LOS ANGELES, Calif. – Staples Center is always among the world’s busiest arenas, hosting a jam-packed slate of concerts and shows crammed between games for the NBA’s Lakers and Clippers and the NHL’s Kings.
But the downtown Los Angeles venue is preparing for its craziest weekend ever. After a remarkable run of simultaneous post-season success, Staples Center’s three main tenants are combining to host six playoff games in just four days.
Starting with Game 3 of the Kings’ Western Conference final against the Phoenix Coyotes on Thursday night and concluding with Game 4 of the Clippers’ second-round series against the San Antonio Spurs on Sunday night, the building will host a noon-to-night barrage of dunks and slap shots, 3-pointers and glove saves in a succession of pressure-packed post-season games.
For Lee Zeidman, Staples Center’s senior vice-president and general manager, this confluence of playoff success is both a visceral thrill and a puzzle to be solved.
“This is unprecedented in this building, and I believe in arenas all over the country,” Zeidman said. “I don’t believe it will ever be duplicated, because we’re the only building with two NBA teams. This presents some unprecedented challenges, but hopefully we’re going to come out of it with six victories in four days.”
Staples Center will host two weekend doubleheaders, with two basketball games Saturday before a potentially problematic hockey-to-hoops changeover Sunday. What’s more, the Tour of California also ends right outside the building Sunday, drawing up to 100,000 fans downtown to watch the finish of the nation’s biggest cycling race about 30 minutes before the Kings and the Coyotes drop the puck on Game 4 of the Western Conference finals.
After the NBA announced last Saturday that the Lakers and Clippers would both host back-to-back playoff games this weekend, the arena’s employees began preparing for one of the longest weekends of their careers.
“This is all hands on deck,” Zeidman said. “We’ve scheduled everybody and anybody, from concession to cleanup and housekeeping to conversion crew to maintenance. Some people are going to be getting some good overtime.”
Staples Center, which proclaims itself “the sports and entertainment capital of the world” before its tenants’ home games, was opened in 1999 by AEG, the sports-entertainment conglomerate which owns the Kings and a piece of the Lakers.
Ever since the Lakers won the NBA title in their first season at Staples, the building has never lacked for drama. While hosting more than 250 events per year, Staples has seen two NBA All-Star games, an NHL All-Star game, the 2000 Democratic National Convention, 11 Grammy awards shows, multiple X-Games, several title fights in boxing and mixed martial arts, and the Pac-10 and -12 basketball tournaments, along with an encyclopedic list of musical acts.
But this weekend’s convergence has never been encountered before, largely because the Lakers’ perennial success hasn’t been matched by their two co-tenants. While the Lakers have been in the playoffs every season but one since Staples Center opened, reaching seven NBA finals in its first 11 years of existence, the Clippers had made just one playoff appearance in their first 12 years at Staples, while the Kings didn’t make the playoffs at all between 2002 and 2010.
“It’s exciting in the city when all of our teams are doing well,” Lakers forward Pau Gasol said. “Our arena is very busy right now, but it’s good for the teams you share with to have success. We don’t worry about the schedule, because we have to play the games no matter what. A little bit different scheduling doesn’t matter to us, I don’t think.”
The Clippers finally became contenders this season after trading for All-Star point guard Chris Paul, finishing fifth in the Western Conference before winning their first-round playoff series with Memphis in seven games.
The Kings, who lost in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs the previous two years, have also vaulted into title contention after entering the post-season as the Western Conference’s eighth seed, winning eight of their nine playoff games in the first two rounds to reach the conference finals for the first time since 1993.
“It’s going to be an exciting time for everybody,” said Kings captain Dustin Brown, who takes in Lakers games in his spare time. “The people at Staples do a great job considering how much goes on in there. It’s pretty amazing what they can do.”
Zeidman has pondered Staples’ scenarios for weeks, but he initially figured the building would get by without all three teams being home at the same time in May—until the first-round series for the Lakers and Clippers both dragged on to seven games.
“Not until Saturday, right before Laker tipoff (in Game 7 against Denver), did I realize that the NBA was going to schedule back-to-backs if (the Lakers and Clippers) won both series,” Zeidman said. “Nor in my wildest dreams did I ever think they would schedule a hockey playoff game before a basketball game.”
Indeed, it’s difficult enough to clean and prepare 1 million square feet of arena, including 168 luxury suites and 53 concession stands, twice in the same day. But the toughest of Staples Center’s three changeovers is going from hockey to basketball—and that’s not even including the potential of overtime hockey, which can go on indefinitely.
Zeidman breaks it down this way: A normal hockey game starting shortly after 12 p.m. ends about three hours later, but every overtime period the Kings and Coyotes might play on Sunday would add at least an extra hour onto the end of the game.
Even Staples Center’s experienced changeover crew needs 2 hours, 15 minutes to complete the switch from Kings ice to Clippers hardwood, dismantling the hockey boards and constructing the NBA floor on top of the beleaguered ice—and that’s not even estimating the time necessary to clean Staples Center’s seats and suites.
If the Kings and Coyotes played two full overtimes, Zeidman thinks the earliest Staples Center could be ready for the Spurs and Clippers to get on the court is 7 p.m. Even after a truncated 90 minutes of warmup and preparation, Game 4 of the NBA series might not get underway until 8:30 p.m. Pacific or later.
And if the NHL game goes longer, who knows how long the Spurs and Clippers could be cooling their heels in the locker room? The NBA and its broadcast partners haven’t let Staples Center know about a drop-dead time when the game would have to be rescheduled.
The NBA didn’t immediately respond to questions from The Associated Press about its decision-making process.
Between planning for breakfast food to be served when Staples opens its doors Sunday at 9 a.m. and working on two pedestrian bridges over Figueroa Street to ease fan traffic, Zeidman knows he’s in for a weekend he won’t soon forget. He’s still not sure he’ll have time to get home between games, either.
“I’ve slept here many a night in this building, so I’m going to take it night by night and figure it out,” Zeidman said with a chuckle. “While this is very exciting, it’s unprecedented, and we’re all looking forward to the challenge.”