Rob Pelinka
Rob Pelinka speaks at Media Day on Sept. 25, 2017.
(Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

The Lakers' History With Orange County

by Joey Ramirez
Digital Reporter

Just a half-hour or so south of STAPLES Center, Orange County has always been a Lakers stronghold.

So it’s only natural that one of the leaders of the organization also happens to be part of a history of Lakers players, coaches and staff with ties to OC.

Fans driving the 405 in the morning might catch a glimpse of General Manager Rob Pelinka, who knows all about that commute from his home in Newport Coast to the UCLA Health Training Center in El Segundo.

Pelinka isn’t the only one in the organization with a connection to Orange County, as two of the team’s assistant coaches also have roots there.

Miles Simon grew up in Fullerton before becoming one of the most decorated prep basketball players in OC history. He helped Mater Dei High win CIF titles in all four of his years and also became the first two-time CIF Player of the Year.

At the collegiate level, fellow assistant Brian Keefe played two years with UC Irvine and even ranked seventh in the Big West in scoring as a sophomore before transferring to UNLV, where he had a smaller role with the Runnin’ Rebels.

While the Lakers never had a player who went to UCI, they once had an alum from its Orange County rival.

Cal State Fullerton product Cedric Ceballos joined the team in 1994, earning a trip to the All-Star Game in his first season.

Back in college, the small forward was a bully for the Titans in his senior year, averaging well over a double-double with 23.1 points and 12.5 rebounds per contest.

After four seasons with the Suns, he immediately made an impact with the Lakers, as he was named Player of the Month in December for averaging 27.8 points and 9.0 rebounds — much of which stemmed from a 50-point outburst against Minnesota; L.A.’s first such game in over 20 years.

Ceballos remained with the team until 1997 before being traded back to the Suns for a trade package that brought in Robert Horry. Nonetheless, he enjoyed a successful tenure in purple and gold, averaging 20.9 points and 7.3 rebounds.

Though Ceballos is the only Laker with Orange County collegiate ties, there have been several who grew up in the area.

Dennis Hamilton — a Huntington Beach native — spent his rookie year with the Lakers, averaging 2.8 points for the team that fell to Boston in the 1968 NBA Finals.

His fellow Huntington Beach High alum, Jack Haley, had one of the more atypical journeys to the NBA.

Haley was more attracted to the waves than the hardwood when growing up in Seal Beach. His father, Jack Sr., won the first-ever U.S. Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach back in 1959, and the younger Haley felt the same pull to the ocean, serving as captain of the HBHS surf team.

Haley didn’t even begin playing basketball until his second year at Huntington Beach’s Golden West College, though he quickly progressed enough to earn a spot on UCLA’s roster.

The big man played sparingly on the 1991-92 Lakers, averaging only 1.6 points, though he did remain involved with the organization, later serving as co-host for the team’s “Lakers Live” pre-game show.

Twelve years after Haley, Mater Dei High product Jamal Sampson joined the purple and gold. The cousin of 1983 No. 1 overall pick Ralph Sampson led the Monarchs to the 2001 state championship and later joined the Lakers for only 10 games.

Finally, the most recent OC Laker was Fountain Valley native Anthony Brown. A star for Huntington Beach’s Ocean View High, Brown was named First Team All-State and league MVP.

However, his Lakers tenure was brief, as he struggled to hit shots during his rookie season. He played only 29 games for L.A. before being waived during the following training camp.

As far as pro sports go in Orange County, Anaheim is the only spot to be.

In addition to MLB’s Angels and the NHL’s Ducks, the city has also been home to two professional basketball teams: the ABA’s Anaheim Amigos and the D-League’s Anaheim Arsenal.

Anaheim — which has hosted the Lakers in the preseason every non-lockout year since 1999 — was also briefly a temporary NBA town.

The Los Angeles Clippers — who had won a 1992 playoff game in Anaheim after it had to be moved during the L.A. riots — played between six and eight home games there every year from 1994-99.

The Lakers took their first trip down the 5 Freeway in 1997 and came home after being handed a 22-point loss.

But “The Pond” was their stomping grounds after that.

The following year, they beat the Clippers, 108-85, behind 32 points from Shaquille O’Neal, while Derek Fisher collected 21 points and a career-high 11 rebounds.

The Lakers and Clippers played once more in Anaheim in 1999, which saw the purple and gold send their intracity opponents to their 10th straight loss to open the season. Six Lakers scored in double figures — including O’Neal, who led with 19 and 11 rebounds — while the Clippers went on to an 0-17 record.

One player who competed in all three Anaheim tilts was one whom Pelinka represented when he was an agent: Kobe Bryant.

The 17-time All-Star even became an Orange County resident himself in 2001 when he moved to Newport Beach — the later site of headquarters for his company, Kobe Inc.

Bryant famously found a way to avoid traffic from Newport to L.A., flying high above Southern California’s packed freeways in his private helicopter that he used to get to Staples Center for home games.

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