Aerosmith's Steven Tyler was in attendance at the Lakers
games on Tuesday, but there were empty seats too. (Noel Vasquez/Getty Images Entertainment)
No Kobe Bryant, no Dwight Howard, no Steve Nash and, after more than six years, no sellout at the Staples Center for the Lakers. L.A.'s blowout victory over New Orleans on Tuesday might have produced a "Dunk of the Year" candidate from Xavier Henry, but it didn't draw a full house.
The Los Angeles Times reports that the game marked the first time since Dec. 2006 that the Lakers were unable to sell every seat.
The Lakers' home sellout streak ended at 270 games Tuesday night when the team drew 18,426, just short of the capacity of 18,997, during a 116-95 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans at Staples Center. The Lakers had sold out 320 straight games including the playoffs.
The last non-sellout for the Lakers at Staples Center came Dec. 6, 2006, against New Orleans/Oklahoma City, when they drew 18,535.
There were signs that this was coming. Forbes reported earlier this week that the price of Lakers tickets on the secondary market are down 27 percent compared to last year, the second-biggest drop in the NBA.
A lot has to go wrong for one of the league's richest franchises and most popular global brands in one of the United States' largest cities to fall short at the gate. Of course, a lot has gone wrong. Bryant's rehabilitation from a 2012-13 season-ending Achilles injury still no has timetable, and Howard's one-year Hollywood stopover is already a distant memory. The Lakers were not in a position to replace either star to open this season, and the loss of Nash to a back injury has left a 33-year-old Pau Gasol as the only remaining marquee name on the court. Throw in the fact that the opponent was the small-market Pelicans and that the early-season game was on a Tuesday night, and this was just about the worst-case scenario from a ticket-selling standpoint.
Plenty has happened since the last non-sellout. The Lakers have won two titles, fallen two wins short of a third championship and made the playoffs seven straight times. Kobe Bryant has made seven consecutive All-Star Games and All-NBA First Teams teams. They've traded for Pau Gasol and (almost) traded him away to the then-Hornets for Chris Paul. They've developed Andrew Bynum into an All-Star and then traded him. They've acquired Howard and unsuccessfully begged him to stay. They've parted with the likes of Derek Fisher, Metta World Peace and Lamar Odom. They've traded for Nash and waited for him to make an impact. Phil Jackson retired, Mike Brown was hired, Brown was fired, and Mike D'Antoni was hired. Dr. Jerry Buss passed away.
Ticket sales are a reflection of the product on the court, and the conclusion of such a long streak brings with it symbolic importance. Given the many variables at play, particularly Bryant's health, it's not accurate to paint this as an "end of an era." That said, what happens next is very much an open question. Will the ticket market be forced into making further corrections, will Lakers fans decide to fully embrace their fairly scrappy band of over-achieving replacements for better and worse, or will it take Bryant's return to keep the money printing at fully speed?