Basketball’s most fabled empire lies to the west, in the heart of Southern California.
Bronze statues of men-turned-myth stand guard to the opulent palace of Los Angeles Lakers basketball that is the Staples Center.
If you watch the NBA without League Pass or SoCal Time Warner cable, you’ll catch the Lakers about 24 times or so this season, but even with the 10 pounds the camera adds, your television fails to truly capture the enormity of Purple and Gold Nation and its capitol building.
Last week, when the Sacramento Kings took on the Lakers, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to experience the Lakeshow in all of its glory.
If you’re a fan of the 29 teams that Kobe Bryant did not sign a massive extension with, then you probably (understandably) harbor ill-will for the Lakers—I highly recommend seeing them at home in-person regardless.
I was awestruck by the grandeur.
As you approach Staples Center, it gradually inflates until you are finally confronted with a behemoth of a sporting venue with towering glass walls that show off its massive inner-workings.
The premiere-level concourse felt more like the corridors of an opera house than a sporting event. Photos of notable past performances from musicians and athletes alike adorned the red walls that wrapped around the arena.
Halfway to my seat, there was a classy restaurant overlooking the court and serving delicious meals to fans in all kinds of purple and gold apparel. Hot dogs and soft pretzels be damned. Why not dine on an array of sushi at a neatly-set table before going to scream your tonsils out for some millionaire to dunk a ball … in the same location said screaming will soon commence?!
My jaw really dropped once I finally took my seat, though. From the inside, the size of the arena is overwhelming. The ceiling rises to unimaginable heights. Historic lore blended with present technology as my eyes slowly drifted from championship banners and retired jerseys to the top-of-the-line scoreboard hovering over the hardwood.
A classic organ provides most of the music, but even the organist caves and plays the LMFAO hit of the month. When he does, the band’s lead singer is actually there (to watch the game, like you) and puts on a quick show, performing an impromptu sideline version of his latest music video with Floyd Mayweather, Jr. looking on.
Basketball in the Staples Center is some twisted modern version of mass at the Vatican in its baroque medieval peak—and there’s no questioning who Los Angeles’ messiah is.
It’s difficult to grasp how much Kobe Bryant dominates and permeates both Lakers and Los Angeles culture without experiencing it in person. It’s a frightening thought, I’m sure, considering you know that he’s über popular and commands a cult-like following. In Los Angeles, though, it’s not so much a cult as a religion, a way of life.
His likeness is plastered everywhere. He’s on billboards around the city. He has ads for multiple businesses in the team program. Videos of him are played during introductions and throughout the game. Between No. 8s, Olympic No. 10s, current No. 24s and even custom “Black Mamba” designs, Bryant jerseys outnumber any other by the hundreds to one.
And he hasn’t even played this season.
You are somewhere that matters and you know it.
The Staples Center experience—between the decadence, enormity and entertainment—got me thinking about what it’s like going to a game in Sacramento.
You can probably fit a few Sleep Train Arenas into the Staples Center, or at least it feels that way. Sacramento’s seats and the concourse share a couple things in common: congestion and lack of comfort. The lower bowl stairs creek as you venture to your spot. The arena looks and feels like it’s stuck in the past.
But perhaps that’s what gives Sleep Train Arena its charm.
It’s on the quiet outskirts of town, but it bustles with life on game night. The inside is crowded, so seeing a game is communal and it can get louder than a jet turbine engine. The venue hasn’t changed since it was built in the 1980s—it’s oozing with nostalgia.
It’s human nature to compare the two, but I suppose it’s not a matter of whether one is better than the other. The point is that, in my limited experience, venues uniquely fit their locale, and that’s awesome.
Los Angeles was fun and there’s nothing quite like a game with an invested Sacramento crowd.
I can’t wait for the next stop, wherever that may be.