They opened the shiny, new Pauley Pavilion Friday night amid pomp and less-than-desired circumstance.
The first game in the $136-million redo of outdated Pauley was preceded by loud music, speeches, floodlights, laser beams and fancy graphics on a big new scoreboard. Basketball stars of yesteryear returned and were properly honored. John Wooden's voice, fittingly booming from above, reminded all of the history and standards of his philosophy, the reason all this was happening now.
And then they played the game without star freshman recruit Shabazz Muhammad, who had been shut down by the NCAA.
This capped a strange week in Los Angeles sports.
The Clippers look like the old Lakers and the Lakers look like the old Clippers. The Lakers seem to preach patience in regard to 1-4 Coach Mike Brown for most of the week and then fire him Friday. At USC, one student deflates a bunch of footballs and at UCLA, another deflates a long-awaited arena opening.
FOR THE RECORD:
UCLA basketball: In the Nov. 10 Sports section, a column about UCLA's first basketball game in the new Pauley Pavilion referred to a speech by Mike Pauley, grandson of the arena's namesake, Edwin Pauley. The grandson's name is Matt, not Mike. —
Whatever happened to just playing games?
The NCAA, perhaps attempting to even the score in Los Angeles major college sanctioning after stomping on USC's football program a few years ago, announced just before gametime that Muhammad, one of the top recruits in the nation, was not eligible to play.
The announcement said that he had accepted travel and lodging expenses for university visits. Those visits were to Duke and North Carolina, allegedly paid for by a family friend. The NCAA also said that, while this case has been hanging like a thunder cloud over UCLA's basketball program for months, a key issue was how quickly it had received documents on the case.
"The expediency of these decisions can hinge on the level of timely cooperation of all involved parties," the statement said. It also said key documents didn't get to them until Nov. 1.
Left unsaid, in typical vague NCAA-speak, was who was late with the documents. A Bruins spokesman said, "The document delay had nothing to do with UCLA." The schools visited would not likely stonewall, either, because they also have Big Brother NCAA watching over them. Might that leave mommy and daddy Muhammad?
Still, the Bruins can't totally skate on this one. They had to assume that a big-time recruit such as Muhammad would come with some baggage. These days, they all do.
All this was, of course, the last thing UCLA and its fans wanted on center stage on this special Friday night.
There was so much ceremony to stand on. It started with speeches outside, with Matt Pauley, the grandson of original pavilion namesake Edwin Pauley, telling a crowd of perhaps 500 that the re-building had been a "seven-year journey," and added, "My family considers itself blessed to be associated with this."
Inside, before the game, there were pictures of Wooden on the big new scoreboard, the sounds of Wooden reciting poetry and the words of one of his sayings, especially fitting on this night targeted for nothing but joy and celebration and not quite getting there.
The Wooden saying: "The great competitor enjoys it when it is difficult."
Only time will tell how much Coach Ben Howland and Athletic Director Dan Guerrero are enjoying the Muhammad situation.
We were able to rappel to the press seats and get oxygen masks in time to hear Marques Johnson, former Bruins star, intoning via the midcourt scoreboard, "It's gametime."
The Bruins had taken the court via great fanfare. They burst out behind huge flags and to a huge roar. Their opponent, Indiana State — the only other college basketball team Wooden ever coached before coming to UCLA — had entered earlier and stood, like lost interlopers, in a little knot near center court. Their team name is the Sycamores, but on this night, they were the Afterthoughts.
That would have made Wooden uncomfortable. He always liked to treat opponents like kings before beating their brains out. These Bruins took care of the beating part, winning with a big second-half flurry, 86-59.
The Muhammad case will continue to occupy newsprint and airspace until the NCAA beckons from the mountaintop. Will he miss three games? Five? The entire season or entire college career, which, in the case of most of these youngsters with NBA stars in their eyes, is usually the same thing.
In the end, the positives can be stressed. The Bruins have a wonderful new building, certainly up to today's major college basketball standards. They started with a victory. Wooden's memory, which should never diminish here, was given proper homage.
Also, they'll never have to play another game in the Sports Arena.
The national anthem was played by Flea, bassist for the Red Hot Chili Peppers. He wore a T-shirt that read: "Free Shabazz Muhammad."
It's a new era. In Wooden's days, the popular shirts were more along the lines of: "Beat USC."