Acrisure Arena brought LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers and Kevin Durant and the Phoenix Suns to a packed, sold-out arena on Thursday for what organizers called the Desert Duel. It was the final preseason game for both teams and the first NBA game at the Palm Desert arena that opened 10 months ago.
But if Lakers head coach Darvin Ham has his way, this stop in the California desert would not just be a novelty. Ham wants it to become a regular, if not annual, event on the Lakers’ schedule.
“It’d be a great tradition to come out here and have a game leading into the season,” Ham said. “At some point, maybe it’s a regular season game.”
If this becomes a tradition, the Suns will have won the first one, 123-100.
Thursday's contest was the first time that James and Durant have faced each other in a game since Dec. 25, 2018. The two seemed to approach the game as if it meant something, with James scoring 19 points and Durant recording 21 in the first three quarters before they each sat out the fourth.
The arena, which seats just under 11,000 for basketball, sold out for the first of multiple high-level basketball games set to be played here before the end of the year. Michigan State and Arizona meet on Thanksgiving in the first major college basketball matchup to be played in the Coachella Valley.
On Thursday, the pro-Lakers crowd roared to life when the team was announced just before the starting lineups.
"It went crazy," Lakers guard Austin Reeves said. "I was like, 'Oh, this is cool.'
"It was a great experience and a great atmosphere," Reeves added. "We had a lot of fun with it."
In the 10 months since this building opened, the stars have come out to play. Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle opened the arena last December with a sold-out blockbuster comedy show.
Since then, the arena has been a launching pad for several recording artists starting tours, from Shania Twain to Lizzo to Peter Gabriel and Sting. Madonna will be here in early 2024. Adam Sandler will be here this weekend, followed by Kiss on Nov. 1.
Tim Leiweke, the founder of Oak View Group, the sports and entertainment advisory and management firm that built the arena, said in 2020 that he wanted to build a place that would draw stars from all areas of entertainment, and Acrisure Arena is delivering.
That was perhaps never more evident than on Thursday, with LeBron and KD in the house.
“I was in the hospital this week,” Indio resident Michael Dougherty said. “I told them that I needed to be out by Thursday. I wasn’t going to miss this.”
The game opened with Lakers guard D’Angelo Russell tossing up an alley-oop to teammate Anthony Davis, who threw it down to prompt the crowd to shoot to its feet. This wasn’t a tame preseason game.
Courtside seats for the event were going for $651 on the secondary market just before tip-off.
Former NBA all-star Tom Chambers, who now works in radio for the Suns, sat courtside during pre-game shootaround, marveling at the arena and what it had drawn to the desert.
“I was pleasantly surprised when I walked in,” Chambers said. “I mean everybody is right on top of the floor. I know they made this for hockey, but it’s great for basketball.
“This is an ideal spot to play a basketball game between the Suns and the Lakers, for sure.”
It’s well-known that the Lakers have been proactive in reaching out to their Southern California fanbase with events like this one. They held training camp at College of the Desert during the early years of Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant playing together, in the late 1990s. They also played preseason games in Ontario and in San Diego for years, though they were usually played in dilapidated venues. They weren’t ideal.
With a new arena in the Coachella Valley, perhaps it makes a lot of sense that Ham would want to come here every year.
“It’s a beautiful area full of Lakers fans,” Ham said, “and they have the resources to host an NBA game. It’s huge for the city and huge for this section of California.”
Ham may or may not have the influence to make this game an annual one at Acrisure Arena, but after Thursday there’s no doubt the fans in the valley want it.
Dougherty emerged from the hospital, rolled into the arena in a wheelchair and said he’d do it again in a heartbeat if given the chance.
“They really should do this every year,” Dougherty said. “Especially if they get crowds like this. I mean, this is incredible.”
Andrew John covers sports in the Coachella Valley for The Desert Sun. and the USA TODAY Network. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on Palm Springs Desert Sun: Phoenix Suns top Los Angeles Lakers in first NBA game at Acrisure Arena