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Check It Out, This Is Bear Country

This is so right.

Orange County Grizzlies. Or Smoothies. Or Surfies. Or whatever you want to call our maybe soon-to-be NBA team.

With sports today it usually doesn’t happen this way. The right time, the right arena, the right team--right team being any team with a negative checkbook balance, an antsy owner and a moving van parked outside.

But when the Vancouver Grizzlies’ owner, Michael Heisley, came real estate shopping Tuesday in Anaheim, he should have noticed something. This is the place to put his NBA team. And he should buy a hockey team too.

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While Heisley did express concerns about the lease Disney has with the Pond, the owners of Mickey Mouse--and, no, we’re not referring only to the Mickey Mouse hockey team--do seem ready to negotiate their Pond lease.

Heisley should, therefore, have on his “to-do” list taking that Mighty Duck team off Disney’s incapable hands.

Two Disney-owned professional sports teams in Orange County is at least one too many. Maybe Disney, its sporting attention focused on only the Angels, might figure out how to make that team a real contender.

Let Heisley have the Pond synergy. Let Heisley sell and market the two winter sports franchises. Let the Ducks be the second tenant. The small core of serious hockey fans is never going to be expanded.

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Now that the newness of the Ducks is gone, now that the thrill of movie tie-ins and flashy promotions is so over, now that nothing is left but a dreadful team, there is no cachet to being a Duck fan.

There will always be basketball fans here. That was proved when the Clippers averaged nearly 15,000 a night as a part-time Pond tenant. It didn’t matter that the Clippers were horrible. What was being played was a game most people understand and enjoy.

And for Heisley’s consideration, here are a few other suggestions.

If it’s true that St. Louis is out of the picture, as has been reported, if it’s also true that New Orleans, Louisville, Memphis and Las Vegas are your chief suitors, let’s be serious. Orange County offers more people, more corporations, more big spenders, more national and international economic clout. It just needs to be courted.

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Don’t call your team the Anaheim anythings. It should be the Orange County somethings.

This team should belong not to Disney, not to Anaheim, not to Heisley but to this most diverse, prosperous, populous place. The Angels have always seemed to be Gene Autry’s team, even now, nearly three years after the Cowboy died. The Ducks have always been the Disney team named after a movie. Without the movie, would there have even been a Mighty Ducks?

But an NBA team, it should be ours.

Let’s not think of it as the third L.A.-area NBA franchise but as the biggest sports thing going in Orange County from September until April.

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Those of you who keep saying the NBA will never allow a third L.A. team, stop. The NBA would have much preferred the Clippers at the Pond. David Stern can’t make Donald Sterling move his team where it belongs, but Stern isn’t going to help Sterling by keeping another team from moving in. Heisley even said Tuesday that he wouldn’t have visited Anaheim if he thought Stern would veto the move.

And besides, this won’t be an L.A. team. Heisley’s team can come to a place with 3 million people. Heisley’s team can market itself south. San Diego used to have an NBA team and it still has lots of NBA fans. Welcome them to the Pond.

The Clippers? Who cares?

The Grizzlies’ owner will certainly hear from the people in New Orleans and Louisville about our blase fan attitude. He will be told that Silent Sunday could be the marketing tag for the Pond during hockey season.

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But Heisley should hear about the Bren Center. UC Irvine is dancing its way through an unexpectedly fabulous college basketball season and suddenly it is standing-room-only to see the Anteaters. The Angels have let us down over and over but still the baseball team draws well over 2 million a season.

There are lots of sports fans here. They came to see the Clippers. Many still go to L.A. to see the Clippers. They’ll stay home to see their own team.

What Heisley saw Tuesday was an arena that isn’t brand new but close enough. It is an arena built for the NBA, waiting for the NBA, begging for the NBA. He saw a county filled with office buildings that are filled with financiers, technology experts, entrepreneurs. Individuals with disposable income. Companies with young executives who love to spend time in luxury boxes. It is a place where Heisley should have felt comfortable.

If the NBA isn’t the trendiest thing going right now, neither is Orange County. Orange County isn’t on the cutting edge of culture, and that’s good for an NBA team. The NBA won’t be a fad for Orange County fans. The NHL was.

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And if you want to see the negatives, if you want to think the NBA isn’t worth having now that Michael Jordan is gone, if all you think you see are selfish, squabbling millionaire champions (shut up already, Shaq and Kobe), please look again.

Sit down and watch Allen Iverson some evening. It is almost as much fun as it was to watch Jordan. Take a peek at Sacramento. Hey, Chris Webber might be available. He would never consider the Vancouver Grizzlies, but substitute Orange County for Vancouver and maybe he’d want to play with Mike Bibby and Shareef Abdur-Rahim. And that would be fun to talk about.

No matter its problems, can anyone argue that the NBA hasn’t been good to Salt Lake City or Indianapolis? The nation’s neatest arena, Conseco Fieldhouse, was built for the Pacers. Karl Malone and John Stockton have made Salt Lake cooler than anyone had ever imagined.

So, Orange County, open up your checkbooks and make Heisley feel at home. And, Mr. Heisley, be smart, be sensible. Do you want your second home to be in Louisville or Newport Beach? New Orleans or Laguna Beach?

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Diane Pucin can be reached at her e-mail address: diane.pucin@latimes.com.


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