Front and center: Ex-wife of former UCLA star holds Pauley iconic memorabilia hostage, and school isn’t jumping for joy

UPDATED: Wednesday, March 16, 5 p.m.:

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An anonymous UCLA alum believed to be the ex-wife of a former Bruins standout point guard, in possession of the original Pauley Pavilion center court circle installed in 1965, has decided again to put this unique piece of memorabilia up for auction next month.

Despite the wishes of UCLA, which wants it back to display in its soon-to-be renovated arena.

The 12-foot in diameter power blue relic that was replaced in May, 1982, has been a sought-after piece by the UCLA athletic department for more than the last 10 years, says athletic director Dan Guerrero.

“We are extremely disappointed to hear that the original center circle from Pauley Pavilion has been put up for auction,” Guerrero said in a statement released by the school this afternoon. “We were made aware of the auction (Tuesday).

“For over a decade, we have made numerous attempts to reacquire the center circle from the current owner but were rebuffed on every try. We even had a donor ready to make a donation to the owner’s charity of choice.

“The center circle belongs on display at new Pauley Pavilion and we are hopeful that we will be able to work out an arrangement with the new owner to bring this important piece of UCLA basketball history back to its home.”

SCP Auctions in Orange County will start taking registered bids on its website (www.scpauctions.com) on April 15 and continue the auction through April 30.

As per company policy, SCP Auctions president and founder David Kohler would not reveal the name of the seller.

But according to a story posted in Oct., 1998 in the faculity newsletter TodayUCLA.edu. (linked here), Jody Spillane, a Bruin employee since her days as a student in the 1970s who went on to coordinate a graduate student recruitment and placement program, found the center circle in 1987 in a UCLA surplus warehouse while it was in storage.

She wanted it, and she got it, for what was deemed “a nominal amount.”

Spillane, the ex-wife of former Palos Verdes High standout Jim Spillane, who played at UCLA in the mid ’70s and was on coach John Wooden’s final 1975 championship team, is still believed to be the owner of the piece, according to sources.

Attempts to reach Jody Spillane on Wednesday were not successful.

“I came upon it, knew what it was, knew that I wanted it and was actually astounded to see it there,” she said in 1998. “I bought it because my family and I are alumni, and it really meant a lot to me.”

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Auction experts at the time placed the value of the piece at $1 million. The story also says the piece was to be auctioned soon to raise money for Eureka Endowment, a permanent source of support for the education and training of doctoral students in the biomedical and life sciences.

If that auction ever took place, the piece did not sell.

Kohler said his company has a conservative estimate of “six figures,” starting at $100,000, for the piece as it is today.

“It really is awesome,” said Kohler. “All the old UCLA team pictures have the players lined up on top of this court.”

The TodayUCLA.edu story said that in 1998, the center court was displayed at an event held in Pauley Pavilion, attended by Wooden and dozens of former UCLA greats, including Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Walton, Sidney Wicks and Walt Hazzard.

Many signed the floor with the knowledge it would later be sold at auction, with a “large portion of the proceeds from the sale” to be “dedicated to funding medical research,” said an SCP press release.

The financial value of the piece probably doesn’t exceed the sentimental value for those at UCLA. Eight UCLA men’s teams and one Bruins women’s team won an NCAA national championship in the years that the court that had that center circle. It was also used during UCLA’s 88-game winning streak from 1971-74.

The first basketball game at Pauley Pavilion was Nov. 27, 1965 — a scrimmage, pitting the Bruins’ varsity team, led by guard Mike Warren, losing to a freshman squad featuring Lew Alcindor.

The halfcourt circle that has been at Pauley for the last three decades is a darker colored blue:

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