In July of 2011, residents of Los Angeles – who fixate on their roads almost as much as they do on their celebrities and professional athletes – were bracing for the traffic jam to end all traffic jams.
It even earned its own cute nickname – Carmageddon – which is what people thought would happen when a 16-kilometre stretch of the heavily-travelled Interstate 405 was shut for a weekend, to facilitate road repairs.
L.A. is, as Dionne Warwick once sang, a great big freeway.
Luckily, Carmageddon fizzled badly, largely because Angelenos wisely adhered to the televised public-service announcements from Erik Estrada (reprising his CHiPs role) and stayed home.
So now, here it is, almost a year later, and the sports world’s answer to Carmageddon is on tap Sunday in downtown Los Angeles, when the worlds of professional hockey, basketball and cycling all collide at the intersection of South Figueroa and Chick Hearn Court, home of the Staples Center.
On the same day the NHL’s Los Angeles Kings play the Phoenix Coyotes with a chance to advance to the Stanley Cup final, their NBA brethren, the Los Angeles Clippers, will be home for a playoff game against the San Antonio Spurs in the same facility.
The Kings game is scheduled to start at noon local time; the Clippers at 7:30 p.m.
And if that wasn’t enough sporting distractions, the eighth stage of the Amgen Tour of California – sponsored by AEG, and billed as America’s biggest bicycle race – is scheduled to finish just outside Staples at 11:45 a.m.
It promises to be one grand, ungodly mess – or what Lee Zeidman, vice-president and general manager of Staples Center, called “an unprecedented weekend” for the city and facility.
The Kings are taking all the necessary precautions, installing their players and staff in a nearby hotel Saturday, so they will be close by Sunday. But even with AEG’s massive clout – it owns the arena, Kings, and the bike race – the NHL team couldn’t get into either of the hotels beside the arena
Instead, they are a couple of blocks away. And the players, like the fans, will need to cross Figueroa on a pedestrian bridge erected just for the occasion – or risk getting run over by the cyclists as they race to the finish line.
Apart from all the logistical challenges involved in the free-for-all, the greatest risk is the Kings-Coyotes game spills into multiple overtimes.
In an interview some three weeks ago, just as the NBA playoffs began, Zeidman said while doubleheaders are common in the building (19 have been played thus far) the nature of NHL playoffs and the possibility of unlimited overtimes meant they would never risk scheduling a hockey/basketball doubleheader – which is exactly what they’ve got.
Ultimately, NBC – the NHL’s national U.S. TV rights-holder – made the call and insisted it retain its Sunday afternoon presence because it didn’t want to preempt its evening programming schedule.
The two longest overtime games in NHL history were played in the 1930s – one lasted 116 minutes 30 seconds, the other 104:46. The longest in the modern era took place on May 4, 2000, when the Philadelphia Flyers defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins 2-1 on a goal by Keith Primeau after 92 minutes of overtime.
From buzzer to buzzer, it took 6 hours 56 minutes to complete that game, according to figures supplied by the Elias Sports Bureau. If Kings-Coyotes goes that long, the Clippers-Spurs game will most likely get pushed back to Monday – which presumably would not amuse TNT, the game’s TV rights-holder.
The Staples Center has had 44 hockey-to-basketball conversions since it opened in 1999, and the fastest changeover took less than two hours.
Kings head coach Darryl Sutter, who can be obsessive about scheduling, is really into this one. Last Wednesday, he was busy instructing visiting reporters about where to park on Sunday and which roads would permit them the fastest access to the arena. On Thursday, he joked his team will get about 60 hours rest between games, “just so long as nobody’s in that bike ride and flies up to San Francisco, or wherever they’re at.”
On Friday, he made it clear that noon starts are not his favourite because they can be disruptive to a hockey player’s natural rhythms. Earlier in the playoffs, he called it a pajama party.
“I don’t know, wait and see how you play, I guess,” Sutter said. “You always have those three or four guys who aren’t your perfect morning people, right? I remember those 1 p.m. starts at Boston Garden, you got woke up in a hurry.
“Everybody’s different. I don’t mind the mid-afternoon ones. The problem with the noon ones is, they’re people right? They’ve got to eat properly. So it affects their timing, their routine, when they get their fuel in them. That’s always an issue.”
But Sutter also wished the Kings weren’t playing just because he was interested in watching the bike race himself.
“It’ll be awesome actually if you think about it – [our game]and then the basketball after,” he said. “Just be tough getting in, tough getting out.”