Is there enough room in L.A. for three NBA teams?


Is there enough room in L.A. for three NBA teams?

March 31, 2011

ANAHEIM (AP) The five-county Los Angeles metropolitan area already has two NBA teams, two baseball teams, two pro hockey teams, two major collegiate sports programs and dozens of minor athletic endeavors for a laid-back, West Coast population that doesn't obsess over sports in the first place.So why are the Sacramento Kings so eager to crash this already packed party by moving to Anaheim?Because much more than freeways separate Orange County and Los Angeles, according to Anaheim's mayor. Because the sprawling Southland has more than enough population and wealth to take an even larger role in the national sports scene, according to demographics experts - even some who never went to college."It's L.A., and people love basketball in Southern California," said Kobe Bryant, who lives on the Orange County coast. "It would be great to have a team here."Bryant spoke before the theoretical possibility of an NBA team moving to Anaheim became an imminent reality. Kings owners Joe and Gavin Maloof appear determined to relocate to Honda Center in the fall, with a majority vote of the NBA's owners looming as the biggest remaining obstacle.If it happens, the Los Angeles area's roughly 18 million residents will have three teams in the same pro sport - the transcendent Lakers, the star-crossed Clippers, and a well-traveled franchise likely to be christened the Anaheim Royals, reclaiming the nickname from their 1940s genesis in Rochester, N.Y.The New York City area's three NHL teams for 19 million people have the only comparable arrangement in North America. Some don't see how it can work, with Lakers coach Phil Jackson calling the prospect "ridiculous," but those with their fingers on the pulses and wallets of Orange County residents largely agree with the Maloofs, who declined to comment for this story."As we all know, Orange County is different," Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait said Tuesday after announcing Anaheim would approve 75 million in lease-revenue bonds to entice the Kings. "You go up to L.A. for a game, it can take you two hours. This is a different place, a different population. ... Orange County is 3 million people. If you add people from the Inland Empire, north San Diego County, that's millions more, maybe 5-6 million. It's a big area. We've been trying to get an NBA team in Orange County for 20 years."Indeed, Orange County alone has more than twice the population of Sacramento County, with a per-capita income more than 20 percent higher. It's larger than current NBA markets such as Indianapolis, Oklahoma City and Milwaukee.Although the Kings draw their fans from throughout Northern California in a population base of roughly 2 million, the Royals could market themselves north to Riverside County and south to San Diego County - which hasn't had an NBA team since the Clippers left in 1984 - further expanding their footprint to more than 5 million people outside Los Angeles.But can Orange County be separated from Los Angeles, as Tait and others insist? Most people in Anaheim say it can.Given Los Angeles' traffic, a drive from San Diego to Anaheim sometimes takes just about as long as a drive from Orange County to Staples Center, San Diego native Luke Walton noted. Anaheim boosters also cite demographic shifts that have long shown the Los Angeles area's population shifting to the south and east.In a measure of the Kings' belief in Anaheim, AEG President Tim Leiweke said his sports conglomerate would love to move the Kings back to Kansas City and the 3 12-year-old Sprint Center operated by his company."But they won't talk to us," Leiweke said. "I think you can pretty well assume they're going to Anaheim. I think that's a foregone conclusion. Anaheim is 4 million people, Orange County, and so I understand why they think that."I know they see that as the land of dreams. I think they are inspired by being part of the Hollywood scene. But Orange County is not Hollywood, and what they're going to learn pretty quickly is it's the most competitive marketplace in the United States today, and it's going to get even more competitive in the future. I think it's unfortunate that they're not taking a look at a place like Kansas City. But they're not."And it's easy for people of means to enjoy a good life in Orange County. Just ask the NHL's Anaheim Ducks or baseball's Los Angeles Angels, who invariably cite the balmy weather, 42 miles of coastline, nine beaches and countless upscale amenities in the area in their decisions to stay with or sign with an Anaheim team.Bobby Ryan, the Ducks' high-scoring right wing and a New Jersey native, cited Orange County as a major reason he signed a new five-year contract to stay in Anaheim last fall."I can't imagine any better place to live and play," said Ryan, who lives in tony Newport Beach. "Look around: You're 13 miles from the water. I've fallen in love with the area completely, and a lot of guys do. I'm sure being in Orange County would be a huge positive to any Sacramento Kings or any NBA free agents, there's no doubt. You can definitely sell it to guys."The city-owned Honda Center was built in 1993 with the intention of housing two pro teams. The Vancouver Grizzlies considered moving there in 2001, and the Clippers played a handful of games in Anaheim every season from 1994-99, always drawing larger average crowds than in the outdated Sports Arena and considering a permanent move before owner Donald Sterling elected to live in the Lakers' shadow at Staples Center.The Ducks have sold out just four home games this season, yet Honda Center never looks half-empty, as the Kings' home, formerly known as Arco Arena, frequently has been over the past three seasons.Although buzz around the KingsRoyals built slowly in recent weeks, adding fuel to the saturation theory, interest appears to be picking up. Dozens of fans and businesspeople attended the dry City Council meeting approving the bonds - and with almost no promotion, 500 fans put their names on a waiting list for season tickets 24 hours after Honda Center announced it this week."I'm confident an NBA team in Orange County will do very well," Tait said. "L.A. and Orange County are far apart. Anyone who lives here knows that. We will fill the stands when the NBA comes to Honda Center, believe me."

Rewind: Opener brings painful reminder nothing's given for Warriors

Rewind: Opener brings painful reminder nothing's given for Warriors

OAKLAND – Kevin Durant drove to Oracle Arena for his Warriors debut Tuesday night, walked in feeling good and quickly got quite the horrific surprise.

The San Antonio Spurs started knocking on the door to the place and didn’t stop until they owned it.

The Spurs barged in and took what they wanted, everything from points and rebounds to wine and shaving cream. And the Warriors, as if bound and gagged, mostly watched helplessly in taking a 129-100 beating.

“A nice little slap in the face,” Steph Curry summarized.

“We got punched in the mouth,” Draymond Green acknowledged before adding the real takeaway line, “which I don’t know if it was quite a bad thing for us.”

This brutal flogging ends talk of a historically great start resembling that which the Warriors managed last season in winning their first 24 games. This puts to rest any cloak of invincibility for which they might have been being fitted, whether in their minds of those of their fans.

The Warriors were mugged on the glass, losing the rebounding battle 54-35, with San Antonio snatching 21 on offense and turning them into 26-4 advantage in second-chance points. The bigger, slower Spurs even outscored the Warriors 24-20 on the fast break.

“I’m sure we’ll be motivated for our next game,” coach Steve Kerr said. “I think our guys were embarrassed. I know I was.”

If embarrassing seems a bit strong, this surely was nothing less than a night of utter public humility. The curtain came up on opening night and there was CEO Joe Lacob shifting and twisting in his courtside seat, like a man getting teeth extracted without anesthesia, watching his Dream Team was destroyed.

“I didn’t have them ready to play, obviously,” Kerr said.

“The first game, you want to come out and protect your home court with the energy of the home opener to live throughout the game,” Curry said. “And we didn’t do anything to let that happen.”

Curry's numbers were not awful, at least not in the grand scheme of things. He posted 26 points, four assists and three rebounds – but added four turnovers.

And Durant, who started the game 4-of-4, delighting a crowd that had visions of 3-pointers raining from above, also submitted a glossy stat line, finishing with 27 points, 10 rebounds, four assists, two steals and two blocks.

But the Warriors were dragged across their own floor. Oracle Arena has been their sanctuary for two full seasons, during which they posted a 78-4 record.

The best they can do now is 40-1.

“No one is satisfied with the way they played tonight, especially myself,” said Klay Thompson, who scored 11 points on 5-of-13 shooting. “In the long run, this will benefit us. It’s a long season, and not everything is going to be perfect from the jump.”

So, no, the season is not over. Not even close. Remember, LeBron James’ debut with the Miami Heat six years ago ended with an 88-80 loss, followed by seven more losses in the next 16 games.

But it’s always alarming when someone storms into your house, looks you in the eye and takes what they want.

Opening night for the Warriors delivered a painful reminder that regardless of how imposing they might be or how many All-Stars are on the payroll, nothing will be given. Effort and desire, as they discovered, can be more than a great equalizer.

The Warriors now know that victory is not preordained, that if they want the glory and the spoils they believe to be theirs, they will have to prove it. Every night.

Rewind: Vlasic the unlikely hero in Sharks OT win

Rewind: Vlasic the unlikely hero in Sharks OT win

SAN JOSE – Prior to the season’s start, Marc-Edouard Vlasic mentioned that the Sharks’ blue line group might not get the league-wide respect it deserves due to it only having “one offensive defenseman.” He was, of course, referring to Brent Burns.

Through the first six games, that was the truth. Burns entered Tuesday night’s action with nine points, tied for the league lead in scoring, while the other five Sharks defenseman had just three assists – combined.

For at least one night, though, it wasn’t Burns who was the offensive hero. That honor went to Vlasic, who seized a loose puck in the neutral zone in overtime against Anaheim, raced ahead towards goalie John Gibson on a partial breakaway, and finished off a beautiful goal in giving the Sharks a much-deserved 2-1 win at SAP Center.

“Put my head down, breakaway, cut across and I was able to put it in,” said Vlasic, who had the presence of mind to use his skate to keep a backchecking Corey Perry from knocking the puck away. 

Pete DeBoer said: "He's got some speed when he wants to use it, and he's a big game player. That's what he does. Those guys find another level at key times, and he's one of those guys.”

The goal served as poetic justice in that the Sharks were the much better team throughout three periods. San Jose held a 35-20 advantage on the shot clock but only managed one goal, a power play marker by Joe Pavelski in the first period. Chris Wagner answered that late in the second period, despite San Jose registering 15 of the 20 shots in the middle frame.

DeBoer rearranged all four of his forward lines after the Sharks were shut out in Detroit on Saturday, and the Sharks looked much more dangerous despite just the single lonely marker before overtime.

“There’s a lot of good little things that we did well,” Pavelski said. “We were on the attack, felt like we were on the inside. We just weren’t cashing in or getting that bounce.”

Couture said: “We created some chances. We could have had a couple. Each line played pretty well.”

DeBoer, too, liked what he saw from his new combos.

“If we keep playing like that, it's going to come,” he said. “But, it was a nice response game after the Detroit game.”

Perhaps the most consistent part of the Sharks’ game through seven games has been their penalty kill. San Jose fought off all three Ducks advantages, including a brief five-on-three in the first period shortly after Pavelski had opened the scoring.

Micheal Haley took exception to a high hit by Clayton Stoner on Patrick Marleau, and dropped the gloves with the Anaheim defenseman. He was issued an instigation minor to go along with a fighting major and 10-minute misconduct, and one minute and 24 seconds later, Tomas Hertl was busted for a faceoff violation.

Couture, Burns and Paul Martin worked to nullify the two-man advantage, and the Sharks proceeded to kill the remaining time on the Hertl penalty, too.

“It was an important time of the game with a one-goal lead,” said Martin Jones, who made seven saves on the PK and 19 total.

Penalties like Haley’s, where he was sticking up for a teammate, are also easier to get up for according to the goalie.

“I don't think he was expecting to get an instigator call on that one, but yeah, we'll kill that off, for sure,” Jones said. “Hales is a good team guy to go out and do stuff like that."

San Jose is 18-for-22 on the penalty kill overall, including a third period kill of a Joe Thornton holding-the-stick minor at 4:09.

“We’ve allowed [four] goals against, but they were unfortunate bounces or really nice shots from them that we could do nothing about,” Vlasic said. “Penalty kill has been good. Guys have been bearing down, blocking shots when we need to.”

The Sharks will remain at home where they will host the rebuilding Blue Jackets on Thursday and Predators on Saturday. After an odd training camp with many players missing and a tough five-games-in-eight-days road trip after the home opener, they’ll get a chance now to enjoy a much more normal day-to-day routine, with practice.

Tuesday’s win could serve as a solid foundation on which to build.

“That was definitely one of our better games this year,” Couture said. “It was good from basically start to finish.”

Especially the finish.