The best view in the Great Western Forum doesn't come with a seat.
Go under the awning on the West side, down the stairs, through the glass doors and stop right outside the Forum Club on the night of a big game.
You want to see defense? This place is guarded with more vigor than a basketball hoop or a hockey net.
You want action? It's nonstop, before the game, during the game and after the game. Wave after wave of people seeking entry to the hallowed ground. Even if they don't belong, they'll try just about anything to get in.
"Everybody's your friend, everybody has a story," says the man at the door.
His ID badge doesn't show his name, merely a number. Angry people who have been denied access sometimes yell his number at him, with an expletive in front. He doesn't want his real name used, so we'll call him Scott.
Besides, the Forum Club isn't about names, as a Hollywood type once found out. He plays, shall we say, an exemplary person on television. Even though he didn't have a pass and wasn't on the guest list, he tried to get in on the basis of who he was. Nice try.
"We don't name-drop here," Scott says. "It doesn't work."
The simplest way to get in is to buy senate or season seats and purchase a Forum Club membership ($450 this season). Other than that, it pays to know someone who ranks high in the Forum, Laker or King offices, someone who can get you on "the list."
"It's not who you are or who you know," Scott says. "It's who knows you."
So don't bring the weak stuff to the door.
"People say they're a guest of certain people and [those employees] are no longer [working] in the building," Scott says. "Some people are so out of touch."
Thirty minutes before tipoff on a Friday night, Lakers vs. the Seattle SuperSonics, and the line to the Forum Club is 40-deep and growing.
Scott goes through his routine as fast as possible: Take a ticket, stamp the left hand and click his counter. Check for someone's name on the three-page, loosely alphabetized list and stamp the left hand, click the counter. Take, stamp, click. Check, stamp, click. Over and over.
Younger patrons are asked for identification to prove they are 21. A radio guy tries to get in with a media pass. That might work just about everywhere else in the Forum, but not here. Scott catches another person off guard by asking for his Forum Club ticket.
"Uh, I don't have it with me," the man replies.
Surely you can do better than that.
In the midst of the stamping and clicking, Scott, who has been working here seven years, sees a regular visitor.
"Changed your haircut, huh?" he remarks.
Take, stamp, click. Check, stamp, click.
At 7:22 there's a break in the action. Scott holds up the counter: 268 people have passed through, and it's not even game time.
Scott's job is part host, part bouncer. He's also part comedian.
"Limbo night's on Tuesday," he tells one man who tries to duck under the rope.
Take, stamp, click. Check, stamp, click.
"Left hand, please," he says, over and over.
"Your other left," he says to the legions of people who insist on holding up their right.
One longtime visitor who ought to know better offers his right hand.
"How long you been coming here?" Scott says in amazement.
"Ten years," the man says.
The game has started, but that doesn't stop the flow of people. Three minutes into the game and there are still 160 people in the club.
The pace slows until there are about four minutes remaining in the half. Then it's like a stampede. Just like that, the line is up to 60 people.
The club quickly reaches its capacity of 300 and Scott leans across the doorway. One man stands outside, adamant that he be let in to use the restroom. He goes on for three minutes.
"All the time you've been wasting with me, you could have gone up to the bathroom upstairs," Scott says.
Finally, enough people have left the club for Scott to allow people in again--those who belong.
One young guy with three buddies in tow but nothing else resorts to bribery.
"I've got a 20 to get us all in," he says.
"It doesn't work that way," Scott says.
He's turned down much better offers than $20. A guy offered $100 one time. A woman pulled down her top and asked, "Can these get me in?"
Why are people so pressed to get in, willing to wave $100 bills and other things in his face just to pass through? "I have no idea," Scott says. "It's just a social bar. There's nothing in it."
Inside there's a rectangular bar in the middle of the first room, a room that can seat 78 for dinner, and another area in the back that seats 138. The decor could be called Contemporary Forum, with pictures of Kings, Lakers and entertainers on the wall. If you want to see it for yourself, it's open to the public every weekday for lunch. But the only folks in it then are rotary clubs and school administrators. No one wants to be around them.
The mystique of the Forum Club on game nights is that it's where the important people go, so it must be cool.
"I think part of it is just the L.A. mentality of 'the place to be,' " says Mike Smith, the Forum Club manager. "A lot of it started during the early '80s, the atmosphere of having celebrities here. It was just kind of like a hangout place to be the first stop if they were going out late that night."
The likes of Tiger Woods and Tyra Banks have stopped through recently, but these days the big-time celebrities tend to retreat to the corridors beneath the stands during halftime. You're more likely to find Jack Nicholson grabbing a cup of coffee in the press room than hanging out in the Forum Club.
Doesn't matter. The Forum Club is packed at halftime, stays full through the fourth quarter. After the last second of the Lakers' victory over the SuperSonics, a cheer goes up, the only acknowledgment of the game all night. The club stays jammed until it begins to clear out an hour after the game.
With the night ending, Scott hears everything that's going wrong in people's lives. A woman tells Scott about her marital strife. A man can't believe his friend--and ride--left without him.
"They come in here hoping to solve their problems," Scott says.
Guess that's how it breaks down: Those without juice have difficulties getting into the Forum Club. Those with juice get in and deal with their difficulties in there.
Occasionally, they even watch some of the game.