"You can come in here some nights, and there's 1,000 celebrities in here," says former Laker forward Mitch Kupchak, now an assistant G.M. for the club. "You can hardly sit down."
Nicholson is at so many games that some people have just stopped noticing him. While Travolta is having the baby tomatoes in peyote sauce at Mortons, Nicholson is at the Forum watching Phoenix slog along. Says Laker Kurt Rambis, "That's my idea of a true fan."
If you sit with him, bring a hard hat. Once, in 1980, when the Washington Bullets were playing at the Forum, Bullets coach Dick Motta screamed at an official and then walked toward the scorer's table. What happened after that is disputed legend.
"He grabbed my leg!" Motta says. "I said, 'You touch me again and you won't need a frontal lobotomy.' He said, 'You're breaking the rules. There's your [coaching] box.' I told him, 'If you want to coach, you can buy me a team and I'll make you an assistant coach.' And you know, he almost took me up on it."
Nicholson has a different version: "He was up screaming and out of his box and I was standing in his way and he said, 'Hey, sit down!' And I said, 'You sit down!' He said, 'This is my job, man!' And I said, 'I pay money for these seats!' Then he went out on the court, and I followed him out there. I told him it would take somebody bigger than him to sit me down—or something really intelligent like that.... Ever since then, he's been scared to death. You watch him, he don't even coach 'em in the Forum. He just sits in his little seat and never gets up." That's a cold cut; Motta is 4 for 18 at the Forum since then.
"I figure if we can make a plus-two or plus-three difference, that's enough," says Nicholson, and, over 16 years of Laker rooting, he has learned a few tricks of the trade:
1) Save your loudest decibel yelling for drowning out the visiting coach just as he's trying to give crucial instructions. This works with everybody but Kevin Loughery, who now stands directly in front of Nicholson when he shouts instructions to the players.
2) Disguise your voice to make a referee think that insults are coming from the visiting bench. "We've got a couple T's out of that," Nicholson says.
3) Make your taunts original, so they'll listen. For instance, whenever Oscar Robertson was in the game against the Lakers, Nicholson would holler, "Put Oscar Robertson in!"
Just trying to dish, if you know what he means.