A Wild Life It Could Be With Ducks and Grizzlies at Pond


This time it’s real.

This time there is an actual NBA team that wants to leave its home.

For the record:

12:00 a.m. Feb. 15, 2001 For the Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday February 15, 2001 Home Edition Sports Part D Page 4 Sports Desk 1 inches; 17 words Type of Material: Correction
Pond--The owner of the Arrowhead Pond was misidentified in a column Wednesday. The Pond is owned by the city of Anaheim.

Michael Heisley, owner of the Vancouver Grizzlies, doesn’t want a new arena, new luxury boxes, a bigger cut of the revenues, less rain, more sun, fewer fans who say, “Eh.” Heisley wants nothing from Vancouver. He just wants to leave and take his NBA team with him.

So this time the city of Anaheim and Ogden Entertainment, owner of the Arrowhead Pond, don’t have to worry about being doormats for the wealthy. This is not the Houston Rockets trying to browbeat a city and state into building it a fancier home.

This is opportunity knocking.

Orange County has a chance to grab the NBA.

We could start making jokes. We could kid around about how the Grizzlies and the Clippers would have this great natural rivalry every year--which awful team will have the most lottery chances.


We could speculate about how, if the Clippers and Grizzlies combined talent--take a pinch of Lamar Odom, a spoonful of Michael Bibby, a cup of Shareef Abdur-Rahim, a sprinkling of Darius Miles--we’d have the best young team in the league.

Don’t do that.

Let’s be serious.

James Ruth, Anaheim’s city manager, said, “We’re definitely interested. We feel this is a great venue and a great city. We look forward to some serious discussions.”

Let’s hope so.

The NBA might not be the coolest thing around right now. TV ratings are down. The All-Star game caused no buzz. Attendance in many places is down. The NBA went to Canada, to Toronto and Vancouver, and found out nobody really cared.

But Sacramento has an NBA team. So does Salt Lake City. The Jazz, you know. The team that used to play in New Orleans and failed. Now New Orleans wants to think it is leading the race to get the Grizzlies. Great. A one-time loser with the best nickname already gone.

Louisville, Memphis, San Diego, Nashville, St. Louis. All these cities are lined up to bid for Vancouver’s team. None of them have the corporate muscle, the wealthy population base, of Orange County.

The Pond might not be the newest arena around any more. It’s 8 years old. But Pond General Manager Tim Ryan says the Pond is “an 8-year-old building which looks 2 years old. And it’s the perfect size for the NBA.”


Good point, Tim. And good idea. Sell the positive and start selling now.

Ryan can also sell this. When the Clippers were a part-time tenant at the Pond, from 1994 to 1999, the gosh-awful team averaged 14,830 fans a game. Who knows why Donald Sterling, the Clipper owner, didn’t have the sense to move his team south, where it could be top dog instead of just a dog.

When Ryan talks to Heisley, Ryan can hand over a feasibility study, a well-researched, seriously-thick document that can be summed up like this:

We’ve had the NBA. It worked.

New Orleans had the NBA. It broke. New Orleans has a 2-year-old arena, built, as the Pond was, to attract an NBA team. The arena has a mouthy general manager, Doug Thornton, who held a news conference immediately upon learning Heisley wanted to move his team. At the news conference, Thornton was careful to point out all the negatives of other interested cities.

Heisley has been quoted in Vancouver newspapers as saying he is wary of going to a city where he would be a secondary tenant in a building that already has an NHL team. So the Pond probably won’t be No. 1 on the list.

But Heisley shouldn’t be wary of coming into a market that has billionaires such as Broadcom’s Henry Nicholas who seem to love sports. Nicholas got talked out of buying the Angels but maybe he, or another local billionaire--there seem to be several around here--would like to put money into an NBA team.

And Heisley should think what fun it might be to stick it to the Clippers and Sterling.

The Clippers should be worried about the NBA coming to the Pond. On Tuesday afternoon, as talk about the Grizzly move hit local talk radio, an Orange County small-business owner talked about his 20-something son. The son has a partial season-ticket plan to Clipper games because he couldn’t afford the Lakers and because he likes to watch NBA stars--you know, the ones on the other team.


Want to bet there are more than a few of those fans who will be happy not to drive to the Staples Center for their NBA fix?

“There’s lots of great cities interested in NBA basketball,” Ryan said Tuesday, “but there’s only one city I know of that has done such an extensive feasibility study. All of those reports you would use to try and convince people you have a viable market, those have already been done here with the Clippers.”

In other words, our feasibility study was a real-time experiment with an almost-real NBA team. Orange County liked it.

Anaheim Mayor Tom Daly said Tuesday that “Anaheim has done pretty well, as the smallest city in America with a major league baseball team. Our eyes are wide open. We won’t allow ourselves to be used. But the building is there and it’s a great building. We do have redevelopment resources available. It’s too soon to be talking about money now, though.”

Daly had to hurry off to a city council meeting. There was a serious immigration issue on the agenda. No, not about a Canadian team invading Orange County. Disney is not going to guard the borders. But maybe Disney should.

Because if the NBA comes to the Pond, secondary tenant or not, the pressure will be on the Ducks. Given the choice between bad NBA basketball or bad NHL hockey, Orange County fans will choose NBA basketball. The study has been done.



Diane Pucin can be reached at her e-mail address: