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Lakers: There Goes the Neighborhood

As the Staples Center takes shape, Inglewood ponders life without the Lakers

Los Angeles magazine, December 1998

The familiar banners near the great western forum trumpet Inglewood as the City of Champions. But as the Lakers prepare for their final season there, residents and merchants wonder whether the moment Shaq's last shot drops through the net will also mark the fall of Inglewood itself.

While George Steinbrenner tries in vain to extract the Yankees from the Bronx, the owners of the Lakers and the Kings managed to spirit their teams from the neighborhood to the new $300 million Staples Center downtown. The exodus will cost Inglewood up to $1 million annually in lost revenues from ticket and parking taxes, according to city officials. But the psychological loss is just as acute: Whatever glamour Inglewood possesses is invested heavily in the Lakers playing there, and it's questionable whether Jack and Spike will return to the 'hood once they take their courtside seats downtown. "The Lakers gave an identity to Inglewood," says Leo Carrera, manager of the Sports Section, a memorabilia shop near the Forum. "This has been a depressed area for business, and the team leaving will probably slow things even more."

The impression lingers among bitter residents that Inglewood city officials did absolutely nothing to keep the two teams from departing. (Statements supporting the Forum from Lakers owner Jerry Buss especially rankle, since he had already signed a lucrative agreement to move the team wherever the Kings played.) According to former Inglewood assistant city manager Norman Cravens, the city offered Kings owners Philip Anschutz and Ed Roski Jr. a $50 million package to help fund a new arena on Hollywood Park property. "We committed a substantial amount of money and thought we had a shot, but in retrospect, I think they wanted to go downtown from the very beginning," he says. Adds Andrea Van Leesten, president of the Inglewood Chamber of Commerce, "There were higher powers at work. I don't think keeping the team in Inglewood was ever a consideration." Inglewood mayor Roosevelt Dorn is more blunt: "The city was handed a raw deal," he says. "The Lakers and Kings left Inglewood out to dry."

For what it's worth, the Hollywood Park racetrack, adjacent to the Forum, will generate roughly $8 million in tax revenue this year alone, and concerts and other events should take up some of the slack. And Inglewood will receive $10.5 million in federal urban-renewal funds. Several major businesses have committed to setting up shop, including a Lucky superstore and two car dealerships. Says Ronald Lewis, director of the community group Main Street Inglewood, "We hate losing the Lakers, but we're moving ahead. Inglewood is a great place, and it will survive."