It’s been a long, empty, bitter time for LA sports fans. When was the last time we hoisted a championship trophy or had a celebratory parade for one of our sports teams? I can’t even remember – that’s how long it’s been. Let’s look at the evidence:
- For all the years of the team’s existence, the Kings hockey club had never won the prized Stanley Cup;
- The Dodgers baseball team hasn’t been World Series champs for 23 years;
- The Lakers basketball team hasn’t gotten past Round 2 of the NBA post-season for several years;
- The Clippers basketball team has been the laughingstock of the NBA since it came into existence in San Diego and moved to LA, loitering near the bottom of the league and making the playoffs only seven times in 42 years;
- UCLA has been a disaster for so many years, it’s almost embarrassing; in the past 20 years, they’re working on their fifth coach and an NCAA championship has been elusive;
- USC has been on NCAA probation for the past two years; they’ve been unable to play in the post-season or recruit the normal amount of players.
Well, wake up, sports fans. Los Angeles is alive and well and poised to win multiple championships this year! It’s a good time to be a sports fan in LA!
We kicked off 2012 with our beloved hockey underdogs, the LA Kings, winning the Stanley Cup! This was even more extraordinary than it sounds considering the Kings just barely made it into the playoffs (they made it on the weekend before the season’s end) and proceeded to pick off every team that was ranked higher than they were. We are still celebrating this win – if you follow the Kings on Facebook or Twitter or their Web site, you’ve been treated to photos of each player enjoying his day with the Cup. (It’s actually cute and fun, so if you haven’t seen these pictures, you ought to check them out: http://kings.nhl.com)
Not to be outdone by the hockey team, the LA Lakers gave themselves a huge boost and a realistic chance to go all the way this season when they pulled off some nearly impossible moves. First, they convinced Steve Nash (yes, that Steve Nash who said he could never – ever – don a Purple-and-Gold jersey because he hated the Lakers so much) to come and play ball with the Purple-and-Gold! With Nash as point guard, our even more famous guard can get back to doing what he does best. Can you imagine how good the Lakers will be with Nash dishing off to a natural scorer like Kobe Bryant. I get chills just thinking about it. Then, the Lakers performed an even bigger magic trick: they got rid of Andrew Bynum and acquired Dwight Howard. This is a great move for so many reasons. First, we don’t have to deal with the immature 7-foot baby named Bynum. How many times did we have to suffer while watching him “loaf” (his word) through games, park in handicap spaces, unleash his anger at an unsuspecting player? Good-bye, Bynum. We’re happy to see you take your insufferably bad behavior to the East Coast. Now, some (namely, fans in Orlando) were saying similar things about Dwight after he was traded away: he’s immature, ungrateful, yada yada yada. But, while Bynum rejected help from former Laker Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (only the greatest center in the NBA and the highest scorer in NBA history), Dwight embraces it. He Tweeted a picture of himself with Kareem, saying he was excited and grateful for the opportunity to work with and learn from Kareem. If Dwight has a weakness in his game, it will be gone after he works with Kareem. The Lakers have reimagined themselves and are now stronger and better than they’ve been in many years. In fact, they are now listed as one of the NBA’s top three teams and some even favor them to win the championship.
LA fans were high from the excitement of the Lakers when the Dodgers’ new owners pulled off a few major moves of their own. First, they picked up shortstop Hanley Ramirez from the Miami Marlins and he has been pretty darn spectacular, coming up with clutch hits and good defense since he stepped into Dodger blue. At the same time, they picked up Shane Victorino who may be on the other side of his career but, still, you can’t help giving this World Series winner some love just for the experience he brings to the locker room. Finally, the Dodgers pulled off a nine-player trade with the Boston Red Sox that sent James Loney, minor leaguers and a few “players to be named later” to Boston for the Red Sox’s Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett…and salaries worth a quarter of a billion dollars. Analysts and fans are calling the Dodgers the “Yankees of the West” (but, then again, these same analysts often called the Lakers the “Yankees of the West” so who’s to know which one of our LA teams is really the Yankees of the West?!). So far, the Bosox trade hasn’t been a phenomenal success but the season still has weeks to go and if this new Blue Crew can beat those annoying Giants from San Francisco, it will all be worth it.
While the Clippers are probably more than a few years away from winning an NBA championship (and even farther away after the moves the Lakers just completed), they made significant strides towards greatness over the past few years. First, they got Blake Griffin out of the sick bay and onto the court. This kid is a phenom and so much fun to watch. During the dreggy Laker years, when it looked like every Laker was wearing concrete shoes, there was Blake Griffin, flying across the court, posterizing players hither and yon. Then, last year, the team picked up Chris Paul, a point guard who could actually get the ball to the high-flying Griffin. If their veteran guard Chauncey Billups had not suffered a significant injury last year, they actually might’ve gone deeper into the playoffs. But the bottom line here is, the Clippers are no longer on the outside looking in. They are realistic contenders.
After firing former Bruin Rick Neuhisel (in the worst way imaginable), the school hired former pro football coach Jim Mora, the team’s fourth coach in 10 years. Mora worked all summer to change the culture of the UCLA football team. He’s been yelling and screaming at his players for months, driving them out to the middle of nowhere to train, confiscating their cell phones so they will focus on Bruin football and only Bruin football until the season is over. His hard-core methods have worked so far: the team slammed to a big victory over Rice in Week 1. After years of underachieving, could the Bruins be on the upswing?
And now to USC (full disclosure: I’m a Trojan). Ranked by AP as No. 1 before the season began (they have since moved to No. 2 after winning their first game in a convincing fashion…go figure…), the team is coming off a two-year ban instituted by the NCAA for an infraction committed by the parents of a football player (don’t worry, it made no sense to Trojan Nation, either). But, despite this setback, the Trojans have not faltered. In fact, during those two years, their recruiting classes were still ranked in the top 10 and their current class is ranked as the No. 1 class in the country. Coach Lane Kiffin and Athletic Director Pat Haden have done a fantastic job keeping USC on the right side of proper behavior and the result is the recruitment of not only excellent players but ethically strong players. (For the record, I’m not worried about the latest blip regarding a former football player and a former basketball player receiving extra benefits from a scoundrel who ought to have known better; these occurred during the time period the Trojans have already been penalized for.)
Okay, all right, the nation’s second largest city still doesn’t have a professional football team, it almost doesn’t matter. We have plenty of other teams to keep us occupied…and many of these teams will now – finally – be worth cheering for! Gone is the futility (Kings, Bruins), the hopelessness (Clippers, Dodgers), the early exit from the playoffs (Lakers) and the post-season sanctions (Trojans). So, get out your pom-poms, Los Angelinos, and start cheering! We’ve got a winner for you!
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