It was a good week for Manila folders and laminate furniture.
Following the announcement that the entertainment hub in downtown Los Angeles would soon be called Crypto.com Arena and shed the name Staples Center, its moniker for the past 22 years, sports fans suddenly grew a deep affinity for office retail supplies.
Somehow, the memory of Kobe Bryant leaping atop the Staples Center scorers’ table in 2010 and triumphantly raising five fingers in the air to signify all the NBA championships he had won with the Los Angeles Lakers became synonymous with that feeling you get when you see a mouse pad on sale for the low, low price of $3.99.
The 2012 image of Dustin Brown lifting the hallowed Stanley Cup in front of a sold-out house filled with screaming Los Angeles Kings loyalists inspired the same feels as tearing open a box of eight-ream copy paper for your co-workers idling at the printer.
And the winning combination of ink and toner called to mind another classic pairing: Nneka Ogwumike and Candace Parker, who teamed up to lead the Los Angeles Sparks to the 2016 WNBA title. Both dynamic duos, apparently, are timeless.
Silly as all this may seem, sports fans in L.A. and beyond were really torn up about the Staples Center name being stripped from their arena. If this episode does one thing, it should green light corporations, domestic and abroad, to spend ridiculous sums of money for the right to slap their name on a building. Because they are not just buying naming rights, they’re buying something more eternal, the most priceless commodity in sports: a fan’s loyalty.
Take Paul George’s comments on the matter. George, who grew up a Los Angeles Clippers fan living an hour away from the arena, now plays for the Clippers and is in his 12th season in the NBA. He should know all about the business of basketball, but he sounded like one of the many crestfallen fans when he was asked about the arena name change to a cryptocurrency app.
“It’ll be weird. I grew up [with] this being Staples and Staples being the place to play and the place to be. It’ll definitely be weird,” George said. He added, “It’s kind of like just stripping the history here by calling it something else.”
If George looked and talked as if Crypto.com had just canceled Christmas (the name change will go into effect Dec. 25), then you could almost sense the angry tears pouring on phones as other sports fans typed their lamentations in memory of Staples Center.
Several people on Twitter, including media personality @KarenCivil, lifted a variation of the punchline from “Coming to America,” proclaiming if “your momma named you Staples Center, I’m going to call you Staples Center.” One user summed up the thoughts of many: “It’s Staples Center forever.” Another mused at the irony of Crypto.com paying a reported $700 million for naming rights when fans will just go along calling it by the former name.
Keep in mind, the building will stay at the corner of Figueroa Street and Chick Hearn Court. The actual court where Kobe was king is going nowhere. And though the physical space remains the same and the memories can never be replaced, a vociferous group of fans still expressed their undying love for . . . a sponsored arena named after a big-box store.
To be fair, Crypto.com Arena is a goofy name. Not as bad as Smoothie King Center or LoanDepot Park but still endeavoring to cement itself among the five worst sports arena names. That is, until Coffee Meets Bagel Stadium decides to join the fun. However, Staples Center — purely as a name for an entertainment and sports venue — isn’t somehow less corporate and more civic-minded because of its glorious past. It’s still just a business that paid its way into fans’ hearts.
This is why Staples Inc. was the biggest winner of the week. An investment made in 1999 will yield a lifetime return of name recognition. The fans who vow never to call the arena by another name or the ones who forget about the new one — similar to those old timers who still slip up and refer to Capital One Arena by its former Verizon or MCI monikers — have lionized all things related to office supplies. Simply because their favorite teams played inside an oddly named arena.
There’s no getting around corporate takeovers in sports. A company’s logo is now displayed higher on NBA jerseys than the name of the franchise. Team broadcasts are even shamelessly superimposing local brands on a rival’s playing surface during games.
Bellyaching about the good ol’ days, when arenas were named after people or cities and games didn’t double as two-hour commercials, won’t limit corporate interference, but fans should not numbly let sponsors buy their love. It is the athletes — performing inside the building, winning the championships and creating the memories — who deserve the loyalty. Not some multimillion-dollar business that attached itself to fans’ nostalgia.
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