by Marcel Mutoni

Anybody watching Tuesday night’s Suns/Lakers game in L.A. would have noticed that something was a little off. And no, it wasn’t just the fact that Mamba sat out and the Lakers somehow won the game. It was the lighting. The atmosphere inside the Staples Center was very different than it had been in years past. Aside from the actual court, the rest of the arena was dark. It reminded me of the lighting the NBA uses for All-Star games. At first I thought it was a technical error that would be corrected as the night progressed, but nothing changed and no one said a word. Very strange.

Thanks to KB24.com (quickly becoming my favorite new site), we now have the answer:

Instead of lighting the entire cavernous arena like an LAX runway, they have a new setup with the lights focused on, of all places, the court. The seating areas, where people traditionally go to see and be seen (emphasis on be seen), now are dim. Think dark alley. Think the new Lakers marketing campaign — “Lights out.” The new look was introduced Tuesday night when the Lakers and Phoenix Suns opened the 2006-07 NBA season. “The idea was to put the emphasis on the game,” said Tim Harris, the Lakers senior vice president for business operations who is chief marketing officer for the team.

I’ll be honest, I don’t like this one bit. How are we now going to be able to watch Hollywood celebrities (Jack Nicholson excluded) try and pretend like they care about basketball and aren’t at the game just to get some camera time? How will we be able to wager on when Laker fans decide it’s time to leave so they can beat the traffic? Actually, judging from the looks of things last night, it wouldn’t be a bad idea for the Miami Heat organization to adopt this “lights out” strategy until playoff time.

On a serious note, though, Staples is one of the very few NBA arenas where every game feels important simply because of the venue (The Garden being another). Sure, it comes nowhere near the old Forum in terms of beauty and historical significance, but it does have an undeniable aura, a certain je ne sais quoi if you will. Now, thanks to the lighting, it looks like an entirely different place; it makes no sense. Why are they messing with a good thing?