It almost seems inexplicable and absurd to think about. Heck, if you said this a couple of years ago, you might have gotten laughed out of a Manhattan Beach bar. The water off of the Santa Monica Pier might be your home if you told folks around it. Or even worse, you might make the KTLA evening news because you were driven off of Interstate-5 because people were so baffled by what you were saying that they decided to take it out on you by sideswiping you off the road. Posing this question to yourself might leave you in stomach pains; not from the sickening gut feeling that you think it might actually sound real and pose an immediate threat, but from the laughter you spat out. It would go through one side of your brain and skedaddle through the next faster than a Hollywood relationship.
Recent developments though would tell you that maybe you need to start letting it go through your ear, and sink in just a little bit. It is not something that, at this moment, should really be brushed off, because as we speak there’s a movement sweeping through the San Fernando Valley that would suggest that this is a real threat, and a real issue that could affect the southern California sports climate for the very near future. So ask yourself this:
Are the Lakers’ days numbered as being the number one sports team in Los Angeles?
Admit it. You chuckled.
No way it could happen, right?
Before you say no, consider this. The Lakers are prone to droughts. In fact they went almost 12 years without a championship. Now while that does not sound like a lot, and obviously compared to many other teams it is not, consider the fact that from 1980 to 1988, they won the Larry O’Brien trophy five times, and made the NBA Finals seven times. So they were used to winning in Los Angeles, and from 1989-2000, things were not so hunky dory for the squad donning purple and gold. First round losses a plenty, a loss to the team that ruled the 1990’s, and a coaching carousel was what defined the Lakers during that decade. (Of course, it all returned to glitz and glamour and the Lakers three-peated in the early part of the 2000’s, and then reached the NBA Finals three times in the latter years, winning twice in a row.)
In the meantime, of course, Los Angeles sports were not exactly spectacular. The Dodgers were mired in mediocrity; the Kings reached the Stanley Cup Final in 1993 and everyone was swept up in the “Hockeywood” craze, but they fell to the Canadiens, and the Kings sharply declined in their level of play; the Clippers were the Clippers, the Angels were less than spectacular; they lost not one but two football teams thanks to a ridiculous amount of mismanagement by the city of Los Angeles, and the Rams and Raiders respectively; and the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim were nothing more than an after thought expansion team based off of a Disney movie, so the Lakers were able to skeet on by as the top dog in Los Angeles even if they were stuck in mediocrity and less than stellar play.
Right now, they might not be able to get away with that.
La-La Land has been swooped up over the last couple of years in a lot of hullabaloo that might suggest the Lakers may soon face a lot of stiff competition for the top spot in a sports town that is not exactly known for having great teams all at once. To be quite blunt, sans the Anaheim Ducks, a lot of these teams might be about to hit the Lakers full-force and from all angles so quickly they might not even know what happened afterwards.
Let’s examine this by looking at the contenders.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Chavez Ravine is where we’ll begin this examination and the Los Angeles Dodgers is the first contender to step up to the plate. With them they bring a long, rich, and successful history and currently, and arguably, they possess the best hitter in Major League Baseball in Matt Kemp, and the best pitcher in Major League Baseball, in 2011 Cy Young Award winner, Clayton Kershaw, and most importantly, a brand new ownership and its figurehead is a very familiar face around Tinseltown: Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Laker legend and a man who is beloved all around L.A. and around the world, for that matter. This new ownership is taking over for Frank McCourt, a man who played the role of Hollywood villain for a while with how much he squeezed the Dodger franchise for money, acting as if it was his own personal ATM. McCourt was unseated this spring of the ownership tag, and the owners have made it known from the get-go that they are willing to do whatever it takes to win. The play on the field thus far has been absolutely tremendous, seeing as the L.A. Dodgers have the best record in Major League Baseball at this moment, (35-21) even with Kemp on the disabled list, and if they keep this up another World Series trophy could be on its way. They stand a huge chance of being #1, given the Dodger fanbase is large in itself, even if most of them leave early (quick jab) and their chances grow with each game played.
Before we get started, I do denounce that the Angels are in Anaheim, and are not a Los Angeles sports franchise no matter what the name will tell you. Even so they are in Orange County and do deserve mentioning here. They grabbed all of the headlines in the offseason after signing Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson and while Pujols’ early play was downright dreadful, he’s picked it up as of late and they have managed to find a young stud in their farm system that every Angels fan is going crazy about and his name is Mike Trout. A speedy, powerful outfielder with excellent range and plays with a lot of hustle and is performing at a high-caliber level at the ripe age of 20. The Angels for the better part of the last decade have been very, very successful under the direction of Mike Scioscia, winning a World Series in 2002 and consistently finding themselves as contenders in the American League. They aren’t the Dodgers, and probably never will be, but don’t be surprised if they play up to a high enough level to consistently challenge the Dodgers for not only the #1 baseball team in Orange County, but perhaps the #1 sports team as well.
The Clippers? You’re kidding me, right? Not with Donald Sterling, one of, if not the worst owner in all of sports, right? Not so fast. Even with that said, and their inexplicable re-hiring of Vinny Del Negro, a coach that Chicago fans have always said will bring you to the playoffs, but won’t win you a title, the Clippers rise to relevancy is something to watch given that they play in the same building as them. A bandwagon fanbase is like no other and with how well they did this year they may grow a little bit, but obviously nowhere near the size of the Lakers fanbase. That is of course unless they start winning. L.A. loves a winner, and even if the name on the jersey reads “Clippers” and not “Lakers,” they may embrace the hell out of the Clippers for playing the little brother role and for having starpower with KIA’s favorite NBA basketball player Blake Griffin, and the ever amazing Chris Paul. His time of course there is limited, and there is no guarantee that he will be there for a long time, and his health is and has always been a concern. The Clippers are a conceivable choice, but a bit of a longshot knowing their history. The erasing of doubts started this year though, and with a shred of consistency, even of the slimmest of margins, the jockeying for the STAPLES Center could be a treat to watch unfold.
Los Angeles Kings
Bet you didn’t see what the L.A. Kings are doing right now in the NHL Playoffs, did you? I personally have been high on this team since the 2009-10 season and they have been going in the right direction ever since, despite the two first round losses the last two postseasons. They made some moves this past offseason that made them Stanley Cup contenders, but a disastrous and underachieving regular season left a lot of doubt that this team would ever live up to its expectations. Safe to say that’s been left in the dust, eh? The Kings at this moment are one win away from winning the Stanley Cup for the first time in their 45-year history as a franchise, and if you ask me, don’t look for them to stop there either. This team is built to dominate for the next several years. Jonathan Quick, Drew Doughty, Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Mike Richards, and Jeff Carter are the names that shine the brightest on this team and they have not even hit age 30 yet. Their third and fourth liners are all consistently good players and their defencemen all play at an unheralded and underappreciated level and they sure have shown it this postseason. This team will make a lot of noise in Los Angeles and possibly change the culture of hockey in the San Fernando Valley forever if they keep it up. There is a lot of transcendence that could happen with this team, and it could reach epic proportions if it has not already.
The Trojans are back and are back in a big, big way in 2012. After the probation, and bowl banishments, USC football is back on the map and with high expectations coming up this season their role as LA’s football team has returned. The Trojans dominated the early 2000’s with their stellar play from the likes of Reggie Bush, Troy Polamalu, Matt Leinart and Mike Williams. They did go through their dry spells with John David Booty and while they did get to the Rose Bowl with Mark Sanchez under the helm, after that Oregon and Stanford would dominate the Pac-10 and now the Pac-12 for the next couple of seasons. A changing of the guard was harshly put on them and they suffered through it, and the punishments handed down by the big, bad NCAA. However with Matt Barkley as your preseason Heisman Trophy favorite, the return of Robert Woods who might be the best wide receiver in college football, and an improving defense under the direction of head coach, and Knoxville’s most beloved person, Lane Kiffin, look out for the Trojans to try and retake their role as one of the best things going in Orange County, and for what could be a long, long time too.
Yes, we have reached the longshot period of this portion but it isn’t all that absurd. UCLA, while at 6-6, did win the Pac-12 South last season and new head coach Jim Mora, Jr. has spoke about how he wants to change the culture of L.A. football and, for his sake unlike Rick Neuheisel, how he wants to bring more attention to the Bruins and revitalize the program. While he was not the greatest coach for the Atlanta Falcons in his tenure, he does stand a solid chance of revitalizing them and making them relevant if you ask me. The “Mora” name in football is not known for winning, but who is to say that they can’t compete? It’s Los Angeles, and sure, they have been USC’s little brother for seemingly forever, but there is no reason that they cannot stand a formidable chance of being, at the very least, competitive. And then there’s UCLA basketball, that much like the Dodgers, carries with them a long, storied successful history. And as for the immediate future, they could draw a lot of attention from Los Angeles this season which will determine their immediate and long term future. They have notably missed two of the last three NCAA tournaments, after making three consecutive Final Fours. They have a very strong recruiting class coming in, with #1 recruit Shabazz Muhammad being the star of the class, and if Ben Howland doesn’t succeed, given the article from Sports Illustrated that depicted Howland as practically a lame duck, he could very well be feeling a bit of heat on his seat, if you know what I’m saying. So UCLA is under the microscope for sure and could definitely draw a lot of attention for the foreseeable future.
NFL Team, To Be Announced
We finish up with a bit of a surprise, since the Anaheim Ducks probably stand the least chance of getting any attention in the near future being that they are most likely about to hit a brick wall and go into a rebuilding phase sooner than you can figure out how to hit a knucklepuck. The prospects of an L.A. team seem to be growing each and everyday, what with the release of what Farmer’s Field is supposed to look like. To be honest, it looks absolutely spectacular and whatever team Los Angeles ends up getting will be extremely lucky to head into what looks like will be an incredible facility. And for the sake of them, hopefully it isn’t mismanaged like the others. There are a lot of people that think a team in the L.A. area won’t succeed but to be honest, it’s really unfair to say that. Both teams (Raiders, Rams) were run by people that didn’t have a clue of what to do, with them being in a stadium up to 100k capacity, and for the most part, flat out stunk during their runs in southern California. We know how dominant the NFL product is, so with some consistency, and the other teams in California sticking around, this team could perhaps pose the largest threat out of anybody to challenge the Lakers for the top spot.
Now all of this may never come into fruition. The Kings may never beat the Lakers in fandom, the Dodgers could stay as they are, a team that has not done anything since the late 1980s, and all of this could be nothing more than a pipe dream.
One thing is definitely for certain though: the Lakers run as top dogs in Los Angeles can’t certainly last forever given the trends of the sports world. It’s just positively impossible and even great teams like the Yankees suffer their downfalls. It seems very imminent that it could happen, with Kobe Bryant reaching his decline, a lot of mismanagement from Jerry Buss, and dreadful performances in the 2011 and 2012 Playoffs that could give way to worse performances as the years go on. The fact is: at this moment, the other teams around them in Orange County are only getting better and better with each passing moment, and there might not be anything that the L.A. Lakers can do about it.