Take a trip down memory lane — what’s your top Staples Center memories from the first 20 years?
By Tom Hoffarth
Staples Center has gone platinum, for those who aren’t sure about the proper gift to present for someone’s 20th anniversary.
The date falls on Oct. 17, with a Kings’ game against Buffalo for some saber rattling. We often overlook these sort of celebratory moments. Not this time.
We’ve got the “centerpiece” story in the current issue of the Los Angeles Business Journal (the first quarter of it linked here) about how those who were around from well beyond the groundbreaking can’t believe the $32 billion economic impact the arena has had on the downtown South Park area.
We’ve noted in our latest L.A. Times weekly column our favorite life-intimidates-media moment from “Curb Your Enthusiasm” in 2001 (here’s even more background), followed by a Lakers-Clippers game in 2017. The “Shaq” episode also made it on TheRinger.com’s 2017 list of the top “Curb Your Enthusiasm” shows of all time… as it should be.
AEG just ended a contest asking fans to vote for the Top 20 moments in the arena’s first 20 years. In 2010, it had a list of the Top 25 events to date, and a fan vote to bring it the Top 10 .
We’ve got our own lists. Not just the coolest sports moments, but also the non-sports category. How does this sound?
TOP 20 SPORTS MOMENTS OF STAPLES CENTER’S FIRST 20 YEARS
= May 17-20, 2012: For the first time in the facility’s history, its three NBA and NHL tenants make the playoffs and as a result, six playoff games must be scheduled over a four-day period. The Kings-Phoenix NHL Western Conference finals Games 3 and 4 happen May 17 and 20. The Lakers-Oklahoma City NBA Western Conference semifinals Games 3 and 4 go on Friday and Saturday nights. The Clippers-San Antonio NBA Western Conference semifinals Games 3 and 4 are wedged in Saturday afternoon and Sunday night. Also on Sunday, some 120 cyclists reach the finish line of the Tour of California just outside Staples Center. The New York Times notes it might be “the most intense concentration of elite competition in a single arena in modern history – or in ‘any building in the history of the world,’ quipped Michael Roth, the Staples Center spokesman.”
Add to this: What many don’t recall is that the Kings-Coyotes game on Sunday afternoon could have presented a problem. Phoenix won 2-0 in regulation to avoid elimination, but the arena had to be cleared and a new 18,000-plus admitted before the Clippers game.
Staples Center general manager Lee Zeidman explains: “Those six games in four days was the perfect storm. What many don’t understand is how it could have massively gone wrong. I warned the NBA and NHL, ‘You’re not going to a playoff hockey game in front of a playoff basketball game, are you?’ They said they had to because of the broadcasters. There is no five minute overtime and then a shootout in playoff hockey. It could go on for hours. If it did, we would have had to cancel the Clippers-Spurs game, and likely move it to Monday, which would have pushed back the Lakers Game 5. But they rolled the dice. It was a stressful weekend. I gave the NBA and NHL until 4:30 p.m. (after a noon start) as a cutoff time from the hockey game ending to get the turnaround for the basketball game. Fortunately, it went off. Without a hitch. And the rest was history.”
= June 4, 2000: The Lakers’ 89-84 win over Portland in Game 7 of the Western Conference final is punctuated by an alley-oop pass from Kobe Bryant to Shaquille O’Neal, finishing with a dunk with 40 seconds to play. The Lakers trailed by 15 points with 10:28 remaining before that comeback.
= June 19, 2000: Shaquille O’Neal scores 41 points with 10 rebounds and Kobe Bryant has 26 points and 10 rebounds as the Lakers knock off the Indiana Pacers, 116-111, in Game 6 of the NBA Finals to claim their first title under coach Phil Jackson, the franchise’s first title since 1988. O’Neal is the NBA Finals MVP for the first of three years in a row. There was some disruption after the game ended — those inside Staples Center were prevented from exiting for a time as some unruly fans in the street had lit a police car on fire. But any sort of dangerous scenario was squashed quickly.
“Right after we opened we hosted the Democratic National Convention, and that allowed us to forge strong relationships with the LAPD, L.A. Fire, the FBI, the Secret Service, the Department of Homeland Security,” said Zeidman. “We had great connections and let these agencies come in and train before these events.”
The team victory parade on June 21 above shows the crowds filling in the parking lots around Staples Center — now occupied by L.A. Live and other structures.
= Jan. 22, 2006: Kobe Bryant sets an arena record and a career-high with an 81-point game in a win against Toronto. He made 28 of 46 shots, including seven 3-pointers, to go with 18 free throws. It is the second-most points scored by one player in an NBA game behind Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game in 1962.
= June 11, 2012: The Kings’ 6-1 win over New Jersey in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final caps off their first NHL championship and finishes a 12-2 playoff run as the Western Conference’s improbable long-shot eighth seeded position. It ends their 44-season drought, the longest wait in NHL history for a franchise’s first Cup. Kings goalie Jonathan Quick is the Conn Smythe winner as playoff MVP.
= June 14, 2014: Alec Martinez’ goal in the second overtime boosts the Kings past the New York Rangers, 3-2, in Game 5 to lock down the second Stanley Cup win in three seasons. It is the first time the home team had an overtime Stanley Cup clincher since 1980. The Kings’ Justin Williams is named winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy.
= April 18, 2001: “The Frenzy on Figueroa” is the outcome of the Kings’ 4-3 overtime win over Detroit in Game 4 of the Western Conference quarterfinals on Eric Belanger’s goal from Adam Deadmarsh, come back from a 3-0 deficit deep into the third period and on the verge of elimination. They won Game 6 five nights later back at Staples Center 3-2 in overtime and advanced in the playoffs for the first time since a run to the final in 1993.
= Aug. 1, 2006: At X Games 12, Travis Pastana lands a double back flip on a motorcycle, the first ever, during the MotoX Best Trick competition. He earns a 98.60 score, the highest in the competition. He is the third athlete to win three gold medals in a single X Games, including MotoX Freestyle, and Rally Car Racing.
= June 17, 2010: The Lakers’ 83-79 win in Game 7 of the NBA Finals over the Boston Celtics, backed by Kobe Bryant’s 23 points and secured by Ron Artest’s late 3-pointer, captures the franchise’s second title in a row, but their last to this point.
= Oct, 9, 2002: A bronze statue of Wayne Gretzky is unveiled in the Staples Center courtyard and becomes the first player honored. It is followed up by statues of Magic Johnson (2004), Oscar De La Hoya (2008), Chick Hearn (2010), Jerry West (2011), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (2012), Luc Robitaille (2015), Shaquille O’Neal (2017), Bob Miller (2018) and Elgin Baylor (2018).
Said Zeidman: “People ask: How do you decided who to pick for the statues and decide where they go? It’s very simple. The teams come to us, they have their idea, as a company and venue we are 100 percent behind it, so let’s walk outside and pick a spot.”
= Feb. 28, 2015: In UFC 184, the first ultimate fight card at the arena since UFC 104 in 2009, local “Rowdy” Ronda Rousey defends her woman’s bantamweight title with a 14-second arm bar submission of Cat Zingano, the quickest end in a UFC championship history. There are 17,654 in attendance. The organization returns to Staples Center with UFC 227 in 2018.
= April 13, 2016: Kobe Bryant’s 1,346th and final regular-season game happens against Utah, finishing up the worst three-year stretch in franchise history. Bryant responds with a 60-point game to end his 20-year career.
= June 17, 2000: Local Olympic hero Oscar de la Hoya defends his WBC welterweight championship against Pomona’s Sugar Shane Mosely in the first-ever boxing card at Staples Center, billed as “Destiny.” Mosley’s split decision victory nearly leads De La Hoya into near retirement with his $15 million payday. Mosley, who took home $4.5 million, also won a decision in their rematch three years later in Las Vegas.
= Jan. 24, 2009: In front of an arena record of 20,820, “Sugar” Shane Mosley keeps his WBA super heavyweight title from Antonio Margarito with a ninth round TKO. It also makes the 37-year-old, who came in as a 4-1 underdog, the top-ranked welterweight.
= Aug. 11, 2001: The Sparks 82-54 win over Charlotte in Game 2 of the best-of-three final secures their first WNBA title in the league’s fifth season of operation. It caps off a season where the Sparks went 16-0 at home, finished 28-4, and won six of their seven playoff games. Lisa Leslie was the WNBA’s regular-season and finals MVP. Leslie and the Sparks repeat with a 69-66 win over New York in the WNBA title game at Staples Center on Aug. 23, 2002.
= Feb. 15, 2004: In the first of three NBA All Star game played at the arena, and 53rd oveall, the West defeats the East, 136-132, lead by Shaquille O’Neal’s 24 points and 11 rebounds, winning the MVP award. Most memorable performance? Beyonce, at halftime, before 19,662. The event returns to Staples Center in 2011, a 148-143 win by the West as Kobe Bryant is game MVP, and in 2018, when a squad led by game MVP LeBron James posts a 148-145 win over a team picked by Stephen Curry.
= Jan. 6-13, 2002: Michelle Kwan and Todd Eldredge win the women’s and men’s titles at the U.S. World Figure Skating Championships, the first and only time it has been a host to the event as it set the U.S. team for the upcoming Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. Sarah Hughes, second to Sasha Cohen at the U.S. championships, ended up winning Olympic gold with Kwan finishing third.
= March 7-9, 2002: USC makes it to the first Pac-10 Conference Basketball Tourament final, losing to Arizona, 81-71, as the conference revives the event following an 11-season absence. Arizona’s Luke Walton is the event’s Most Outstanding Player, before a capacity crowd of 18,997 in the final (67,819 attending seven games over three days). The event ends up at Staples Center for 11 straight seasons, reaching an overall attendance record of 84,447 (in nine games) during Oregon’s run to the title in 2007, before it is moved to Las Vegas.
= Nov. 6, 2002: Kim Clijsters upsets top-ranked Serena Williams 7-5, 6-3 to win the $3 million WTA Tour Championship at Staples Center, the first of three years in a row. Clijsters also wins it in 2003 and Maria Sharapova wins it in 2004, also over Williams.
= The series of “firsts”:
= Oct. 20, 1999: First Kings regular season hockey game, vs. Boston.
= Nov. 2, 1999: Clippers first regular-season game, vs. Seattle
= Nov. 3, 1999: Lakers first regular-season game, vs. Vancouver
= April 9, 2000: The Los Angeles Avengers of the Arena Football League make their home debut with a 54-48 win over the Oklahoma Wranglers before 15,928.
= June 5, 2001: First Sparks regular-season game, vs. Cleveland.
= July 30, 2002: Lisa Leslie is the first in WNBA history to dunk during a game.
TOP 20 NON-SPORTS MOMENTS OF STAPLES CENTER’S FIRST 20 YEARS
= Oct. 17, 1999: Bruce Springsteen opens Staples Center with four concerts (through Oct. 23) as part of his “Reunion Tour.” After noting the sound onstage was good, he points out to the skyboxes around the place and remarks about how there are too many of them, and they’re too low. Besides, he says, “you’re supposed to come out of your room to see a rock ‘n’ roll show.”
His set list at this link.
= July 7, 2009: Twelve days after his death, a memorial service was held at Staples Center for Michael Jackson, where songs are performed by Mariah Carey, Stevie Wonder, Lionel Richie, Jennifer Hudson, Usher and Jermaine Jackson, Eulogies were given by Berry Gordy, Brooke Shields and Smokey Robinson. Queen Latifah read “We Had Him,” a poem written for the service by Maya Angelou. Jackson’s family gave the final eulogies. His daughter, Paris, tearfully told the crowd: “I just want to say, ever since I was born, Daddy has been the best father you could ever imagine. And I just want to say I love him… so much.” AEG gave away 17,500 free tickets through a lottery of more than 1.2 million applicants in a 24 hour period.
Zeidman offers what he remembers of that period: “Michael Jackson was rehearsing at the Forum, and AEG was going to promote his comeback concerts at the 02 Arena in London, another AEG venue. They needed to move him from the Forum into a bigger venue, so he rehearsed a couple nights at Staples Center. I was in Vegas with some people from the Lakers as we were celebrating the just-finished season and got a call about Michael Jackson passing away. We had to lock down the venue and no one got into take photos or steal props. There was a period of time working with the family to determine what they wanted to do. They talked about a service at Neverland, or Dodger Stadium or the Coliseum. Then it was decided that Staples Center would hold it about July 8 – but I told my bosses that we had the Ringling Brothers, Barnum & Bailey Circus coming in right about the same time. We had to figure out how to delay the circus, to get the Michael Jackson production in, get the circus animals in and sheltered behind everything we were doing prior to putting this on. We figured out how to do the elephant walk into arena at 3 a.m. before the press was set up at 6 a.m. for the memorial, then worked with the city of L.A. on how we could do it. We pulled it off. Once that memorial was done, we flipped it and got the circus in.”
= Feb. 23, 2000: The Grammy Awards come to Staples Center for the first time. Christina Aguilera wins best new artist over Britney Spears and Kid Rock. Elton John sings “Philadelphia Freedom” with the Backstreet Boys and Santana’s “Supernatural” is album of the year. Maybe the event is best known for Jennifer Lopez’ iconic low-cut green dress. Staples Center is the Grammy home from 2000-2002, then 2004-2017, then 2019 and schedule to stay through at least 2021.
Note photo above for the Feb. 13, 2005 event: Limos park in the lots across the street from Staples Center, an area now filled with L.A. Live.
= Aug. 14-17, 2000: The Democratic National Convention saw Al Gore nominated as the party’s presidential candidate. Notable speakers included Bill Clinton, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Ted Kennedy.
= Sept. 9-15, 2001: Madonna’s “Drowned World Tour” arrives for four shows, before and after the 9/11 attacks.
Said Zeidman: “I was in the building on 9/11 when I watched everything unfolding, and at that time, no one knew where the planes were going. There was speculation they were coming to Los Angeles. We got everyone out of the arena and maybe just me and a couple others who stayed in there. We worked with the promoter Live Nation and we decided when it was time to resume the concerts afterward with increased security measures. We had a couple bomb threats phoned in that evening that we took seriously. We had some soul searching and we talked to Madonna’s people, the LAPD and everyone and asked: Do we feel safe? We did, and we went on with the show.”
= Jan. 25-26, 2008: Country music superstar Garth Brooks performs an unprecedented five shows in two days to benefit firefighters and wildfire victims in Southern California. The shows sold out in less than an hour and raised more than $9 million for the “Southern California 2008 Fire Relief Campaign,” with proceeds distributed by the McCormick Tribune Foundation.
= Aug. 21, 2015: Taylor Swift has a banner raised in her honor in the Staples Center rafters honoring “Most Sold Out Performances,” unfurled with Kobe Bryant on stage to announce it. The reference is to her “1989 World Tour” for her album, where Staples Center recognized that she had 16 sold out concerts, including five on that trip.
= April 5-6 and Nov. 1-2, 2005: U2’s Vertigo Tour has four sold-out shows to promote its “How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb” album. Sets a record for largest concert attendance at the arena with 20,382.
= Nov. 20, 2006: Barbara Streisand sets the record for highest grossing concert at $5.45 million.
= April 16-17, and Sept. 23, 2009: Britney Spears’ “Circus Tour” arrive. The stops in April generate more than $4 million in revenue, with one more bringing $1.16 million.
= Feb. 6, 2003: Former President Bill Clinton introduces the Rolling Stones at a free concert for the Natural Resources Defense Council. The Stones circle back in May, 2013 as part of their 50th anniversary tour.
= April 3, 2005: WrestleMania 21 – known as “WrestleMania Goes Hollywood” — is the first held at Staples Center, and a record 20,193 tickets sell out in less than one minute, the fastest in WWE history. Highlights included Batista defeating Triple H to win the World Heavyweight Championship, and John Cena pinning John “Bradshaw” Layfield for the WWE Championship. With a $2.1 million in ticket sales, it’s the highest grossing WWE event at Staples Center.
= March 29/May 26 and 28/June 3 and 5, 2004: Prince’s “Musicology Tour” has five shows.
= Dec. 31, 2015: Motley Crue performs its last tour show ever.
= Aug. 21, 2016: Adele sets a record for most shows in one run with eight performances.
= Aug. 7-9, 2009: Jonas Brothers World Tour with a 140-foot stage in the center of the arena.
= April 11, 2019: A three-hour memorial service for slain rapper Nipsey Hussle draws 20,000. It includes a letter from President Barack Obama, who praised him as a symbol of hope, a eulogy from the Nation of Islam minister Louis Farrakhan and a performance by Stevie Wonder, who called for gun control and an end to violence.
= August 9, 2002: A public memorial service is held for Chick Hearn, allowing fans into Staples Center to walk past his broadcast seat.
Said Zeidman: “Between Microsoft Theater and Staples Center, I think we’re the only venues to have held four major memorial services — Michael Jackson, Chick Hearn, longtime Grammy producer John Cossett (April, 2011), and then Nipsey Hussle.”
== More media memories: June 27, 1999 — Episode 4 of HBO’s “Arli$$” called “People Are Assets Too” centers around how agent Arliss Michaels is panicked that the Lakers’ move for the Forum to Staples Center may cut him off from his limited court-side seats due to ticket holders with more seniority. Arliss tries to recruit Lakers owner Jerry Buss, along with Dyan Cannon, Chick Hearn, Stu Lantz and Kurt Rambis, into helping him keep his place of prestige as the arena is about to open.
== Other movies and TV stuff featuring Staples Center at one point or another:
= “The Tooth Fairy” (2010) with Dwayne Johnson and Ashley Judd, Julie Andrews
used the ice rink
= “Fighting With My Family” (2019) with Dwayne Johnson
= “Poseidon” (2006) with Richard Dreyfuss, Kurt Russell and Josh Lucas
= “The Italian Job” (2003) with Donald Sutherland, Mark Walhberg, Edward Norton, Charlize Theron
= “Modern Family” 2010 episode called “The Kiss” where Phil kisses Goria during an actual Lakers game on the Kiss Cam
= “Entourage” (2004-2007) taped four episodes, including a boxing match where the gang runs into a group of celebrities.
= “Celebrity Apprentice” 2017 episode called “I’m Going Full Ballmer”: Task 9. The teams had to create a high energy presentation to promote the Clippers during a timeout and design a T-shirt for fans. Lisa Leslie lead the project winning team with Boy George and a team led by Ricky Williams was eliminated.