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Will Staples Center bite Thunder?

by Jenni Carlson Published: April 17, 2010

A snake pit, the Staples Center isn’t.

Still, playing the Lakers on their home court will present a different challenge for the Thunder. When Oklahoma City’s playoff series against Los Angeles opens Sunday, this youthful bunch will discover a level of distraction that is unlike anything else in sports.

Lakers games are where Hollywood types come to see and be seen, so the Thunder has seen the circus during its previous trips. The movie stars. The music moguls. The famous faces.

But what they’ve seen during the regular season is nothing compared to what the Staples Center is like during the playoffs.

“When they go to L.A., they’re going to see more celebrities than they’ve seen in their previous trips,” Yahoo! Sports NBA writer Marc Spears said.

Maybe the players will be able to block that out, but it’d be difficult to believe that they won’t be wowed a bit by the whole scene. Jack Nicholson sitting just down the row from the visitors’ bench. Justin Timberlake over there. Halle Berry over here.  We’re wowed by celebrity; impossible to believe that it’d be much different for Kevin Durant, Jeff Green and Co.

“It’s interesting who’s there and how big of a distraction that can be,” Spears said.

That doesn’t even take into account the distraction that comes with being in Los Angeles. There are trendy restaurants. There are popular clubs. There are places to go and things to do that you won’t find anywhere else.

And there are people who will want a piece of the players. Being in the playoffs in Los Angeles, family and friends are bound to flock to SoCal. They’ll want to get tickets. They’ll want to go to dinner. With Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Kevin Ollie being from the L.A. area, that will add a whole other level of distraction to the equation.

So will the business types who want to get some time with some of these guys. Durant seems a likely target. Hollywood movers and shakers will be asking to meet with him.

Does Kevin want to talk about this movie deal?

Is he interested in discussing this shoe deal?

Again, it’s possible that the Thunder will be immune to the hubbub. Perhaps they’ll stay in their bubble. Maybe they’ll maintain a steely focus. But the challenge will be significant in L.A.

It’s not Boston. It’s not Utah. It’s not Portland. Those arenas are rowdy and intense and a challenge for every visiting team. The Staples Center is none of those things.

“The Laker thing is a different type of distraction,” Spears said.

Just because the Staples Center isn’t a snake pit doesn’t mean visitors are immune from being bitten.

by Jenni Carlson
Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football...
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