When Magic Left, Many Fans Did, Too : Lakers: All of a sudden, pro basketball isn't a hot ticket at the Forum.


No Magic, no Showtime, no sellouts.

Times have changed for the Lakers, once the superstar team in a town resplendent with stars.

They're losers, and in L.A., losers don't sell.

One of the toughest tickets in town when Magic Johnson was conducting "Showtime," and GQ cover boy Pat Riley was pacing the sidelines during the NBA championship seasons of the 1980s, Laker seats are easy to come by these days. Fans can walk up to the ticket window before most games.

The star quality that once drew sellout crowds of 17,505 to the Forum is gone.

"Magic isn't here anymore," fan Carolann Jenkins said. "It's a real different team."

Jenkins and other fans are left checking their programs for unfamiliar names: Elden Campbell, Doug Christie, Vlade Divac, Anthony Peeler and Nick Van Exel comprise the NBA's youngest starting lineup, with an average age of 23.4 years.

A first name used to be enough to identify the Lakers' lineup. Magic, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, A.C. Green, James Worthy, Michael Cooper, Byron Scott and Kurt Rambis helped make the Forum the in-spot night after night.

At 32, Worthy is the lone remaining link to those heady days. Last year's 39-43 record was the team's first losing season in 17 years, and the Lakers opened this season 3-7.

Before a game against the Chicago Bulls last weekend, Mike Ellis, 36, ticked off some of the reasons the Lakers have lost their lustre.

"Kareem's gone, Worthy's aging, Magic's gone, Riley's gone," he said. "When you say the magic's gone, that encompasses the man and the team."

The Lakers' average home attendance--12,976 in their first six dates--was the fourth-lowest in the NBA. Across town, the Clippers were third-lowest at 11,199, while Philadelphia was drawing 11,155 and Atlanta 9,491.

"I'm used to it," Laker Coach Randy Pfund said. "It's been that way here for the last three years."

If the trend continues, the Lakers could finish with their worst attendance since 1978-79, when they averaged 11,771. From 1988-92, they averaged more than 17,000.

Ticket prices range from $2 to $100.

Last week, several fans attended on tickets they received from friends employers.

"Even when we get offered tickets, we're not as interested," Ray Jenkins said.

Los Angeles has a national reputation for fans arriving late and leaving early. Against the Bulls, at least 25 courtside seats remained empty 10 minutes into the game. Plenty of seats in the Forum's upper reaches were bare that long, too.

"Los Angeles fans are less patient than other fans," said Bill, a 47-year-old movie director who declined to give his last name. "Maybe because there are so many distractions here. In most NBA cities, there aren't quite as many choices."

So far this season, there have been no advance sellouts. The lone capacity crowd was opening night; the second-best crowd was 15,512 against the Bulls.

While the on-court stars are gone, the Lakers still draw some of Hollywood's biggest names to the courtside seats.

Jack Nicholson can eavesdrop on opponents from his location, while Dyan Cannon is two seats away from Johnson on the south end of the court.

Garry Shandling, Louis Gossett Jr., Chevy Chase, Anthony Kiedis and Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Mike Piazza of the Dodgers pop in sometimes.

Ellis, the fan from Orange County, said he felt embarrassed about his waning interest in the Lakers. He owns season tickets to the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim and goes to several Raiders NFL games.

"I'd like to be a true Laker fan," he said, "(but) I've gone to twice as many Clippers games because Magic's left."

Actually, Johnson is at most of the games. But the only ball he touched on a recent night was one that landed at his seat adjacent to the Laker bench.

During the Lakers' run of five NBA championships in the 1980s, Riley was as popular as his players. Pfund shares Riley's fondness for stylish suits and slicked-back hair, but fans know the difference.

"Randy Pfund doesn't have the crowd appeal that a Pat Riley did," Ellis said.

Pfund was elevated from assistant to coach in May 1992. Later that year, Johnson retired and the team has yet to find a dominant replacement.

"I don't think there's any doubt that we're a little different team than we were in the '80s in terms of marquee-type players," Pfund said.

Season ticket sales are down about 1,500 from last season, to 10,000. That's about the same as in 1985-86, when the Lakers drew an average 16,826.

Pfund said other Los Angeles pro teams experience the same type of varying fan interest.

"I went to a Dodger game this summer. I could have picked about one of 30,000 seats," he said. "I don't think it's a Laker problem. I think economy can get involved in it, too."

But the Forum's other tenant is doing big business. The Kings hockey team has sold out 81 of its last 91 games dating back to the beginning of the 1991-92 season.

Not everyone has lost faith as the Lakers rebuild. Larry Fordham, 37, drove 1 1/2 hours each way from his home in San Bernardino County to see them play the Bulls.

"I'm still a Lakers fan," he said. "You stick with the home team, win or lose."

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