April 24, 2024

Ten seasons ago, the Clippers opened their preseason by visiting four of their Western Conference rivals. They went to Portland, Utah, Sacramento and finally to Phoenix before they opened the doors to their home arena.

Fans had a lot of reasons to be excited — the team hired Doc Rivers in the offseason to coach and was about to enter the season as bonafide contenders. The season, Rivers felt, was about to be theirs. And, their arena should reflect that.

So, the Clippers covered the banners at Staples Center celebrating the Lakers’ championships and the retired numbers of their all-time greats, and instead featured images of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and the rest of that Clippers’ core.

“I didn’t look at it as a banner thing,” Rivers said before the preseason home opener. “I look at it as putting our guys up. … It’s our arena when we play. I thought it would be good that we saw our guys. No disrespect to them, but when we play, it’s the Clipper arena as far as I know.”

But it was absolutely a banner thing — the Clippers finally saying “Enough” to one of the NBA’s strangest real-estate partnerships with two franchises sharing an arena.

“He took a lot of heat, but it makes sense,” Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said Tuesday. “We understand what the Lakers mean to the city and what they’ve done, but for us to have a place that we can call home and be comfortable, I think that was the right thing to do.”

Chuck the Condor waves a banner midcourt during pregame festivities for a Clippers-Trail Blazers game in 2021.

Chuck the Condor waves a banner midcourt during pregame festivities for a Clippers-Trail Blazers game at Staples Center in 2021.

(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Rivers and the Clippers’ decision in 2013 is just one chapter in this co-habitation story. Provided the teams don’t meet in the playoffs this spring, Wednesday will be the final chapter.

The Clippers will host the Lakers — the final time the Lakers will be the visitors inside the building where they play their home games with the Clippers set to move into the new Intuit Dome in Inglewood next season. The Lakers (31-28, ninth in the West) have won two of the three games this season. The Clippers (37-19, fourth in the West) will be without All-Star forward Paul George, who will sit out his second consecutive game because of a sore left knee.

“Yeah, it’s weird. That’s the word,” Lakers guard D’Angelo Russell said about road games at Crypto.com Arena. “…You go home and your place is redecorated. It just looks different.”

The two teams have played 97 times since the arena’s opening in 1999, the Clippers holding the series advantage, 50-47. One of those regular-season wins for the Lakers actually came in Orlando, Fla., in 2020, making the Clippers 50-46 in Staples Center/Crypto.com Arena ahead of Wednesday’s finale.

As far as anyone can tell, no NBA teams have ever had this kind of shared existence. As Clippers wing Norman Powell pointed out, teams all over the league, such as the Raptors, share their spaces with NHL teams. But the switch from hockey to basketball is different from the switch from one NBA team to another.

A partial to-do list for swapping between Lakers and Clippers games is as follows: change the wrapping on pillars inside the main concourse and outside the building; change the court; swap out the baskets; configure the different courtside seats and scorer’s table; update the merchandise stands; swap the TV trucks and stationary cameras; and redecorate the tunnel to the court for the home team.

The Clippers’ court is 10 feet longer and two feet wider than the Lakers’ court and has 34 more wood panels.

The end result has led to the arena successfully housing two teams without much friction.

“They had to make it home. It makes sense. They want to make it as ‘home’ as possible,” Lakers star LeBron James said. “And it feels like a road game. Their lighting is different, the court is different, the seats look different — all that type of stuff. It feels like a road game — but you just don’t have to travel. Feels like you’re driving to a road game.”

There are other subtle changes for players when the teams play each other. The parking lot underneath the arena is twice as full during Lakers-Clippers games.

“It takes like twice as long to get your car,” Austin Reaves joked. “I mean, his car (pointing at James) might get to stay down there. They probably move mine upstairs.”

Pregame routines change. The home team has access to the weight room, the “visitors” have to use a temporary weight room in a storage area. Court access times are different, particularly for players like James who arrive very early to prepare.

Russell noted one of the strangest quirks: When the Lakers are the visiting team at Crypto.com Arena, they don’t get to use the tunnel to the court that’s steps from the locker room. Instead, they have to use the visitor’s tunnel, which means they run on and off the court past the Clippers locker room, both hockey locker rooms and the normal visiting NBA locker room.

“Walking out through the tunnel is probably the weirdest thing” he said, “we’ve got to go all the way [around].”

It might only be a few hundred extra steps, but it’s different enough to make the night feel a little off.

“I mean it is definitely a different feel,” Powell said. “I think both organizations do a good job of putting their own touch on the arena when it’s a home game and it’s us playing against each other. When it’s a Laker game, it’s a little more dark and intimate with how they black out the stands and like the focus, you can see all the lights are on the court. And the Clippers have a more inclusive environment where everybody’s just trying to get everybody involved and into the game and to have different things going on.

“It’s definitely a different feel when you walk in and, like, the setups that the Lakers have for their team and what we do.”

The lighting is the biggest difference, which strangely enough began as a major similarity. Until the 2006-07 season, the teams used the same lighting inside Staples Center until the Lakers adopted the theater lighting they still use, where the focus is on the court and the few first rows of seats. In 2014, the Clippers began using a brighter LED lighting.

A view of the Intuit Dome, showing a basket stanchion and grandstands, while under construction in January.

A view of the Intuit Dome, showing a basket stanchion and grandstands, while under construction in January. The Clippers will open the 2024-25 season there.

(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

“It feels different, for sure, when it’s a home game for them. It doesn’t feel like Staples or Crypto,” James said.

Assuming the Lakers and the Clippers don’t meet in the playoffs, all of the awkwardness soon will be obsolete, each team having their own home court.

You won’t have to trick anyone.

“It’s weird showing up and having to do that. I did it my rookie year, come back and still doing that. It is what it is,” Russell said. “You adjust. And you know what that norm is and you adapt to it.

“Obviously, there’s a change on the way and I think it’s good for Lakers and Clippers players and it’s good for the fans.”

Times staff writer Broderick Turner contributed to this report.

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