- Arash Markazi, ESPN Staff Writer
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ANAHEIM, Calif. -- It's a tour that Joe and Gavin Maloof are probably familiar enough with to give themselves, and one NBA executives will no doubt be taking in the not-too-distant future.
While basketball was being played at the Honda Center last weekend, I was taking a tour of the building, Anaheim's 18-year-old arena, which may soon be the home of the Sacramento Kings.
My tour guide was unable to go on the record since no one working at Anaheim Arena Management, the company that operates the city-owned arena, nor anyone working for the Kings, is publicly commenting on the team's relocation plans at this time.
However, while I was walking around the arena as a sold-out crowd watched Connecticut win the West Regional final to advance to the Final Four, the Honda Center appeared to my eyes well-suited to be the home of big-time basketball on a regular basis.
From the outside, Honda Center not only holds its own against many more modern arenas but is actually more picturesque than many other cookie-cutter facilities built over the past decade.
The 130 palm trees that surround the arena, the 200,000 square feet of marble lining the interior concourses and the massive arched windows were all features which instantly impressed Kings officials, according to my tour guide.
While Sacramento's Arco Arena was built on the cheap for $40 million back in 1988, no expense was spared when Honda Center was built for $123 million in 1993. The four different colors of imported marble in the arena originated from the mountains of Spain, Taiwan and the Philippines, and the 12 feet of granite encircling the building's exterior was mined in Sweden and fabricated in Italy.
There is no doubt that the building would require some upgrades before it could be the home of an NBA team; Honda Center officials would be the first to admit that. If the Kings' move to Anaheim is approved, according to Honda Center officials, the arena has committed to building a state-of-the-art home locker room, upgrading the visiting team's locker room as well as improving other aspects of the facility to bring it up to par with other NBA arenas. The team would also get a modern practice facility nearby, although not in the adjacent parking lot of Honda Center as has been suggested in the past.
The city of Anaheim officially acknowledged its pursuit of an NBA team on Friday, revealing a financial plan to entice a team to relocate to Honda Center with $75 million in bonds. The Anaheim city council unanimously approved the bond deal Tuesday night. The deal includes $25 million for Honda Center upgrades and $50 million in transition costs, which would be funded by private investors and repaid by arena revenue.
There already have been $24 million in upgrades made to the Honda Center in the past six years, since Henry Samueli bought the Anaheim Ducks and Anaheim Arena Management in 2005. The 84 suites have been remodeled to include granite countertops and flat-screen HD televisions controlled by iPads. The upholstery of more than 17,000 seats has been changed, the sound system has been upgraded to the point Billboard magazine rated the venue one of top five arenas in the country for concerts in 2010, and two wraparound message boards and two LED scoreboards have been installed. The restaurant and lounge on the club level overlooking the arena floor also has been remodeled.
Honda Center's 84 suites and 1,750 club seats represent a significant potential upgrade over Arco Arena's 30 suites and 412 club seats, but to hear fans at the West Regional final tell it, sheer basketball aesthetics may be the building's most important feature.
"The sight lines are great and the sound reverberated nicely," said Lex Beres, a 42-year-old Arizona fan from Scottsdale. "It's a great atmosphere for basketball."
It's no accident that the Honda Center's sight lines for basketball are already on par with other basketball arenas. The arena was built to house a basketball team as well as a hockey team. While the Anaheim Ducks have been the arena's only professional tenant since it opened, the hope of city officials was always to add an NBA team as well. Initially, it looked like the Clippers would be that team, but they played just 35 games in Anaheim over six years before moving to Staples Center full-time in 1999.
Despite being in small locker rooms, which aren't much different from visiting locker rooms in the NBA, many of the players competing in the West Regional said they could see Honda Center as an NBA venue after playing in NBA arenas in their conference tournaments.
"I think this is a great arena, it's one of the nicest I've played in," said Arizona guard Kyle Fogg, who hails from nearby Brea, Calif. "It would be cool to have an NBA team here so close to home. I think Honda Center compares nicely to the Staples Center. I think they're both NBA arenas. I think this would be a great place to have an NBA team."
While many think an NBA team moving into Anaheim would cut into the fan base and ticket sales of the Lakers and Clippers in Los Angeles, Honda Center officials are hoping their NBA ticket sales patterns might mirror those of some of their concerts, which show they have a good number of customers coming from northern San Diego. Although the arena was packed with San Diego residents on Thursday, cheering for San Diego State against Connecticut in the Sweet 16, many of those fans said they wouldn't make the 95-mile trek up to watch an NBA team in Anaheim on a regular basis. Much like big concerts, big games would be worth the trip, the fans said, but they wouldn't purchase season tickets.
"The problem is San Diego is not a big NBA market," said Bryan Rem, a 36-year-old Aztecs fan from San Diego. "We had the NBA 25 years ago and we kind of supported it but when the Clippers moved to Los Angeles we stopped supporting it. This is a beautiful facility, I wish San Diego had an arena like this but we need a lot of stuff. It's nice but it's still about an hour and 15-minute drive from San Diego."
As nice as the Honda Center may be and as good as it might look after $25 million in upgrades, the biggest question for the long-term viability of the Kings in this market is building a fan base in a community which already has been supporting the Lakers since 1960 and the Clippers since 1984. It's the one part of the move that cannot simply be solved with refurbishments and remodeling.
"I love the Honda Center and I think it deserves an NBA team but I'm still going to be a Lakers fan no matter what, that's not going to change," said John Terry, a 31-year-old Anaheim resident. "The only thing this means for me is I don't have to drive as far for two Lakers games during the season."
12hMatt Walks, ESPN.com