Los Angeles Times
Lakers players and coaches looking forward to fans’ return to Staples.
Expect the atmosphere to be charged back up again tonight at Staples Center when Lakers face the Celtics
I wasn’t sure that fans mattered. Actually, I was pretty sure you didn’t.
“We want to do it for the fans.” “We love the fans.” “We need our fans.” I thought all of it was just something NBA players said because saying the opposite would be a disaster even if they believed it.
But I was wrong. (First time ever.)
The hundreds of games, the arenas looking all the same, the same pop songs rattling eardrums, you kind of take it for granted. A year-plus of fan-less games, piped-in crowd noise and covered seats has made it obvious. When players and coaches talk about the difference between the way things were with the way they’ve been, it’s too sincere to be just platitudes.
When Staples Center opens it doors Thursday to fans for the first time since March 10, 2020, about 2,000 people will get to see the Lakers host the Boston Celtics. They’ll have to provide health information. They’ll be socially distanced. They’ll have to wear facial masks.
And the Lakers can’t wait.
After the Lakers beat Charlotte on Tuesday, Kyle Kuzma was asked how a few thousand fans feel after having most of their season take place in a stadiumsized void.
“It’s like a sellout,” he said, proceeded by one of his favorite four-letter words. “For real, for real. I ain’t going to lie to you . ... I think tonight, Charlotte went on a little run, got the lead, it was down to one, 92-91, and it was rocking in there with [3,676 fans]. So, it just feels good to play in front of people and play in front of fans of the NBA. … It’s a huge part of the game.”
Think back to the NBA bubble when Anthony Davis hit the biggest shot of his career, a game-winning three-pointer at the buzzer in the Western Conference finals against the Denver Nuggets. In the aftermath, while LeBron James praised Davis for coming up huge, he said he wished the moment could’ve been in Staples Center. That’s where it would’ve meant the most.
Not long after that game, I spoke to Kevin Love about life as a basketball player outside the bubble. We ended up talking about James, his old Cleveland Cavaliers teammate, and how much the fans mattered to him.
“He feeds off the crowd so much. That’s what gives him the lifeblood, to really put on a performance and show out. Like he knows that the crowd is there whether he’s home or away and he’s playing into that, feeding off of that,” Love said.
I interrupted him to ask about James’ assessment of Davis’ shot, whether it was just an easy way to endear himself to the people back home. He said he didn’t know James had just said that, but to a player, it makes perfect sense.
“That would have been a major moment for AD as well. And I think it breeds and adds I guess more [in front of a crowd], I don’t know if you want to say self-confidence, self-assuredness or whatever it may be,” Love said. “A defining shot like that might be the biggest shot in his career right? Western Conference finals he hits a three, plays unbelievable games, playing crazy in the first two games in this series. So that’s kind of what I mean.”
Fans make this whole thing fun, they add energy to what is a grind of a regular season and give the game an atmosphere that no in-arena DJ can replicate. It’s an irreplaceable part of the process. By merely opening the doors to a few thousand fans in what’s sort of like a soft opening of a restaurant, the Lakers are taking a huge step back to normality.
After winning Tuesday, coach Frank Vogel made the kind of face he normally reserves for one of his beloved Dad jokes — a big grin with wide eyes. He’s made this face every time he’s spoken about fans at Staples Center since the Lakers got word that they’d be allowed to have them.
“Can’t wait. Man, I can’t wait. The mystique of being in that building with our great fans is a big part of why it’s so cool to be a Laker,” Vogel said. “And it’s just been absent this year. And it’s been missed.”
I’m surprised to say, I’ve missed it too.
TONIGHT VS. BOSTON When: 7
On the air: TV: Spectrum SportsNet, TNT; Radio: 710, 1330 Update: Fittingly the Lakers will open their doors to their fans just in time for Laker nation to mercilessly boo the Celtics. Boston, after disappointing for most of the season, has found its footing and is climbing the Eastern Conference standings after winning seven of 10 games. Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and an improving Kemba Walker still mean the Celtics have enough firepower to be a factor in the East.