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Sports >  Gonzaga basketball

Staples Center one of NBA’s premier venues, but also a ‘second home’ to many former Zags

UPDATED: Thu., March 22, 2018

LOS ANGELES – The Staples Center is housing fourth-seeded Gonzaga and three other Sweet 16 qualifiers this week in the West Regional Semifinal of the NCAA Tournament. The college game rarely comes through the home fortress of the NBA’s Lakers and Clippers, but it’s been a familiar setting for a growing number of Zags who’ve gone pro.

Adam Morrison and Ronny Turiaf participated in three championship runs during their stints with the Lakers, Dan Dickau closed his pro tenure with the Clippers and an assortment of other former Zags spent chunks of their pro careers playing home games in the Staples Center.

The full list: Dan Dickau (Clippers, 2007-08), Richie Frahm (Clippers, 2007-08), Morrison (Lakers, 2008-09, 2009-10), Turiaf (Lakers, 2005-08; Clippers, 2012-13), Robert Sacre (2012-16), Elias Harris (Lakers, 2013).

This week, The Spokesman-Review asked three of the former Zags to go down memory lane and reminisce on their time in the Staples Center.

The games

Dan Dickau wouldn’t have enough content to create a scrapbook of his best moments in a Clippers uniform, but there was one indelible moment from the 2007-08 campaign that won’t leave him anytime soon. The two tenants of the Staples Center were squaring off in the regular season – a reunion of NBA Zags if there ever were one.

Dan Dickau: “I think the coolest game would’ve been Clippers vs. Lakers in Staples. And Richie Frahm and I were in the starting backcourt for the Clippers and Ronny started that night for the Lakers. It was three Zags in the starting lineup out of 10 guys, it was pretty cool.”

Dickau collected the ball out of the pick and roll and probed into the lane. Not a swell idea with 6-foot-9 and 250 pounds of Turiaf protecting the rim.

Dickau: “I flipped up a floater and Ronny threw it into about the fourth row and he gave me a look like, ‘What are you doing, Dan?’ And then he just started laughing.”

For Morrison, the historic downtown venue brought highs and lows. He was part of the confetti party on the Staples Center floor that followed the Lakers’ 2009 NBA championship …

Adam Morrision: “I guess the second year was different because the first year I contributed, so yeah, the second time I was on the team for the whole season and stuff like that. And then the second one was at home, so that was different obviously.”

And there were the lows …

Morrison: “This is also where I tore my ACL with Charlotte, so I’ve seen both sides of it.”

Drafted by the Lakers with the 37th overall pick, Turiaf wasn’t immune to the growing pains that often come with a rookie season. Those bled into Turiaf’s sophomore season in the pros and legendary Lakers coach Phil Jackson needed to boost the morale of his center. So he stuck Turiaf on Yao.

Ronny Turiaf: “Out of nowhere, he came to shootaround and said, ‘Ronny, I want you to start at the 4.’ I was supposed to guard Yao Ming and that was pretty special for me coming from a difficult first year. So that was a good moment.”

Another one? 81 for No. 8. Turiaf was also a witness on one of the arena’s historic nights. Kobe Bryant made 28 shots from the field and was good for another 18 free throws in a 122-104 win over the Raptors. Turiaf had a floor-level view of the outburst.

Turiaf: “That was definitely up there.”

Los Angeles was the sixth and final NBA stop for Dickau. He and his wife Heather found a pad off the California coast in Manhattan Beach when Dickau was sent to the Clippers from Portland in 2007. Los Angeles welcomed him, as did an old college friend from Spokane. Eric Edelstein, known better by the GU community as “Big Ed,” befriended Dickau and roomed with a handful of his teammates while both attended Gonzaga.

Dickau: “He was living down here, kind of breaking into the acting business. He went to like 30 of the 41 home games, he sat with my wife and two kids at pretty much every game. It was pretty cool to have a friend down there for an entire season.”

The celebrities

Staples Center has always been a prime hangout spot for the city’s actors, musicians and showmen. The arena provides a setting for players to mix with stars – a celebrity melting pot unlike any other in professional sports.

Morrison: “I had some cool interactions in the valet in Staples. They’re smart. They let celebrities park down there with the players. So they feel more inclined to come to games.”

Morrison grew close with members of Los Angeles-based rock group Rage Against the Machine. He often supplied the band’s guitarist, Tom Morello, with tickets and the two would mingle after games.

Morrison: “I sat one time, my first year there when I was sitting out in the playoffs, I sat right next to Phil Mickelson and talked to him the whole game. That was kind of cool just because I was a golfer and he was a really nice guy, very humble.”

Actor Jack Nicholson, the ultimate Lakers super fan, dropped by the club’s player lounge one game while Morrison’s oldest daughter and then-girlfriend were visiting. Morrison heard the story second-hand.

Morrison: “He picked up my oldest daughter when she was just a baby and started talking to her and just out of nowhere in the family room, just picked her up and, ‘Hi, sweety,’ and held her for 30 seconds.”

Dickau’s tenure with the Clippers was short-lived, so for the majority of his eight-year NBA career, the guard came to Staples Center as an adversary.

Dickau: “I remember, not necessarily when I was playing with the Clippers but when I was playing with other teams, having a super quick conversation with Adam Sandler or Jack Nicholson. I’d just have a really good game … and they’d be like, ‘Stop killing us.’ That is probably the most unique setting for an NBA game because of that. New York’s cool because it’s Madison Square Garden, but you don’t really have all of the celebrities like you do at the Staples Center, granted there’s a lot more at Lakers games than there would be Clippers games.”

The mecca

A backdrop for Kobe’s 81-point outing, five NBA championships and seven NBA Finals, the Staples Center, since its construction in 1999, has been a museum for some of the game’s most historic snapshots over the last two decades.

Turiaf: “It’s the dynasty, man. It’s the dynasty. It’s the legacy of the Los Angeles Lakers organization. What does it represent for the city, what does it represent for entertainment per se because it’s not really just about basketball, but what show is happening here? But if you are focusing on the basketball aspect, you can tell that the Lakers organization means business. It’s all about winning, it’s all about legends. That’s what makes it so special.”

Morrison describes it like such.

Morrison: “It’s just a very warming organization that just does everything right. I always felt wanted and treated right. That’s part of the building, they do it differently. I don’t know how else to explain it. There’s no mascot here. The culture’s different. It’s Showtime, obviously. Posh.”

Lakers alumni were invited back two years ago for Bryant’s final game at Staples Center. Playing in front of legions of his ex-teammates, vintage Kobe arrived for the show and poured in 60 points to lead the Lakers past the Utah Jazz 101-96.

Turiaf: “You could feel the city was buzzing. It was very cool to have been a part of that and as a small kid from the Caribbean, to find myself in this environment was pretty surreal to be completely honest.”

Turiaf returned to the arena this week for the occasion of Gonzaga’s Sweet 16 matchup against Florida State. Roaming the tunnels and back alleyways, he’s run into a few of the security guards and staff members who worked in the building during his playing days.

Turiaf: “I shared some cool moments with those people. I was at the time very superstitious, so from the fistbumps to the hugs to them taking care of my family and stuff so it’s definitely always cool to see familiar faces. I would say what really stuck with me most is the common denominator for all of them is that they all asked about my mom. ‘How is your mom doing?’ My mom had a big impact, so my mom is almost like the celebrity. So that’s what makes it special.”

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