LOS ANGELES — A crew of about 35 event floor employees at Staples Center waited for Thursday’s NHL Western Conference finals game between the Los Angeles Kings and Phoenix Coyotes to end, so that their grueling 2½-hour exercise could begin: The Los Angeles Lakers’ hardwood and hoops needed to be placed over the worn-down ice in preparation for Friday’s NBA Western Conference semifinal game against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The prospect of hosting playoff games in the same arena on consecutive nights is rare for most cities — especially since only 10 have hockey and basketball sharing the same building. But for the Staples Center, the most chaotic and riveting sporting spectacle ever witnessed in one building will just be starting once Jack Nicholson and Denzel Washington exit the premises. Over the next 48 hours, the event floor will be changed four more times — from Lakers to Clippers, Clippers to Lakers, Lakers to Kings and back to Clippers. In all, Staples Center will have hosted six playoff games in about 80 hours.
“This is unprecedented, in the history of any arena, I believe, in the United States,” said Lee Zeidman, Staples Center’s senior vice president and general manager. “And it will never be duplicated anywhere else.”
On Sunday, the sports world will revolve around the corner of South Figueroa Street and Chick Hearn Court, because in addition to a hectic Kings to Clippers changeover, the final leg of the country’s largest stage cycling race, the Tour of California, will end near Staples Center, with tens of thousands of fans awaiting the finish.
About three miles away from Staples, the first-place Dodgers will host the defending world champion St. Louis Cardinals. And the defending MLS champion Galaxy will play rival Chivas in the “SuperClasico” in Carson, Calif., contributing to a hectic day for sports fans in the city. The WNBA’s Los Angeles Sparks had their scheduled home opener pushed back to Tuesday to accommodate the madness.
“I’d argue there’s been no better time in our city’s history to be an L.A. sports fan than now,” Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said. “We have the Clippers, Lakers and Kings all in the playoffs at the same time and the Dodgers are comfortably in first place. This weekend will be absolutely electric in the area around Staples Center. It doesn’t get much more exciting for our fans, our local businesses and our local teams.”
After this weekend, the Staples Center will have hosted 17 hockey and basketball postseason games this season. “There are buildings that don’t do that many in years,” Zeidman said. “It’s a phenomenal feat.”
The extra traction should help the arena overcome the losses it incurred after missing out on 16 combined regular home games for the Lakers and Clippers because of the lockout.
Staples Center was probably hardest hit, since it is the only arena with two NBA teams.
The compressed schedule also left open the chance for back-to-back games in the second round of the playoffs, which became the case when both the Clippers and Lakers played seven games in their first-round series. The Lakers will play Oklahoma City on Friday and Saturday, while the Clippers will play the San Antonio Spurs on Saturday and Sunday.
“This has obviously been an arena manager’s dream to have all his teams in the playoffs. I’d love it to go one more step: I’d love the Lakers and Clippers to beat Oklahoma City and San Antonio - which is a tough challenge for both of them - and play each other in the Western Conference finals,” Zeidman said.
Zeidman would also like to see Staples Center become the third building in the past 20 years to host the NBA Finals and the Stanley Cup finals, along with Madison Square Garden (New York Rangers and New York Knicks in 1994) and Continental Airlines Arena (New Jersey Devils and New Jersey Nets in 2003).
With 168 luxury suites and 53 concession stands, the job of getting a 1-million-square-foot arena cleaned, restocked with food and prepared for another throng of 20,000 different fans is complicated. “Let’s just hope the Kings end on time. If it doesn’t, all bets are off,” Zeidman said with a laugh.
Staples Center is otherwise well-prepared, having done 127 double-header conversions since the building opened, including 19 so far this season. But nothing will compare to what’s in store this weekend. “This will be the wildest,” Zeidman said.