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Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The Original King of Inglewood

Today marks the 50th Anniversary of the day the National Hockey League came out of the dark ages and expanded from six teams (really NHL, six teams?) to 12. My soon-to-be beloved Los Angeles Kings joined St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Minneapolis and Oakland as expansion franchises and started play in 1967-68. I've been around for 45 of those years actively watching and up until 2012 the hockey was mediocre but the times were good. Jon Rosen of the LA Kings Insider tells the story much better than I can, but my tale deviates from the narrative homespun by the club...

Jack Kent Cooke (second from the left) at the Forum Groundbreaking.
Hockey meant more to me than a fan pulling for his team while time passed before my eyes over countless chill-inducing goals, bone crunching fights, and milk-curdling screams. Hockey was family, starting straight at the top of the organizational chart: Jack Kent Cooke.

Many of you might not know Jack Kent Cooke. Cooke was the visionary owner of the Los Angeles Lakers and starting on February 9, 1966, he was the owner of the Kings as well. Lucky me, my dad's second wife worked for Cook's Fabulous Forum in Inglewood, California. At some point, she imploded and gave back her title as "dad's wife", exchanging it for her new moniker as "Carina, the Mystic Psychic." I'm not sure what others thought, but to me she was definitely more psychotic than psychic. Yet I digress..

As Stan Kroenke brings the Rams back to St. Louis with grand dreams of Inglewood, let is be known that Cooke was the original King of Inglewood. The Fabulous Forum was regarded as one of the best arena in the United States, a great place to watch a game before corporate suites, stadium sushi, and $35 parking took over the fan experience.

WARNING: Shameless self-promotion coming. In my forthcoming book (When? Don't ask!), loosely titled "Behind The Mike: Mostly True Stories from the Media Guy" chronicles my time working for the great Jack Kent Cooke. (Did I mention before this is my fifth book in print? There I go digressing again!). Well, enough patting myself on the back because I think I've pocketed enough change from these four tomes to pay a month or two of car insurance premiums. Sounds good on paper, but unless you're J.K. Rowling, George R. R. Martin, or E. L. James, don't quit your day jobs boys and girls.

Perhaps I need to add some initials to my name. Maybe that's the ticket.

Regardless, here's an excerpt from the book:
Spending hours learning the intrinsic points of astrology with Carina night after night convinced me she was more psychotic than psychic. Nonetheless, she worked in the ticket office of the Fabulous Forum. What did this mean? It meant that tickets for any Los Angeles Lakers and Kings games or the best concerts in the Southland that weren’t sold out, would be ours for the asking. Although Inglewood is eyesore now, in the mid-seventies, the area had not yet been overrun with urban blight and crime. A five-year-old could still walk four blocks to save three cents on a gallon of fifty-three cent milk and attend professional hockey games, alone
And attend I did, to the tune of 200 Lakers and Kings games in three years. We could barely make rent, but I had seats just as good as Dyan Cannon and Jack Nicholson, and I knew more about offsides and rebounding than any six-year-old on Earth. But that wasn’t the best thing about Carina’s job.  
When there was a sold out event in town—something like the circus or the Harlem Globetrotters or Led Zeppelin—I earned my admission by working for a few days in her office. No adult in the office could touch my speed and accuracy stuffing season tickets into envelopes, matching them to the correct address label, affixing postage and getting the mail out by 4:00 P.M. Screw OSHA and whatever child labor laws existed back then, I was the king of direct mail (even at six years old). 
Can you imagine the late Dr. Jerry Buss entrusting a five- or seven-year-old with $5000-a-seat season tickets today? Yeah, I don’t think so. 
The immortal Jack Kent Cooke was a whole different story. 
The 1974 Lakers, Kings and Fabulous Forum were owned by the colorful and eccentric Cooke. He loved sports, also owning the Washington Redskins and a stable of race horses at one point. He was married five times with the last lady being a former Bolivian drug runner forty years younger than him.  
Cooke was the reason everything worked at the Fabulous Forum. He was more than an idea man. He was a doer. Everybody talks about you have to have an idea. Whenever one of his advisors would come to him with a bright idea, the first thing Cooke used to tell his advisors was: “IDEAS ARE OVER-RATED UNLESS YOU HAVE A GUY WHO CAN EXECUTE IT.” 
His people would always come up to him with these ideas. Getting the Beatles back together was brought up a few times while I was around. He would say you have to come up with an entertainment plan that you're smart enough to execute it. And, he wouldn't stop there.  
"You don’t have to be brilliant to come up with an idea," he bellowed in his graveled, yet pitchy voice. "But you DO have to brilliant to come up with an idea and then execute it for fifteen years. There are a million people who open restaurants with great ideas. Sixty percent are closed in two years. So you have to be able to execute." 
Then he would take a breath before instructing his idea people to "come back to me when you have a plan; not an idea." 
Cooke was always nice to me. The ladies in his office loved it when he would talk to me and give life lessons. Essentially I was his puppy; a chick magnet if you will. He introduced me to F. Scott Fitzgerald saying that his life was “better than any of that guy’s crappy novel.” He let me turn on the arena lights a time or two. He showed me the preliminary artwork for media guides and the pocket schedules. Jack Kent Cooke gave me my first taste of the media. 
I loved this guy because he was a very hands-on owner; at least with the female staff. As a matter of fact, I can’t recall seeing anyone on his direct staff than was a man. Never saw a guy around him who wasn’t a reporter, player or public relations-type person. 
Controlling the message was key for Cooke; at the office, with reporters, around the media. He wasn't about to be played by them. It was so important, that he once paid $176 million for the Los Angeles Daily News newspaper.

A couple of times he let me stuff those aforementioned envelopes in his office while being interviewed by the newspapers. He commanded the room with his humor. His colossal entrepreneurial acumen blended effortlessly with his no-nonsense business sense. Cooke handled everything his way. 
And, when the media was around, he owned them quite simply. In this respect, I wanted to be just like him. (I’m still working on that part.)

Excerpted from Behind The Mike: Mostly True Stories from the Media Guy by Michael Lloyd.

Copyright © 2016 by Michael Lloyd.

Excerpted by permission of me, Michael Lloyd. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.