The biggest moments in Staples Center history

Boxing

Since it first opened its doors in 1999, Staples Center has played host to seven NBA Finals, five WNBA Finals, four UFC pay-per-view cards, two Stanley Cup Finals and countless championship boxing matches. It was the home of the Pac-12 men’s basketball tournament for a decade and has seen multiple All-Star games in both the NHL and NBA played there. It’s also the annual home to the Grammy Awards (much to the frustration of its sports tenants, who are forced to go on lengthy road trips every January). Over its 22 years of use, Staples Center has become one of the most iconic arenas in all of professional sports.

And after Thursday night, Staples Center will be no more.

The game between the San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Lakers will be the final event at the arena under the Staples Center name. The building will officially become Crypto.com Arena for the Lakers’ scheduled Christmas Day game against the Brooklyn Nets (8 p.m. ET on ABC/ESPN and the ESPN app).

Before the change becomes official, we asked our writers across the world of sports to recall some of the biggest moments in Staples Center history, and if this list is any indication, Crypto.com Arena has quite the legacy to live up to.


NHL: ‘Frenzy on Figueroa’ and Cup collecting

There are three moments that define the Los Angeles Kings‘ history at Staples Center. Two of them resulted in Stanley Cup championships. The other is simply known as the “Frenzy on Figueroa.”

On April 18, 2001, the Kings were facing the Detroit Red Wings in the conference quarterfinals. Detroit was a star-laden team that would win the Cup the following season. The Kings were on the ropes: The Red Wings had a 2-1 series lead and a 3-0 lead in Game 4 at Staples. Then some magic started to happen. The Kings had gone 50 straight postseason power plays without a goal until forward Scott Thomas scored one at 13:53 of the third period. Forward Jozef Stumpel followed with another power-play goal less than four minutes later. The crowd nearly blew the roof off the place when Bryan Smolinski tied the score with 53 seconds left in regulation; the fans’ roar when rookie Eric Belanger scored at 2:36 into overtime is still ringing through the rafters.

What made the “Frenzy” even more frenetic was when the on-ice officials sent the overtime goal for a video review. “That was the longest five minutes of my life. The feeling we had when the goal was allowed was unbelievable,” Belanger told the Kings’ website. Los Angeles rode that momentum to a six-game series win, but checked out against the eventual champion Colorado Avalanche in the following round.

Kings senior VP of communications Mike Altieri has been with the team throughout the Staples’ seasons, and sees it this way: “If you wanted the ‘first’ great moment, it would be the Frenzy. But if you are looking for the ‘greatest moment for the Kings at Staples,’ it would be our first Stanley Cup.”

The Kings won the Stanley Cup twice at Staples. In 2014, they captured their second Cup in Game 5 on a double-overtime goal by defenseman Alec Martinez, in a series against the New York Rangers that wasn’t all that much in doubt. But their 2012 Stanley Cup win on home ice came in Game 6, with the New Jersey Devils having won two games in a row to send the series back to Los Angeles.

The game was played on June 11, 2012, and it turned out to be a rout. Devils forward Steve Bernier took an inexcusable boarding penalty in the first period, and the Kings ended up scoring three power-play goals during the ensuing five-minute major penalty, en route to a 6-1 win.

The entire third period was a celebration of inevitability. The crowd at Staples stood, cheered and counted down the final seconds of that game, some of them having waited all 45 years of the franchise’s history to see the Kings lift the Cup. Making the victory even sweeter: The Kings were the first No. 8-seeded team to win the Stanley Cup and only the second one to even reach the Final.

The Kings have been rebuilding for the past four seasons and have amassed one of the NHL’s best collections of prospects, ready to make new memories at Crypto.

— Greg Wyshynski


College hoops: Shockers shock Buckeyes

By defeating Ohio State 70-66 in the 2013 West Regional Final, No. 9 seed Wichita State capped a long-shot Final Four run filled with surprises. Just a week earlier, the Shockers had stunned top-seeded and No. 1-ranked Gonzaga by draining 14 3-pointers on the way to a six-point victory. An easy win against No. 13 seed La Salle then brought Gregg Marshall’s team face to face with the No. 2-seeded Buckeyes. Thad Matta’s team was aiming for its second consecutive Final Four and had won 11 straight games.

For most of the contest it appeared that Wichita State would add to its run of surprises by toppling OSU with ease. The Buckeyes scored just 22 points in the first half and trailed by 20 with 11 minutes remaining. But Ohio State’s LaQuinton Ross erupted for 15 points in the second half, and by the closing minutes the Shockers’ lead had been whittled down to just three.

All season long, OSU had been powered by 6-foot-7 junior Deshaun Thomas, who was often on the receiving end of another assist delivered by Aaron Craft. Thomas did ring up 21 points against Wichita State, but he missed all six of his 3-point attempts while Craft went 2-of-12 from the floor.

Ohio State was also stymied in the paint, as WSU’s Carl Hall recorded a season-high six blocks. Wichita State freshman Fred VanVleet was still coming off the bench at this point in his career, but he scored 12 points and converted a crucial basket in the 40th minute that bounced all around the rim before falling. VanVleet’s bucket, plus a key 3-pointer by Tekele Cotton, gave the Shockers just enough cushion to post the four-point victory.

Marshall famously told his team to “play angry,” and Wichita State was angry enough and good enough to reach the program’s first Final Four in 48 years. The Shockers took eventual champion Louisville to the final moments of the national semifinal in Atlanta before losing by four. The following season, WSU would earn a No. 1 seed and win its first 35 games before falling to No. 8 seed Kentucky in the round of 32.

— John Gasaway


Boxing: Mosley, De La Hoya stage a classic

Muhammad Ali. Denzel Washington. Jack Nicholson.

Seemingly all of Hollywood was out in full force for the inaugural boxing event at Staples Center, the first meeting between Oscar De La Hoya and “Sugar” Shane Mosley on June 17, 2000. The festivities inside the ring somehow exceeded the star power outside the ropes.

Mosley narrowly outpointed De La Hoya in a thrilling fight for the welterweight championship, handing “The Golden Boy” his first loss. The bout was named The Ring’s 2000 Event of the Year, and in the illustrious fistic history of Staples Center, it’s hard to find another matchup that can top the recognition of Mosley and De La Hoya.

But the downtown Los Angeles venue would create memories more meaningful in the annals of boxing history. Who can forget the heavyweight championship classic between Vitali Klitschko, a late replacement, and Lennox Lewis on June 21, 2003? Klitschko was ahead on the scorecards when the slugfest was halted following Round 6 due to a grotesque cut over his left eye that required 60 stitches.

Lewis never fought again, while Klitschko went on to win the heavyweight championship and enjoyed a lengthy reign. Today, they’re both in the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

Staples Center is also the site of one of the most infamous moments in boxing history. Antonio Margarito was coming off a career-best victory, a welterweight title win over Miguel Cotto, when he signed to fight Mosley. While his hands were being wrapped in a Staples Center dressing room, a plaster-like substance was discovered in one of the pads being inserted.

The controversy played out on HBO, and Margarito was forced to have his hands rewrapped. When he entered the ring, he was a 4-1 favorite over the 37-year-old Mosley, who was coming off a lackluster performance. In a shocking upset, Mosley didn’t just defeat Margarito; he destroyed him. The finish came in Round 9 when a barrage of punches forced the referee to save Margarito from further punishment following a knockdown. The largest crowd in Staples Center history for any event, an audience of 20,820, witnessed the beatdown.

Afterward, Margarito was suspended for one year and had his license revoked by the California State Athletic Commission.

Staples Center was also home to the epic heavyweight title tilt between Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder on December 1, 2018, a bout that produced one of the most indelible moments in the glamour division’s history.

Fury, on the comeback trail after gaining 40 pounds, outboxed Wilder for the majority of the bout, but was floored in Round 9. With the fight seemingly in hand, Fury was dropped again in the final round, and this time, he was badly hurt. Wilder’s patented overhand right followed by a left hook that met its mark, while Fury was already falling to the canvas, seemed to end the bout.

But like the WWE’s Undertaker, Fury bounced up after laying motionless on the mat for seconds, and even buckled Wilder before the fight was over. The bout was ruled a controversial draw, the first meeting of their epic trilogy that finally concluded this past October with two Fury wins.

The arena wasn’t done producing incredible boxing moments. Errol Spence Jr., in another welterweight classic, scored a 10th-round knockdown en route to a decision victory over Shawn Porter in a 2019 Fight of the Year candidate.

And finally, on Dec. 5, Gervonta “Tank” Davis, the protégé of Floyd Mayweather, struggled in a victory over long-odds underdog Isaac Cruz. Just like when De La Hoya and Mosley opened Staples Center’s doors to boxing fans, the celebrities were out in full force once more.

— Mike Coppinger


NBA: Clippers finally taste playoff success

With an injured Kawhi Leonard watching, the Clippers trailed by as many as 25 points in the opening seconds of the third quarter of Game 6 of the second round against the Utah Jazz last postseason, and another chapter of Clippers’ postseason failure seemed to be unfolding. The Clippers have been largely on the wrong side of history and were now staring at a Game 7 in Utah.

But in this moment, the Clippers turned another potential playoff calamity into not only their biggest moment at Staples Center but also the greatest moment in the franchise’s existence.

Behind an unlikely 39-point explosion from Terance Mann, who was starting in place of Leonard, the Clippers completed the largest halftime comeback in a series-clinching win in NBA history and punched their ticket to the Western Conference finals for the first time in 51 years with a 131-119 come-from-behind win. The Clippers were previously 0-8 all-time with a chance to clinch a conference finals appearance and were only nine months removed from blowing a 3-1 lead and suffering an embarrassing meltdown and loss to the Denver Nuggets in the second round in the bubble in Orlando, Florida.

The atmosphere at Game 6 against Utah was electric. It was the first sellout at Staples Center in more than a year due to the pandemic and COVID restrictions on fans being allowed in the building that season. That night, fans witnessed an all-time underdog performance from Mann, the 48th overall pick in the 2019 draft. Mann was a nightmare matchup for the Jazz and Rudy Gobert when the Clippers went small and the versatile swingman buried seven 3-pointers. The crowd exploded with each 3-point make as Mann unexpectedly went toe-to-toe with Jazz star Donovan Mitchell, who hit nine 3-pointers and had 39 points, nine assists and nine rebounds on a bad ankle.

“This was my first time experiencing a crowd like this,” said Paul George, who grew up in Palmdale, a suburb just outside Los Angeles. “It was just a special night. You felt it, the cheers, the excitement. You felt the monkey off of the Clippers’ back in terms of getting out of the second round.”

George wanted to be traded from Oklahoma City in 2019 to join Leonard, who grew up in nearby Moreno Valley, for moments like these. He did his best to not let another opportunity for the Clippers to move to the Western Conference finals slip away. George nearly had a triple-double with 28 points, nine rebounds and seven assists to make sure the Clippers clinched. As history was unfolding, Mann, Reggie Jackson and Patrick Beverley stood on the Staples floor, urging the crowd to cheer even louder.

“Just seeing our fans and how they stayed to the end and how they were cheering, it just felt good,” Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said. “The team has been starving for success, and the fan base has been doing the same thing.”

— Ohm Youngmisuk


UFC: Cejudo beats the unbeatable foe

Henry Cejudo came into his rematch with Demetrious Johnson at UFC 227 as a more than 3-to-1 underdog. Johnson had already beaten Cejudo once, by first-round TKO. And Johnson was on the greatest championship run in UFC history — 11 straight flyweight title defenses, a record that still stands today. But at Staples Center on Aug. 4, 2018, Cejudo, the former Olympic wrestling gold medalist born in Los Angeles, stunned Johnson and the MMA world with a split decision victory to become the UFC flyweight champion. Johnson’s unprecedented streak had been snapped. Cejudo used his dominant wrestling to get Johnson down and keep him there, something no other opponent had ever done before.

Cejudo went on to win the UFC bantamweight title a year later, becoming just the fourth fighter to hold titles in two UFC weight divisions concurrently. But his historic MMA run got started at Staples Center, just miles from where Cejudo was born to Mexican immigrants.

There have been several other major UFC moments at Staples. At UFC 60 on May 27, 2006, then-UFC welterweight champion Matt Hughes beat Royce Gracie by first-round TKO in a passing-of-the-torch moment. Gracie, the greatest UFC fighter of the early days, came out of retirement to take on Hughes, the best of his generation near Gracie’s weight class. Hughes’ emphatic victory at Staples signaled that a new, more evolved era had begun in mixed martial arts.

Ronda Rousey, the pioneer who vaulted women’s MMA into the spotlight, is no stranger to ushering in new eras, and one of her most incredible victories took place at Staples Center, at UFC 184 on Feb. 28, 2015. Rousey defeated Cat Zingano to defend the UFC women’s bantamweight title via submission in just 14 seconds. At the time, it was the fastest win ever in a UFC title fight. Zingano ran right at Rousey as soon as the bell rang. Rousey reversed her attack, the two fell to the floor and somehow Rousey pulled off her vaunted armbar from an impossible position. Rousey, a longtime Los Angeles resident, was undefeated in MMA until later that year, when she was knocked out by Holly Holm, who coincidentally made her UFC debut at UFC 184 with Rousey vs. Zingano as the main event.

— Marc Raimondi


WNBA: Teasley sparks LA’s second straight title

It was at the height of one of the WNBA’s early rivalries. A coastal showdown in the 2002 WNBA Finals that had everything from future Hall of Fame players to a rookie ready for her big moment.

The Los Angeles Sparks and New York Liberty had met in the inaugural WNBA game in 1997 at the Great Western Forum. By 2002, the Sparks’ home was Staples Center, and they were there playing for their second consecutive WNBA title on Saturday, Aug. 31.

The Sparks entered Game 2 of their best-of-three WNBA Finals series leading the Liberty 1-0, having won the opener at Madison Square Garden. At age 30, Sparks center Lisa Leslie was still at the peak of her career, having been the WNBA’s MVP the previous season.

This was the Liberty’s fourth time playing for the WNBA title in the league’s first six years, and their core of Teresa Weatherspoon, Sue Wicks, Tari Phillips and Vickie Johnson were all aged 30 or over. There was a sense that their window was closing.

The Sparks led by seven at halftime, but the Liberty were desperate to force a third game. They had come back to tie the score at 66 when Sparks rookie point guard Nikki Teasley launched a 3-pointer with 2.1 seconds left.

Teasley was the No. 5 selection out of North Carolina in the 2002 WNBA draft by the short-lived Portland Fire, but was traded on draft day to the Sparks. She was an immediate starter for the defending champions, averaging 6.4 points and 4.4 assists in the regular season. Teasley was second on the team with 40 3-pointers, and shot 40% from behind the arc — which explains the confidence she had to put up the potential championship-winning shot.

It swished, and the Sparks celebrated with the crowd at Staples Center. It was more of a historic moment than even they knew: Nearly two decades later, no other WNBA team since the Sparks have won back-to-back titles.

Leslie played 40 minutes in Game 2, getting 17 points and seven rebounds, and was named WNBA Finals MVP for the second time. The Sparks would win a third title 14 years later on another shot in the closing seconds, this one by Nneka Ogwumike. That came at the Minnesota Lynx‘s Target Center in 2016.

But Teasley’s shot remains the greatest moment for the Sparks at Staples.

— Mechelle Voepel


WWE: Lesnar returns to SummerSlam

​​Brock Lesnar returned to WWE in 2012 after a run as UFC heavyweight champion. In his second match back, he took on Triple H at SummerSlam on Aug. 19 of that year at Staples. It was a dream match at the time — the two legendary wrestlers had never faced off in a singles match on television or pay-per-view prior. The scripted storyline around the bout was that Lesnar had broken Triple H’s arm with a Kimura submission, a move often used in MMA, which Lesnar had just come back from. Triple H attempted to get revenge at SummerSlam, but after a grueling match, Lesnar prevailed — by breaking Triple H’s arm again with the Kimura.

Lesnar was not the only former UFC champion to have a major WWE moment at Staples. Ronda Rousey was in the middle of her run as WWE Raw women’s champion when she took on Charlotte Flair, daughter of Ric Flair, at Survivor Series on Nov. 18, 2018. It was a brutal, physical match that Rousey won via disqualification when Flair blasted her over and over with a Kendo stick. Rousey’s face was bloody, and she sported some nasty bruises near her right ear as a result of the attack. But Flair’s behavior had an odd effect on the LA crowd. Despite Rousey being the hometown girl, the fans booed her and cheered Flair’s violent onslaught. It led to WWE changing its future plans and putting Rousey, Flair and Becky Lynch in a triple threat match the following year at WrestleMania — the first-ever WrestleMania women’s main event.

It doesn’t have as much notoriety as their famous match a month before in Chicago, but CM Punk vs. John Cena at SummerSlam on Aug. 14, 2011, at Staples Center was a key cog in WWE’s “Summer of Punk” storyline. Punk won the undisputed WWE title match with Triple H as referee, only to get attacked by a returning Kevin Nash. Alberto Del Rio then swooped in, cashed in his Money in the Bank title shot contract and beat Punk to win the belt.

WrestleMania 21 was the only ‘Mania ever at Staples Center and it featured Batista beating Triple H to win the WWE world heavyweight champion, the first big title won by Batista in pro wrestling. Batista, of course, would go on to further success in Hollywood, in “Guardians of the Galaxy” and beyond.

— Raimondi


NBA: One last ring for Kobe

If a screenwriter came up with the scene, it would have been cut from the final production for being too over the top.

There Kobe Bryant was, having just defeated the Los Angeles Lakers‘ bitter rival Boston Celtics in Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals. The Lakers star stood on the scorer’s table, championship hat cocked to the side, confetti falling around him, as he spread his arms in triumph as if he were a Roman gladiator.

The Lakers’ ultimate moment at Staples Center was the result of an ugly game, but that didn’t dull the celebration.

For Bryant, it was redemption on several levels. First, it was evening the score with the Celtics after Boston beat him and the Lakers by 39 points in Game 6 of the 2008 Finals to take the title.

And it was proof that Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss was right in choosing Bryant over Shaquille O’Neal when he split up the duo in 2004, sending “The Most Dominant Ever” to Miami, where he promptly won another championship, his fourth.

The win over the Celtics was Bryant’s fifth, a fact he reveled in.

“It means I got one more than Shaq,” he said, his whole face turning into a smile during the postgame news conference.

The box score hasn’t aged well. The Lakers won 83-79, with Bryant shooting an anemic 6-for-24. But he did grab 15 rebounds and was a part of the play of the game — finding Ron Artest with an assist on the right wing for a 3-pointer that pushed L.A.’s lead from three to six with exactly one minute remaining.

Shoddy shooting percentage be damned, when asked to reflect on the victory after exit interviews with general manager Mitch Kupchak in the days that followed the championship, Bryant chose one word to sum it up: “Epic.”

It’s only gotten more epic over time, as it was the last Lakers championship of both Bryant and Dr. Buss. The longtime Lakers owner died less than three years later because of kidney failure, following a bout with cancer. Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven others perished in a tragic helicopter crash less than 10 years later.

For the kid who had his grandparents mail him VHS tapes of old Lakers-Celtics battles to watch while his dad played pro ball in Italy, and the man who dedicated his post-playing days to storytelling, that Game 7 win was as storybook as it gets.

— Dave McMenamin

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