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Lakers Moments: Jack Kent Cooke makes big dreams a reality

May 23, 2011 |  3:40 pm

Cook Smile for the camera: Jack Kent Cooke, former owner of the Lakers, at the 1966 groundbreaking for the Forum in Inglewood.

Cooke did things on a grand scale. He became a billionaire media and real estate tycoon after starting as a traveling encyclopedia salesman. He married four women, three in the last 20 years of his life. The financial settlement from his first divorce was the largest in history at the time.

So it was no surprise that in his time as owner of the Lakers, Cooke continually made headlines.

He purchased the struggling team in 1965 for a then-unheard-of sum of $5.175 million. Only eight years earlier, Bob Short bought the team for $140,000.

Cooke told the public commission that ran the Los Angeles Sports Arena that the lease terms for the Lakers to play there were unacceptable. They would need to be changed or he would build his own arena. The commissioners laughed at him.

Cooke built his arena.

And so the Forum in Inglewood came to be in 1967, at a price tag of $16 million. It wasn't just the Forum, but the Fabulous Forum, a classic colonnaded arena that was Cooke's most famous real estate holding until he bought the Chrysler Building.

Cooke desperately wanted an NBA title, and he thought he secured one when he traded for superstar center Wilt Chamberlain in June 1968. The Lakers had lost six times in the NBA Finals to the Boston Celtics (including 1968), and Cooke was convinced that adding Chamberlain to a roster with Jerry West and Elgin Baylor would make the difference.

Yet he didn't get his title until 1972, when the Lakers won a then-NBA record 69 games in the regular season and rolled in the playoffs.

Read more about Jack Kent Cooke in All Things Lakers, the L.A. Times' interactive database of all things purple and gold.

Join the Lakers at L.A. Times Facebook page.

-- Hans Tesselaar

Photo credit: Associated Press