Fans Get a Room With a View

TIMES STAFF WRITER

No stargazing. No courtside seats. No Lakers, for that matter.

No problem.

About 10,000 paying customers showed up at Staples Center on Sunday to root on their team from afar, watching Game 3 on the four 16-by-30-foot scoreboard screens.

Four thousand tickets were sold at the door--$10 for adults, $5 for kids--making it the largest walk-up crowd for any event in the arena's history. The lower bowl was filled, the middle section was half-filled, and many people sat in the upper deck. Even a few of the luxury suites were occupied.

"It's a different crowd today," said Santa Clarita's Mike Friscia, sitting in the nosebleeds with two of his sons. "These are the true Laker fans. . . . A lot of people come [to traditional Laker games] because it's a who's-who thing. The people that came today are the true fans--the ones who should be getting the tickets."

The event was fashioned to feel like a Laker playoff game in every way. There were videotaped player introductions (complete with laser show), thumping music and performances by the Laker Girls during timeouts. The lights were dimmed, making the screens especially vivid.

When the Lakers won, streamers were released from the ceiling, as they would be after any home victory.

"It makes you feel like you're really at the game," said Leon Fowler, who brought his wife, son and daughter. "It's my first time at Staples Center and it's actually even better than I thought. The atmosphere is alive."

So were the cash registers. Parking was $10, and many of the concession stands were open. All told, Fowler spent between $50-$60.

"It's clearly worth it," he said.

He got no argument from Isaac Arsenault, a Shaquille O'Neal look-alike--albeit a foot shorter--who was sitting in the front row with a group of friends. He attended the event last year, when tickets were free and it was festival seating. This time, fans got seat assignments.

"I wanted to come here and celebrate with all my Laker fans," he said. "If they win it on the road, it's going to be a party here."

The Los Angeles Police Department has beefed up its presence, even when games are played in Philadelphia, to avert an encore of last year's destructive melee when the Lakers won the title. Sunday, police blocked off the streets surrounding the arena to make things safer for people heading to their cars.

One change inside the building was the courtside seats were removed. Staples security guards sat in chairs that ringed the court and faced the crowd. Arena officials decided to do away with the prime seats because there was no fair way to distribute them and fans sitting there wouldn't get a clear view of the scoreboard screens, anyway.

Of course, that wouldn't have bothered Arsenault.

"If I had a chance to sit in Jack Nicholson's seat, I would have been there in a heartbeat," he said. "His seat is the bomb. I'd take the stiff neck."

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