When a Los Angeles Playoff Game Ends, Their Jobs Begin
LOS ANGELES — Jorge Mendez waited impatiently as the Los Angeles Kings’ fate hung in the balance late Friday night.
Their N.H.L. first-round playoff game against the Edmonton Oilers had already gone into overtime, robbing Mendez’s crew of several precious minutes they would need to get Crypto.com Arena ready for the Clippers’ N.B.A. playoff game on Saturday afternoon. And now there was another delay. Officials were trying to determine whether a would-be game-winning goal by Kings forward Trevor Moore should count.
Mendez, the venue’s assistant conversion manager, had a crew of about 20 people waiting to transform the chilly arena. They would be working all night and had to finish by 7 a.m. Saturday. They had never missed a deadline, and weren’t about to start now.
“With the referees we don’t know,” Mendez said. “They could say they deny that one and it goes longer. And the more longer they go, they’re going to take more time from me.”
The goal stood and the Kings won. Fans celebrated and left the building, then Mendez’s crew got to work: The nets and glass surrounding the ice rink came down; the penalty boxes and benches were disassembled and moved; the ice was cleaned and covered by insulation so it wouldn’t melt during the next day’s basketball games; and the modules containing seats were shifted into new configurations.
They finished well before 7 a.m. and Mendez drove home at 6:30 a.m. At that time of day there is little traffic, so it took him just 10 minutes. When he works overnight, he sleeps during the day, and his wife tries to stop his 9-year-old daughter from bursting into his room to ask if he wants to bike with her. But Mendez’s weekend was long from over.
Like dozens of others, Mendez worked tirelessly to make sure the arena could handle its frenetic week. The busiest time came in the 36 hours after the Kings game Friday, when the building turned over from the Kings to the Clippers to the Lakers and back to the Kings. All three teams have called the arena home since 1999, when it opened as Staples Center.
“My favorite part of this is when they’re done,” said Lee Zeidman, the president of Crypto.com Arena; the nearby Microsoft Theater; and the surrounding entertainment district, L.A. Live. “It’s like a puzzle. These men and women they’re the best in the business.”
Mendez was back at 1 p.m., ready to flip the arena from the Clippers’ array of red, blue, black and silver to the Lakers’ purple and gold.
Between Thursday and Monday night, Crypto.com Arena will have hosted four basketball playoff games and two hockey playoff games.
“It’s chaos,” said Darryl Jackson, an event operations assistant manager for the arena. “But it’s organized. Organized chaos.” He began his career working on conversions, but now helps to make sure the baskets during basketball games and the glass during hockey games stay in good condition.
Minutes after Game 4 of the first-round series between the Clippers and the Phoenix Suns finished Saturday, Loreto Verdugo backed a forklift down an aisle between the court and the first row of grandstand seats. He had just a couple of inches of space on either side of him. After years of doing this task, he wasn’t nearly as nervous as he was the first time he did it.
“You don’t want to hit the floor because the floor’s the most important thing out there,” Verdugo said. “But you don’t want to hit anybody else either.”
He had quietly left his home in North Hollywood at 4 a.m. (“I’m like a mouse,” he said) to be at the arena in time to begin supervising maintenance work.
As soon as the Clippers’ game ended, just before 3 p.m., and all of the people had been cleared from the court, a bustle of expertly choreographed activity began. By the time the Clippers’ players began their postgame interviews, workers had bagged fans’ trash, and the player and logo banners the Clippers hang in the rafters had been rolled up to reveal the gold-colored championship banners for the Lakers and the W.N.B.A.’s Los Angeles Sparks, who have also shared the arena for much of the past two decades.
The Clippers’ court was already being uprooted from the floor, piece by interlocking piece, and loaded onto pallets that Verdugo and two other forklift drivers would pick up and deposit in a storage area that doubles as a news conference room.
It was the 251st midday conversion in the history of Crypto.com Arena.
About an hour after the Clippers’ game ended, their court had been replaced by the Lakers’ floor.
Joe Keeler, who normally drives the Zamboni that cleans and builds the ice during hockey games, joined a group of people folding the baskets with white stanchions that the Clippers use and rolling them out to the storage area. They replaced them with the yellow-stanchioned baskets the Lakers use.
“Everybody helps where they can,” said Keeler, who also helped pick up the Clippers’ floor and lay down the Lakers’.
Red Clippers drapery was replaced by purple, and a purple carpet had been rolled out in the tunnel the Lakers use to go onto the court.
It is a little easier when the conversion is from one basketball court to another. Doubleheaders involving the Kings are more challenging. When the building first opened, Zeidman gathered the vendors for the basketball courts, the seats and the plexiglass for hockey games and asked them how long they thought it would take to convert the hockey arena into a basketball arena. They told him at least four hours.
“Unacceptable,” Zeidman said.
‘How can I work here?’
The first conversion for a doubleheader was an event in itself. Fans were allowed to watch from a designated area. Arena workers watched from a break room upstairs.
“It was amazing,” said Juanita Williams, 57, an usher who has worked right behind the home benches during basketball games since the building opened. “To see it for the first time, we were like there’s no way they’re going to change this over in two and a half hours. It happened.”
Williams started as an usher 25 years ago at the Forum in Inglewood, Calif., where the Lakers and the Kings played from 1967 to 1999. She called to find out how much Lakers season tickets cost.
“I said: ‘OK, I cannot afford those tickets. So how can I work here then?’” she said.
In the daytime she works from home as a buyer for a washer and dryer company that she has been with for 34 years. Her daughter briefly took a job as an usher, too, while going to cosmetology school.
By Monday night, Williams will have worked in all six playoff games since Thursday.
Robbin Dedeaux, 65, will have too. He works at the top of the lower bowl in aisle 14, checking tickets and greeting customers. He is stationed right next to where the Lakers’ radio broadcasters sit.
Dedeaux also started this work as a second job to get out of the list of chores his wife, Ricca Dedeaux, was always asking him to do. He started with ticket-taking in 1999 and then became an usher. He has been asked if he’d like to work down on the floor, but he thinks he might get sleepy if he got to sit down.
“The fans are the best part of the job,” Dedeaux said. “You get to see them from all over the world. They come in from Italy, they come in from France, they come in from Germany. You have fun with them.”
He added: “When the fans that come here from different arenas, I have fun with them. I tell them to get out.”
Dedeaux and his wife have been married for 40 years. He said she misses him during basketball and hockey season when he is working so many hours.
“That’s just marriage,” Dedeaux said. “She knows I love her, she knows I love what I do. She tolerates it.”
He added, “Then I make up for it.”
‘It has to be done’
Ignacio Guerra’s first job in the events world came in the early 1990s. He was a high school chemistry and biology teacher and coach, and he would park cars at the Hollywood Bowl in the summers. When Staples Center opened, Guerra worked for the contractor parking cars there, before finding a job working for the arena. Saturday was his 21st anniversary with the arena.
In 2019, he took over as the head of the arena’s operations department. He is now the senior vice president of operations and engineering. He has worked hundreds of events and has two large frames in his office displaying credentials for everything from Taylor Swift concerts to N.B.A. All-Star Games.
He shepherded the building through coronavirus shutdowns and the return of fans. During the shutdown, many of his workers took other jobs and didn’t come back, which meant starting over with new people at some positions.
At least a handful of the remaining people have worked at the arena since the beginning, including the man who builds the penalty boxes for hockey games. Guerra often stands in the middle of the floor supervising all of the activity.
“They’re the heart and soul of this,” Guerra said of the operations staff.
He said the crew has never missed a conversion.
“You can’t wait up at 7 in the morning and say, ‘Hey, sorry we couldn’t get the Laker floor down.’” Guerra said. “It has to be down, and there’s a no-fail mentality.”
The Lakers played at 7 p.m. Saturday. By 10 p.m. another conversion had begun.