Living in the shadow of the Los Angeles Lakers comes with both positives and negatives. On the plus side, you are tied to one of the most iconic franchises in sports and have a solid backing. On the negative of course, the Lakers cast a huge shadow and it's often difficult to gain relevance when the parent franchise commands so much attention.
Since 2006, the Los Angeles D-Fenders have represented the Lakers in the D-League and are the first team to actually be owned and operated by the parent club. Per the team's Facebook page, the team name was actually set to be the "Breakers" after a naming contest of 64 teams, but it was found that the nickname was already taken by a local dwarf basketball team.
At the start, the D-Fenders played at the Staples Center prior to Lakers' home games. The team was scheduled to move to Citizen's Business Bank Arena (home of the Ontario Reign) during the 2008 season, but ultimately remained at the Staples Center. In 2010, the D-Fenders announced that they would cease operations for the 2010-11 season. Â During this time, the Lakers would be affiliated with the Bakersfield Jam. Upon taking a year off, the team resumed play at the Toyota Sports Center for the 2011-12 season. The TSC was previously known as the HealthSouth Training Center and is primarily known as a practice facility for the Lakers, Los Angeles Kings, and Los Angeles Sparks. It was opened in March of 2000 after a $24 million construction cost.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
Unfortunately to get any food or beverage, you had to step outside of the actually playing area. The menu was limited, but had some surprisingly good choices. The options included Pepperoni or Cheese Calzones ($4.50), Tex Mex Vegetarian Calzone ($4.50), Hot Dog ($3.50), pretzels ($3), churros ($2.50), strawberry churro ($3), jalapeno and cheese pretzels ($4), assorted chips ($1.50), and chocolate chip or oatmeal cookies ($2.50).
The beverage options were limited to 5 items that included Coke, Diet Coke, Water (all $3), Budweiser and Bud Light ($3.50).
The experience took me back to many visits to Lakers games as there were many similarities. The Laker Girls were on the sidelines during the games, performing dance routines during breaks, and one even sung the National Anthem. Lawrence Tanter was the public address announcer and the same introduction music of "Baba O'Riley" by The Who and "I Love LA" by Randy Newman. During the game, many of the Lakers coaching staff and scouts were watching from rooms above.
The promotions were limited, with the fan of the game and the "Dress and Dribble Challenge" being the most notable ones. Due to the lack of distractions, fans are treated to a more exciting basketball experience. Fans could hear players talking amongst themselves and bickering with the referees on questionable calls.
With the Los Angeles International Airport just minutes away, fans are assured lots of dining options. Most any nearby hotel will offer a sit-down restaurant, but the majority of options are fast food including El Pollo Loco, Quiznos, Chipotle, and IHOP. If you're in the mood for pizza, I would recommend Valentino's, which serves New York style pies.
The Proud Bird offers views of airplanes coming in for landing and even has many replica airplanes on the lawn. The menu is a bit pricey, but its truly a one-of-a-kind experience and worth at least a try.
Also, being so close to the airport, the Encounter Restaurant may be worth a try. It is a landmark of Los Angeles with its "spaceship" appearance.
It appeared that most fans in attendance were the result of a local cheer group performing at the game; subsequently they were not overly engaged. There were however, quite a few die-hard fans that appeared to be bickering with the referees over every call that was not in the D-Fenders favor.
I did not notice a merchandise stand on site and did not see the D-Fenders/Lakers colors represented in the apparel of the fans; leading me to believe that these fans were not consistent visitors.
Getting to the Toyota Sports Center is rather simple being located close to freeways 105 and 405, and just minutes from the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). If you are riding the LA Metro, it can be easily accessed via the Green Line and there is a bus stop just in front of the facility.
Actually getting to the gym itself is more of a challenge in that fans have to follow several signs past three ice rinks to get there.
Once inside, fans will find all seating on one side of the arena in the form of black folding chairs. There are no assigned seats, so fans can choose at their leisure.
To use the restrooms, fans must exit the gym and head back into the chilly ice rink area. It's a minor inconvenience, but I am sure fans would enjoy an easier alternative.
For fans to get into a game, they will pay $20 for general admission. If a courtside seat is desired, it comes with a fee of $99.
Parking is free and the menu options are very reasonable priced, so while the tickets may be a bit high, the other pieces of the equation balance the experience out. Let's not forget that these players are among the top 700 in the county, so fans still get treated to some great basketball talent.
The facility also includes three public ice rinks and a restaurant. I took a pass through the complex and it is an impressive setup with the hockey rinks boasting the retired numbers of the Los Angeles Kings. Ice is limited in Southern California, so if ice skating is a hobby of yours, it may be a good opportunity before or after the game.
Being located in such close proximity to the parent club, there have been two instances where a player has appeared in a D-League game and NBA game in the same day. This feat was achieved by both Jordan Farmer and Coby Karl.
Extra value goes to playing in the Lakers practice facility and having the championship banners and retired numbers hanging prominently around the gym. This has to be rather inspirational for many of the players vying for a spot in the NBA.
It appears that being owned by a profitable parent club is reaping benefits for this team. It appears that the operation is more intended to develop and scout players rather than turn a profit and sell merchandise. Fans won't be exposed to a bunch of cheesy promotions, but rather an emphasis on the game of basketball.
Follow Drew's Travel's Through Southern California on Twitter @Big10Drew.
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