The Two Worlds
of Staples Center


This season, Los Angeles has two NBA title contenders and four of the top 10 players in the league -- and they all play in the same arena. How do two distinctly different franchises present themselves in the same building?

Scenes at Staples

Inside the Staples Center visitors' locker room on Nov. 17, the Atlanta Hawks lick their wounds after being thrashed for the second straight night. After falling by 49 points to the LA Clippers the night before, the Hawks lost by 21 to the Los Angeles Lakers just 24 hours later.

That's two beatdowns by two title-contending L.A. teams in the same venue, but for all the similarities, Hawks swingman Evan Turner notes the differences in the crowds.

"You've got LeBron there, so there's a type of awe," Turner says of the Lakers environment. "Wherever he goes, there's going to be something. So that adds to the crowd being more excited and on edge."

But, Turner says, the Clippers' vibe is markedly different.

"The Clippers hang their hat on being blue-collar," he says. "That's what I notice. That's not a bad thing."

Thunder guard Chris Paul, who knows L.A. well, having played six seasons for the Clippers, cites similar contrasts after his Oklahoma City Thunder squad drops back-to-back games to the L.A. teams a few days later.

"It's always two different energies when you play against the Clippers and you play against the Lakers," Paul says. "The lighting is a lot different. You've got your monotone man for the Lakers, who does the intros and all that. It's just always a different energy."

Instead of keying in on differences, former NBA superstar Dominique Wilkins, who now works as a team analyst on Hawks broadcasts, points out that the Clippers and Lakers are finally aligned.

"Completely different organizations, but the same type of atmosphere now," he says.

"Now, you're talking about an atmosphere that has excitement from two teams in the same city. I don't know when that's happened -- not in basketball. It's pretty amazing."

One arena, two basketball teams, two mammoth banners overlooking downtown L.A. "It's called the 'CVT' because that's called the 'City View Terrace.' [Each] team has one," Lakers director of game operations Kathy Montoya says.
"It's so heavy, and it takes a while to get made. It takes 10 guys to physically bring up the banner and actually hang it," Kathy Montoya says.
Jerry West is a Lakers icon -- hence the statue -- but West's reach expands to both franchises that reside in Staples Center. West, 81, whose Lakers career as a player, coach and executive spanned five decades, is now a consultant for the Clippers' front office.
"If you go to the team store [during a Lakers game], you'll find all Lakers items. And [during a Clippers game], it's all Clippers. Even during a doubleheader, the team store will switch it out," Kathy Montoya says.
"It kind of sucks, though, if you're a Lakers fan and you come here on a Clippers game and what you want, you can't buy it," Kathy Montoya says.
Ever notice the glossy purple and gold wrap that lines the tunnel during Lakers games? It's replaced with brand-new material -- before every game. "Unfortunately, we can't leave it there, obviously," Kathy Montoya says. "I think it was just to make it feel like it was our home."
"And I know it always feels good for a player to come out and see the branding of their team that they play for and it makes them feel good, so that was the whole idea in the first place," Kathy Montoya says.
Clippers coach Doc Rivers started covering the Lakers banners -- the Kings, Sparks and Taylor Swift banners, too -- in 2013, when he was also the Clippers' VP of basketball operations. The idea, though, started well before, when his Celtics visited the Clippers.
"I look up, and you see all the banners," Rivers said in 2013 of his reaction to the Lakers' banners hanging during a Clippers game. "[Former Celtics trainer] Eddie Lacerte said, 'Man, I would never have that.'" So Rivers decided he wouldn't either. "Again, the Lakers can blame a Boston guy."

Behind Closed Doors

Some 70 feet apart in the hallway of Staples Center sit the entrances to the locker rooms for the Lakers and the Clippers.

The Lakers' entrance appears first in the hallway, and it can be tight when dozens of media members crowd around LeBron James and Anthony Davis. In the middle of the room is James' locker, which occupies the left stall of the center wall. Next to his is an empty stall. To the right of that is Davis' locker.

Once the media enter after a game, one of the two stars will speak while the other either soaks his ankles in an ice bucket or receives postgame treatment, though the preferred rhythm for the duo is for Davis to speak to the media first and James to follow.

Farther down the hall, the Clippers' locker room appears. Their entrance is typically curtained off to prevent looky-loos from sneaking a glimpse as the door opens and shuts before and after games.

Once inside the doors, an entrance to Doc Rivers' office is immediately to the left. Down the corridor, past a break room with a sliding door, is the Clippers' semicircle locker room.

The Lakers' locker room got a makeover prior to last season -- just in time for LeBron James' arrival in Los Angeles.
The Clippers' locker room was also renovated prior to last season. The first stall on the left belongs to guard Patrick Beverley, who is often seen testing the team's rookies on that night's referees.
LeBron James' locker occupies the same location Kobe Bryant's did during the five-time NBA champion's time as a Laker.
The lockers for Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are next to each other in the center of the Clippers' locker room. Patrick Beverley and Lou Williams occupy the locker stalls on each end.
LeBron James draws such a big crowd of reporters and cameras that the Lakers' media relations staff has to keep a walkway open for players to go to the shower room.
After every home game, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George conduct their postgame interview sessions in the room where Doc Rivers holds his media conferences.
No stranger to big games at Staples Center, LeBron James still felt the excitement of the venue being his home. "Can't even front, it's just felt different! Goose bumps!" James said on Instagram just days before his preseason home debut in 2018.
Staples Center was the closest NBA arena for Kawhi Leonard, a Southern California native, when he was a kid. "I feel the emotions ... being able to play in the Staples Center 45 minutes away from my home where I grew up," Leonard said after his preseason home debut.

Opening Acts

It's minutes before tipoff, and the lights are off inside Staples Center. But don't worry: There is plenty to see.

Laser beams shine in all directions, and a huge, white curtain, with parts of the pregame hype video shown on it like a massive theater screen, falls to the floor once the video is over.

Then, a familiar baritone voice fills the arena. Longtime Lakers PA announcer Lawrence Tanter goes through his unique pregame introductions.

"And now, celebrating its 60th year in Southern California, 72nd year in the NBA, this is the franchise with 23 Pacific Division titles, 31 Western Conference titles and 16 NBA titles. The home team, your Los Angeles Lakers."

Compared to those of pretty much all other teams around the league, Tanter's pregame introductions are understated. They are out of a time capsule from a prior generation. But that's befitting of a franchise known for its history.

At Clippers games, everything is ... loud. The pregame routine is at a noticeably higher decibel than it is at Lakers games.

From the music before and during play to the in-game hype crew talking during timeouts, the Clippers do their best to entertain fans from the moment they take their seats. Clippers games start like Lakers games do: lights down and laser beams flickering across the court and lower bowl.

But then the Spirit Clippers Dance Team rolls drums onto the floor and begins beating them to a song while sparklers are set off into the air.

Lakers pregame is pure tradition. For the Clippers, pregame is a party.

"The [Lakers'] lights came from, actually, the idea of The Forum," Kathy Montoya says. "At The Forum, it was like 'Showtime,' right? So the actual game is like a show."
"The Lakers are the only ones we use the 'Laker Lighting' for. There is in this building what they call 'Basketball Lights' as well -- that's what the Clippers use. And it's just a little bit brighter," Kathy Montoya says.
The Lakers drop a curtain from above the Jumbotron, so even fans in the nosebleeds can catch a glimpse of pregame introductions.
Doc Rivers is behind the "L.A. Our Way" campaign, which began in 2018. The quotable coach said it in an interview one day, and it stuck. The Clippers' advertising group, The Battery Agency, added "Driven over Given" and "Streetlights over Spotlights."
LeBron James is in the midst of an MVP-worthy season in Year 2 with the Lakers. The fans' first glimpse of King James is always a special moment at Staples Center.
Only three players in NBA history have won Finals MVP for different teams. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and LeBron James were the first two. Kawhi Leonard is the third.
Formed after Jerry Buss bought the team in 1979, the Laker Girls helped shape the franchise's unique game presentation.
The Clippers have greatly enhanced their game presentation in recent years, with laser lights, flamethrowers and light-up drums, used here by the Clippers Spirit Dance Team.
DJ Dense spins while the Clippers go through pregame warm-ups an hour before tip. He is a fixture during the game and plays "California Love" by 2Pac and Dr. Dre at the end of every Clippers win.

Court Vision

When LeBron James chose to come to L.A. in the summer of 2018, unbeknownst to him, he had a little piece of home waiting for him at Staples Center: The Lakers' home court -- the actual 94-by-50 expanse of hardwood -- is provided by Robbins Sports Surfaces, the company that installed the court on which James played home games during his second stint with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The Lakers have a long-standing relationship with Robbins, which boasts on the company's website that its hard maple courts are the "industry's most advanced and only biomechanically tested floors."

The NBA requires that each team change its home court every 10 years, but the Lakers make sure there is constant upkeep in the meantime.

"Every year we send it out to get repainted," Montoya says. "Every other year, we send it out to get resanded."

When the Lakers choose to change their look -- a decision that comes from the very top, through controlling owner and president Jeanie Buss -- they have to notify Robbins well in advance.

"They actually go out, and they physically choose and pick the wood," Montoya says. "So when you get a new court, you have to tell them way ahead of time because it takes a while for them to actually pick and choose which [pieces to use]."

The Clippers turn to Horner Sports Flooring for their home court. It's also maple and has a matching high-gloss polyurethane finish coat. But the aesthetic, like much of the rest of the game presentation, is very different.

The Clippers' court has just three colors of paint on it (black, red and white), while the Lakers' has four (red, white, purple and gold), yet another category in which the Lakers can claim they lead the Clippers.

A few feet from the 3-point line sits the Lakers' center-court logo, which underwent a refresh ahead of the 2012-13 season to include 16 stars, one for each of the franchise's NBA titles.
The Clippers, previously known for using team colors blue and red in their court designs, underwent a makeover for the 2019-20 season. "We're a blacktop team," Doc Rivers said in 2018.
The Lakers' classic gold border has remained constant since Staples Center opened in October 1999.
A shift to the Clippers' court reveals a design inspired by the city. The black apron resembles a map of Los Angeles' roads and highways.
The Lakers, Kings, Sparks and Taylor Swift, who owns the all-time Staples Center record for sold-out performances by an artist, have retired jerseys and banners in the rafters.

L.A. Fandom

About an hour before the Clippers begin their 49-point demolition of Atlanta, NBA superfan and millionaire Jimmy Goldstein is going through his typical game routine: posting up along the baseline and watching players go through their warm-ups.

Goldstein is in his signature, unique sort of rock-band look: a shiny, black, leather jacket and a flamboyant hat made of what looks like snakeskin. Goldstein is almost as much of a fixture at NBA games here as the Lakers banners that hang high above him. He says he has been a Lakers season-ticket holder for 58 years and a Clippers one for 35.

He attends more than 100 games each season, and he travels from city to city during the postseason to go to as many playoff games as he can.

Through all the decades, one thing has remained constant: Friends ask him to take them to Lakers games -- not Clippers games.

"It's ridiculous," Goldstein says while standing near his Clippers' front-row baseline seats, where his name is spelled out on the floor. "And in recent years, the Clippers have been much better than the Lakers. But the Lakers have that aura about them."

"Lakers," actor Chadwick Boseman said in November on "The Bill Simmons Podcast" when asked which tickets he prefers to land through Hollywood connections. "They just treat you better when you go, as a star. It's the truth. It's the truth. They just treat you better. ... They're more celebrity-friendly.

"It matters that you have the banners up, you have championships up there. There's a culture. And it's a thing to sit at a Lakers game."

Jimmy Goldstein makes it clear that while he is an NBA junkie, his L.A. allegiance is to the red and blue, not the purple and gold. As with his outfits, Goldstein likes to be different and stand out.
"I like to do the opposite of everybody else, and so I enjoy seeing the Lakers fans be miserable," Jimmy Goldstein says.
Rihanna is a frequent presence courtside at high-profile NBA games throughout the season.
Courtside at Staples is always an opportunity for stars to meet, including Chance the Rapper and Paul George.
Jack Nicholson is a regular figure at Lakers games, but lesser-known is his courtside neighbor, legendary music producer Lou Adler.
Floyd Mayweather has been a longtime fan of the NBA, and Los Angeles gives him twice the opportunities to take in a game.
The Clippers have names on the physical court for owner Steve Ballmer and the team's most high-profile fans, like Jimmy Goldstein, who attends every Clippers home game he can.
Grammy Award-winning artist Travis Scott takes in a Lakers game at Staples Center.
Former Clippers owner Shelly Sterling was able to keep her two midcourt seats after selling the team. She attends dozens of games each year but can't bring her husband, Donald Sterling, who remains banned from the NBA for life.
Kyle Kuzma celebrates with fans after a game at Staples Center.
Montrezl Harrell signs a young fan's hat after a Clippers game.

Dual Powers At Last

When Staples Center opened its doors in 1999, the arena was tailor-made for the Lakers: the purple seats, the sleek suites designed for corporate and celebrity hospitality, the grandeur befitting one of the NBA's most hallowed brands. The Clippers were merely coming along for the ride. They ranked last in the league in attendance for several seasons running but secured a sweetheart lease that would allow them to be the stepchildren at Staples for six years. The Clippers would play a bunch of less desirable 12:30 p.m. PT starts and compete beneath the Lakers' 11 championship banners and the retired jerseys of Lakers legends.

During the first 20 seasons at Staples, the Lakers and the Clippers rarely contended at the same time. The concrete had barely set before the Lakers ran off three straight titles while the Clippers remained doormats.

By the time the Clippers assembled a roster that won at least 50 games over a steady stretch, the Lakers were in decline, going seven consecutive seasons without a playoff series win. If there were ever going to be a true intra-city rivalry between the two teams, they would have to align their fortunes. The 2019-20 season offers that moment.

With Kawhi Leonard, Anthony Davis and Paul George joining LeBron James in Los Angeles, the Lakers and the Clippers have made Staples Center the seat of power in the NBA. The two teams seem destined for their first postseason meeting.

The Clippers will likely move to their own building in 2024, but in the five seasons between now and then, the long-awaited sustainable rivalry looks to be a reality at last.

By Kevin Arnovitz, Baxter Holmes, Dave McMenamin, Ramona Shelburne and Ohm Youngmisuk