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Staples Center is the one shining star on this manic Sunday

Cyclists come and go, Kings and Clippers play and lose, fans move in and out and all runs smoothly as three major sports events converge at Staples Center. Even the solar eclipse goes like clockwork.

May 20, 2012|Chris Erskine
  • Fans applaud Robert Gesink's victory at the end of the Amgen Tour of California race.
Fans applaud Robert Gesink's victory at the end of the Amgen Tour of… (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles…)

Placing surreal moment atop surreal moment — on Sunday at Staples, they were piling up like pancakes — the sun starts to vanish about 5:30 p.m. at L.A. Live. What they call an annular solar eclipse has begun, a cockeyed celestial event that looks as if it were penciled out by Picasso.

First thought: They've assigned me to cover the Apocalypse.

Second thought: Wow, the 110 is really gonna be a mess.

Sunday was just another Sunday here in the City of Playoffs, except that you had this cosmic convergence of a major bike race, a hockey playoff game, a basketball playoff game and a playoff eclipse, all within hours of each other at L.A. Live, the softest spot in our city's stuccoed soul.

Over-hype the day any way you want — "Fat Sunday," "Fan-ageddon" — what happened Sunday at L.A. Live was pretty notable.

"You never know if something like this will ever happen again," Kings/Clippers/Lakers fan Bob Lyons says of the playoff pileup.

Eat your heart out (or count your lucky stars), Lyons has attended six playoff games in the last four days and every single playoff contest — hockey and hardwood — this season.

But this isn't a story about the games, so much as it is about what turned out to be one of L.A.'s most bizarre street parties: cyclists, hockey heads, cops, more cops, dancing girls, cops, barkeeps, Clippers fans, cops and bike valets.

That's right, bike valets. Only in L.A., right?

"I have 15 bikes, and I prefer this one to any of the rest," says Sean Colburn, standing next to his oddball triple-decker.

Colburn and an estimated 10,000 other riders got the day started with an 8 a.m. pre-ride of the downtown Amgen Tour of California course, followed by the 150 pro riders three hours later.

"We got here at 2 a.m. and slept in a parking lot," says Dan Canlas, who drove overnight from Northern California.

Suddenly, he is telling me about the high cost of cycling these days — gear assemblies can go for a couple of grand — and even has an answer for how they handle bathroom breaks (answer: when the lead rider pauses, they all pause).

"You never see that part on TV," he explains.

That's not to mean that Sunday was all study, study, study.

About noon, I wander into Staples, where Kings fans are already seated (church, I guess). For days, Staples has warned its various congregations to arrive early.

"I told the NBA, 'You've got to be kidding,'" Staples Center General Manager Lee Zeidman says of the moment he got Sunday's schedule.

Zeidman, the first person hired when Staples was built, now runs all of Staples Nation, including L.A. Live and Nokia Theatre Theatre.

In March alone, the nation's busiest sports arena handled 33 events. But this day seemed particularly tricky, given the potential for one event fertilizing another. Imagine 20,000 Kings fans exiting while 20,000 Clippers fans show up.

"I haven't slept, really," Zeidman says of the last couple of weeks.

Worst-case scenarios don't pan out this day, unless you count the Kings' performance, which one commentator dubbed "Coyote ugly."

Indeed, half an hour after the game, 35 Staples workers have already slammed down the basketball court's 550-piece rubber undergarment — the insulation for the court that lies atop the ice.

Act III has begun.

About 4 p.m., Clippers fans begin showing up — warnings heeded once again. Plus, on hot days like this, you've got to keep your fluids up.

In fact, the barkeep at the beer garden at L.A. Live ranks Clippers fans after Kings fans as far as beer consumption goes. Lakers fans, he says, are "mostly teetotalers and wine drinkers."

Look, I'm sure he didn't mean it personally.

At about 5:30, our only sun starts to disappear.

If you're looking for entertainment, I suggest watching a bunch of beered-up fans trying to figure out how to study an eclipse without ruining their retinas.

No, dude, a Budweiser cup is not filter enough. Nor is your girlfriend's hair.

By the way, here's how that maniac Lyons, who has seen every playoff game, compares the intensity level of L.A. fans.

"The Kings would be a 9 or 10," the charter jet entrepreneur says.

"The Clippers crowds would be a 71/2 to 8, and the Lakers fans start out at 61/2 and get up to about 9."

I'll drink to that.

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