Los Angeles is Hoops Heaven

LA is a mecca for basketball


While folks in Indiana, North Carolina, New York or even, ahem, Boston may beg to differ, Los Angeles has a number of reasons to call itself the basketball capital of the world. The city’s rich basketball history includes the Lakers’ 12 NBA World Championship titles in LA; UCLA’s 11 NCAA basketball titles, a high school system that’s developed dozens of basketball greats, and a wide-ranging pick-up basketball culture featured in such films as White Men Can’t Jump. The prestigious John R. Wooden Award is presented annually by the Los Angeles Athletic Club to the men's and women's college basketball Players of the Year. Even the term “slam dunk” was coined in L.A. by the late, great Lakers announcer Chick Hearn. All of which makes Los Angeles a veritable hoops heaven for roundball junkies looking to explore the city.

Crypto.com Arena

When it comes to pro basketball, Crypto.com Arena (formerly STAPLES Center) in Downtown L.A. is the center of the Los Angeles hoops universe - the home of the NBA's Lakers and Clippers and the WNBA Sparks.

The Lakers franchise is one of the most successful in all of sports, with 17 championships, 38 Hall of Famers (28 players, 5 head coaches, 1 assistant coach, and 4 contributors) and a 33-game winning streak (1971-72 season) that is still the longest of any team in American professional sports.

In February 2023, future Hall of Famer LeBron James, who led the Lakers to the franchise's 17th title in 2020, broke former Laker Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's all-time NBA scoring record at Crypto.com Arena with his 38,388th point - a fadeaway jumper late in the third quarter against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

UCLA Pauley Pavilion
Pauley Pavilion at UCLA | Photo: UCLA Men's Basketball, Facebook

Pauley Pavilion - UCLA

A pilgrimage to Pauley Pavilion on the UCLA campus in Westwood is a must for anyone in search of NCAA basketball history. Under legendary coach John Wooden, the UCLA Bruins men’s basketball team won 10 national championships in 12 years, including seven in a row from 1967 to 1973. Jim Harrick coached the team to an 11th title in 1995, and Ben Howland led the team to three consecutive Final Four appearances, from 2006-2008. Under current coach Mick Cronin, the Bruins once again reached the Final Four in 2021 and are poised to go deep in the 2023 tournament as the No. 2 seed in the West.

Pauley Pavilion was the team’s home court for nine of Wooden’s championships. After a year-long, multi-million dollar renovation, the “House That Wooden Built” reopened on Nov. 9, 2012 with a game that featured the Bruins against Indiana State University, where Wooden coached for two years before making history at UCLA. It was a fitting tribute indeed for the “Wizard of Westwood.”

USC Galen Center Baseline View
Galen Center at USC | Photo: USC Athletics

Galen Center - USC

While the USC Trojans men’s basketball team has a storied basketball history in its own right - the alumni list includes NBA Hall of Famer Bill Sharman and famed coach Tex Winter - it’s the women’s team that’s made a national mark in recent decades. Lisa Leslie, Cynthia Cooper-Dyke and Cheryl Miller are among the former stars of Trojan teams, which have taken home two NCAA Championship crowns.

The Trojans play in the $147 million Galen Center, which opened in 2006. If you're exploring the campus and nearby Exposition Park, be sure to check out the landmark Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, which hosted the 1932 and 1984 Summer Olympics and in 2028 will become the only stadium in the world to host three Summer Olympics.

Dunk contest at the Nike 3ON3 Tournament
Dunk contest at the Nike 3ON3 Tournament | Photo: Business Wire

Nike 3ON3 Tournament

Every summer, the Nike Basketball 3ON3 Tournament takes over the streets of L.A. LIVE with an exciting weekend of basketball, entertainment, food, giveaways and more. All skill levels are invited to compete in the tournament, from “ballers” in the Adult Elite Division to Adult, Teen, Youth, Special Olympics and Wheelchair divisions.

California's largest 3ON3 outdoor tournament, Nike Basketball 3ON3 hosts 1,500 teams, 5,000 players and 25,000 spectators, with participants and spectators coming from all over the country.

Venice Basketball League in Venice Beach
Photo: Venice Basketball League, Facebook

Venice Beach

Los Angeles has plenty of indoor and outdoor courts where you can see and join in on some hardcore hoops. UCLA’s John Wooden Center and Men’s Gym, Silver Lake’s Bellevue Recreation Center, Westwood Recreation Center, Brentwood’s Barrington Park and Pan Pacific Park near Hollywood all offer competitive games on the hardwood and blacktop.

For hoops junkies, the real treat is being able to play or watch some ball with an ocean view. Out of the dozens of the region’s beachside courts, none have more of an “only-in-LA” vibe than the famous courts at Venice Beach, which are featured prominently in White Men Can’t Jump. Games go on all week and are most active on weekends.

Kia Forum at night
Photo: Kia Forum

Kia Forum

Though the franchise began its Los Angeles life in the Sports Arena and currently calls Crypto.com Arena its home, the Lakers truly became The Lakers during their 23-year residency at what is now known as Kia Forum. Affectionately known as The "Fabulous" Forum by Angelenos, the building was home to the team’s first title run in 1972, as well as the five rings won by the “Showtime”-era Lakers that Magic Johnson led during the 1980s. The Forum also hosted the 1983 NBA All-Star Game, best known for Marvin Gaye’s legendary pregame rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner."

After a multi-million dollar renovation, The Forum re-opened in January 2014 with a Grand Re-Opening concert by The Eagles. The revitalization was inspired by the venue's original 1967 design and included upgrades throughout the site. The Forum’s exterior color was repainted to its original 1960s "California Sunset Red."

LMU vs Pepperdine at Gersten Pavilion
LMU vs Pepperdine at Gersten Pavilion | Photo: Loyola Marymount

Gersten Pavilion - Loyola Marymount

If you’re looking for Division I basketball in a raucous, high school gym-like atmosphere, Gersten Pavilion at Loyola Marymount University fits the bill. Situated in the middle of the university’s Westchester campus southeast of Marina del Rey, Gersten Pavilion seats less than 4,200 people but has broken the 4,500 mark with standing-room-only crowds.

The Lions roared onto the national basketball scene in the late 1980s under coach Paul Westhead. His teams led Division I in scoring three years in a row, and set an NCAA record in 1990 with an average of 122.4 points per game. Westhead’s teams also hold the records for most points scored by a team in a single game (186) and highest combined score in a game (331). In 1990, Bo Kimble and the Lions ran all the way to the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament after the tragic death of teammate Hank Gathers, who led the nation in scoring and rebounding that year. As a tribute to his best friend, Kimble shot his first free throw of each tournament game left-handed, making all three attempts. Both Gathers and Kimble had their numbers retired by LMU.

Pepperdine Waves Firestone Fieldhouse
Photo: Pepperdine Men's Basketball, Facebook

Firestone Fieldhouse - Pepperdine

Not many places allow you to combine the serenity of a sunny coastal drive with the raucousness of a crowded college basketball arena, but Pepperdine University’s Firestone Fieldhouse lets you do just that. Situated on Pepperdine’s idyllic oceanside campus in Malibu, the Fieldhouse seats about 3,100 people but has housed as many as 4,500 for the Waves’ West Coast Conference games. Many greats have donned the Orange and Blue, including Naismith Hall of Famer Dennis Johnson; 15-year NBA veteran and defensive wizard Doug Christie; Olympians Marcos Leite and Yakhouba Diawara; and other WCC legends like Dana Jones, Dwayne Polee, Boot Bond and Orlando Phillips. Thirteen Waves that played their home games in Firestone Fieldhouse (and 17 total) have gone on to compete in the NBA - a Pepperdine alum was on an NBA roster for 34 consecutive seasons between 1977 and 2010. Eleven Pepperdine teams that called Firestone Fieldhouse home have advanced to the NCAA Tournament, four of them under head coach Jim Harrick and another three with Tom Asbury in charge. Between 1991 and 1993, the Waves set a WCC record by winning 38 straight games against conference opponents. A year before the Waves moved into Firestone Fieldhouse, William “Bird” Averitt electrified crowds by scoring an NCAA-best 33.9 points per game during the 1972-73 season.