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Column: Lakers miss chance to end Staples Center era with meaningful win

Lakers star LeBron James goes up for a shot as Phoenix's Cameron Johnson and Landry Shamet look on.
Lakers star LeBron James goes up for a shot as Phoenix’s Cameron Johnson, bottom left, and Landry Shamet look on during the Lakers’ 108-90 loss Tuesday at Staples Center.
(Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)

The sign looms starkly over the Chick Hearn Court entrance, dressed in blue and white and ugly.

Crypto.com Arena,” it reads, the two words sandwiched around a symbol that looks like a skull.

Welcome to the last lingering days of Staples Center, these last few moments before a dazzling symbol of our city’s sporting greatness becomes something that sounds like a tomb.

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It’s the simple change of a name, but it feels like the somber end of an era.

As you walked inside under the new marquee Tuesday night, the place felt different. That might sound crazy, but it just did.

The Staples Center will become known as Crypto.com Arena as part of a new 20-year deal between the Singapore cryptocurrency exchange and AEG, owner of the home arena of the Los Angeles Lakers, Clippers, Kings and Sparks.

Bright reds are gradually being replaced by a creeping gloom. Some signage is now decorated in dark shades of crypto blue. Twenty-two years of memories are slowly disappearing under what appears to be a collection of bones.

The switch to Crypto.com Arena is officially happening on Christmas Day, so in Tuesday night’s last marquee game, it was incumbent on the building’s marquee tenant to send Staples Center into a glowing sunset.

The Lakers lost to the Phoenix Suns by 18.

The Lakers were an injury-and-COVID-depleted team playing a league-best team in a lame duck building, and it showed.

The usual sellout crowd didn’t materialize. There were patches of empty seats everywhere. Even more startling, barely half of the fans were wearing masks. It’s truly amazing how, during a time when the Lakers team is being continually depleted by COVID, their fans are continually ignoring it.

A statue of legendary Lakers broadcaster Chick Hearn outside Staples Center.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

With the exception of LeBron James, the Lakers also didn’t materialize. Carmelo Anthony was thrown out after playing just 16 minutes because he kept arguing with the refs. Russell Westbrook was booed because he couldn’t keep his shot straight. Frank Vogel was still missing because of COVID.

Talen Horton-Tucker, returning after three COVID-missed games, made one of 13 shots. Isaiah Thomas, who was just signed last week, made one of 11 shots.

The Lakers will close out their Staples story Thursday against the San Antonio Spurs, so this game against the Suns was their best chance to bid Staples a meaningful goodbye. Yet after a rousing first half, they were terrible, and they continue to hover around the .500 mark, and you have to start wondering, even when injured folks such as Anthony Davis get back on the court, how good can they be?

It says here, even at their best, they’re mediocre at best.

Talent Horton-Tucker and Isaiah Thomas struggle as LeBron James battles through an injury scare in the Lakers’ 108-90 loss to the Phoenix Suns.

Yet James, who scored 34 points in 34 minutes against the Suns, continues to hold out hope.

“We have no idea what this team can be,” he said. “I can’t remember the last time we played the same starting lineup and had the same rotation coming off the bench. It’s been a long time. So, it’s hard to assess that.”

Easier to assess is that the arena sponsorship change will initially be hard to swallow.

Yes, the new name, which comes from a $700-million-plus sponsorship deal with a Singapore cryptocurrency exchange, will eventually become as familiar as Staples.

After all, folks thought they would never get accustomed to Metta World Peace, but who remembers Ron Artest?

But that doesn’t mean this isn’t hard. That doesn’t mean this isn’t weird. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t bittersweet watching the Lakers play under the Staples Center moniker Tuesday night and remembering more than two decades worth of nights.

It was across the twin red Staples Center logos that Kobe Bryant danced during his 60-point retirement gift.

Lakers star Kobe Bryant gestures toward the crowd at Staples Center following the final game of his career on April 13, 2016.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

It was over a red Staples Center logo that Shaquille O’Neal rumbled after completing the ally-oop dunk from Bryant in the 2000 Western Conference finals that started it all.

When Bryant climbed on the scorer’s table and thrust his hands in the air amid a shower of confetti after the 2010 Game 7 Finals win against the Boston Celtics, it was Staples Center that screamed with him.

When Vanessa Bryant delivered Bryant’s eulogy 10 years later, it was Staples Center that cried with her.

Robert Horry sank and strutted at Staples. Bryant went for 81 at Staples. Artest heard thousands screaming at him not to shoot, and he shot it anyway at Staples.

The building is owned by the Kings, who won two Stanley Cup championships here in 2012 and 2014. It is also inhabited by the WNBA Sparks, who also won three titles while playing here. The Clippers were the other main tenant, and they advanced as far as the Western Conference finals only once here, but, hey, it was here that Blake Griffin dunked over a car.

For 22 years, Staples Center became such a constant source of pride and entertainment for all factions of the sporting community that it was on a first-name basis with its city.

The Clippers have not embraced Crypto.com Arena, the new name for Staples Center after AEG inked a naming rights deal worth more than $700 million.

You never went to Staples Center. You always just went to Staples.

Meet me at Staples! Let’s go check out the action down at Staples! Did you hear what happened last night at Staples?

It’s hard to imagine the same enthusiasm being shown for the new sponsor.

Meet me at the Crypt. Let’s go check out the action down at Crypto. Did you hear what happened last night at Crypto.com?

Next thing you know, they’ll be calling the adjoining entertainment plaza “L.A. Dead.”


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