This week, a guy climbed into one of those giant excavators, slammed its giant metal teeth into the roof of the Los Angeles Sports Arena, ripped opened a giant gash into the faded blue roof and the sports world reacted the same way I expect people to react to my death.
Eventually, a couple of reporters desperate to add copy to satisfy the 24-hour news cycle attempted to shed crocodile tears over the demise of a major arena that predates not just Staples Center, but every NBA and NHL arena currently in operation — including Madison Square Garden. And still, despite the golden prose of yon west coast wordsmiths, nobody cared.
Actually, that’s not true. Despite its use as an indoor sports arena, Major League Soccer and expansion team LAFC care very much in that the sooner it comes down, the better. LAFC doesn’t have a player under contract, but it does have a deal to build a soccer-specific venue in its place. Banc of California Stadium opens in 2018.
Perhaps the arena could have been rescued. The Forum earned an inner facelift as a concert-only venue. The Sports Arena? Not only did it not get a makeover, it didn’t even get one of those dramatic implosion send offs they put on the local news.
The Sports Arena was a venue so irrelevant it simply needed to flatline, have a sheet tugged over it, and wheeled away.
The first time I saw the inside of the Sports Arena was on television, but not for an actual sporting event. It was when Carver High School advanced to the city championship game in the 1980 CBS drama “The White Shadow.” So this fictitious basketball team strolls across the court of the arena, guard Morris Thorpe looks to the ceilings and says that place was the sport where a player like him could really shine.
And as a child, I’m looking at my TV screen thinking, “There? You want to shine in a dump like that?”
That was 36 years ago.
Since then, the Clippers moved into the Sports Arena — having left an equally nasty gym in San Diego. The Clippers were pretty much the only reason I ever set foot into that place. Tickets were cheap for a college student, $10. Later, I covered Clippers games for a regional newspaper.
Only the Sports Arena floors were liquor store-level dirty. The seating in some sections was held together with electrical tape, and it was the only arena in the NBA that hadn’t upgraded its scoreboard to a television screen for instant replay.
Reporters usually have to wait for the locker room doors to open after a game. Players get a few minutes to hear from their coaches, shower, decompress, etc., before listening to our inane questions. Having said that, I don’t ever recall stepping into the Clippers locker room. I remember Larry Brown and the players being brought out to us. It makes me wonder if the toilets worked.
So when Staples Center opened, the Clippers ran like hell knowing full well it would be the No. 3 priority tenant behind the Lakers and Kings.
From the outside, the Sports Arena looked like a swelling bruise on South Central Los Angeles, or perhaps like a pimple beneath the chin of the University of Southern California. USC playing football in the neighboring Coliseum is charming in historical context. Its basketball team had to panhandle its graduates for decades to abandon the Sports Arena, build the Galen Center, and finally compete with UCLA for top recruits.
So let’s get to the bottom line. The Los Angeles Sports Arena was a dirty, charmless, nondescript building that held no lasting memories for anyone. Its life was without consequence. And in a city like LA, when you are irrelevant, you vanish with nary a trace.
LAFC needs to keep that in mind when it opens its new digs.