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Clippers to Join Kings, Lakers in Staples Center

April 17, 1998|STEVE SPRINGER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Clippers, who have never shared in the glamour and the glory of the Lakers and Kings, will now at least get to share their new home. The Clippers have agreed to a six-year lease to play in the downtown Staples Center when it opens in the fall of 1999.

By getting all three teams under one roof, the new basketball and hockey arena will have the immediate distinction of being the only one in the nation to ever house three major professional teams during concurrent seasons.

While the news was good for the Staples Center, it closed the door on any hopes the Walt Disney Co. had of attracting the team to the Arrowhead Pond of Anaheim, where the Clippers have been playing eight to 10 games each season under a year-to-year agreement.

Sources say the Clipper deal was signed Monday and is expected to be announced today, along with news that the Fox Group, which spent $311 million to purchase the Dodgers in a deal that was approved last month, has purchased an interest in the Staples Center and an option that would eventually give it a stake in the Lakers.

The deal will give the Fox Group a 40% stake in the arena and a similar percentage of the Kings' option to buy 25% of the Lakers. That would translate into a 10% ownership stake in the basketball team.

The National Basketball Assn. must approve the Clipper move. That is not expected to be a problem, although league officials have long made it known that they preferred a Clipper move to the Pond. Playing in the same building as the Lakers could create scheduling difficulties for the NBA.

The Clippers had announced in June 1996 they would not move to the Pond after negotiations with the company that manages the arena collapsed.

Not having an NBA team call the Pond home is a money-losing proposition for the city of Anaheim, which owns the arena.

According to the Pond lease agreement, beginning in 1997, the city has been obligated to pay Ogden Corp., which operates the arena, $1.5 million annually toward the arena's mortgage for each year it is without an NBA team. That financial obligation has a cap of five years and $7.5 million.

Currently, the Mighty Ducks hockey team is the only key tenant at the Pond.

Within the past year, two other tenants--the Anaheim Splash of the Continental Indoor Soccer League and the Anaheim Piranha of Arena Football League--folded.

The Clippers have played 23 regular-season games in Anaheim over the past four seasons. They have averaged 12,071 attendance at the Pond this season but only 9,330 at the Sports Arena for a combined NBA low of 10,080.

The Clippers will play one more season in the Sports Arena, which has been their home since they arrived from San Diego for the 1984-85 season. It has not been determined whether the Clippers will play at the Pond during the 1998-99 season.

Under the terms of their deal with Kings and Staples Center owners Philip Anschutz and Edward Roski, the Clippers will pay rent but will receive a percentage of the luxury-box revenue, parking and concessions for their games only. It includes an escape clause after three years.

Their status is clearly spelled out as being that of the third occupant. The Kings and the Lakers will get priority. The Kings will play on Thursdays and Saturdays except for those dates that cause scheduling problems for the National Hockey League. The Lakers will get Fridays and Sundays. The Clippers will get whatever is left. But the two basketball teams could play at Staples on the same day when necessary, and the new facility could accommodate basketball and hockey on the same day.

Although sources on all sides confirmed the agreement, nobody would go on the record before today's planned news conference.

"We are respectfully unable to comment on various speculation pertaining to any arena developments," said Joe Safety, the Clippers' vice president of communications. "As always, our intent remains to do everything we can to bring clarity to our arena situation at the appropriate time."

Clipper owner Donald Sterling was unavailable for comment.

Sterling had other options. He could have moved to Anaheim or to a proposed arena on Hollywood Park property in Inglewood.

Sterling's decision not to move to Anaheim makes Disney the biggest loser in today's expected announcement. The owner of the powerful ESPN sports cable TV channel as well as baseball's Angels and hockey's Mighty Ducks, Disney had been eager to entice the basketball team to its arena in Anaheim or to buy the team in part or outright. Disney Chairman Michael Eisner has approached Sterling several times in recent years about coming on board.

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