2-2 7; D. Wear 3-7 0-0 6; T. Lamb 1-9 0-0 3; T. Wear 4-10 2-2 10; J. Anderson 3-9 2-3 9; J. Smith 6-9 3-6 15; D. Parker 2-6 3-5 7; N. Powell 4-7 0-0 9; B. Lane 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 25-67 12-18 66.
Three-point goals: MTSU 10-11 (L. Dendy 1-1; J. Gallman 1-1; K. Hammonds 1-1; B. Massey 3-3; M. Knight 1-2; R. Cintron 3-3), UCLA 4-20 (J. Anderson 1-4; T. Wear 0-1; T. Lamb 1-6; L. Jones 1-4; N. Powell 1-4; D. Parker 0-1); Rebounds: MTSU 32 (L. Dendy 13), UCLA 27 (J. Smith 9); Assists: MTSU 18 (L. Dendy 4), UCLA 17 (J. Anderson 6); Total Fouls -- MTSU 19, UCLA 14; Fouled Out: MTSU-None; UCLA-None.