Back in the mid-80’s when I was training and working on my game for an upcoming NBA Summer Pro League tryout, I asked Larry Creger, President of the Summer Pro League, “Where do many of the best locally talented players play?” Larry answered me, “Rogers Park, a gym located in Inglewood, CA.” Rogers Park was located not too far from the Fabulous Forum where the Los Angeles Lakers played. Larry said, “That is where the real talent competes.” I also found out from Larry that Rogers Park is the gym where the Lakers used to practice when the Forum was being used for concerts etc.
Along with Larry Creger, Paul Pierce and James Worthy also said the same thing on a TV special and radio program that I recently heard – that Rogers Park was where the real talented players competed. Paul Pierce, as you know, was the long time Boston Celtic Great and NBA Champion that just retired from the LA Clippers in 2017. In a TV special, after Paul’s last game as a Clipper, he shared about his youth. He grew up in Inglewood and went to Inglewood High after moving from Oakland, CA. Paul said, “You weren’t anybody in the basketball world if you couldn’t hold your own at Rogers Park.”
And in a recent radio interview on 570 AM in LA, I heard just the other day the former LA Laker—three-time NBA Champion James Worthy being interviewed. He mentioned where all the greats played to prefect their game in LA area. Yes, again Big Game James stated Rogers Park as being at the top of his list.
I mention these examples just to let you know, you had to be able to compete at a high level to play at Rogers Park. The first protocol was getting your name on the board. When you entered the gym, you saw a large chalkboard, which was where guys would write their name down for the next game. If you weren’t on the board and in order, you were out of luck.
Rogers Park had hoops outside in the actual park area, but the real talent competed inside the gym. (You can tell that the LA Lakers used to play there because on the main court they had the hoops that came out of the floor just like you see at all the NBA arenas at that time and even today.)
Also of note, in all the times I went to play at Rogers Park, I never once saw another light skinned guy (white guy) like myself in or near the gym. I knew I had to be ready to play. I had similar situations in my past -- leagues I played in after high school in Portland or in Southern CA -- where I was one of 1-2 token white guys playing in the league. Anyway, I never saw color, just had an attitude to compete! It was funny, if I was having a particularly good game that day, invariable, someone on the opposing team that had never played with me before, would call out, “Block his shot!” And one of his teammates or mine that had seen me play before would stand up on my behalf say, “He can play now, he play.” It was great to get that validation of your game. I am telling you, though, there were some great players there that were head and shoulders above the rest. Fortunately for me, I had put in the time for many years practicing my shooting. My leaping ability was also above average because I really worked hard on it by running hills, steps and a lot of stretching to stay limber. When I was focused on stopping a guy, I could really defend well because most of good defense is just hustling and moving your feet rather than reaching (and picking up fouls). I learned early on from good coaching, to defend and study players that were right or left hand dominate and overplay their dominate side which forces them to dribble with their weaker hand. If they could not do that confidently and competently, they would be forced to pick up their dribble and fire a long shot or pass the ball.
I lived a distance away from Rogers Park, but tried to get there early, because if you were in the first 3-4 games on any given day, you might be able to play alongside a current NBA player from the Lakers or the Clippers, someone who was working on his game in the off season. And some of the guys who played there were guys like me, who had played in Europe or some foreign country, hoping to compete again at the professional level.
I recall, in between games during a shoot-around, guys were showing off their dunks, etc. Since I could rock the rim pretty good in those days, I would throw a few down that usually got a second glance or so. It was incredible to watch some of these small guys who were only 5’6” to 5’9”. They could really get up and dunk a few through.
Yep, I will always have fond memories of Rogers Park, playing and competing with some of the best competition I have had the privilege to put on my game face and run with. “Hey man, do you want to run next?” “Yeah!” “Right on! You’ll run with us.”