There were the Los Angeles Dodgers, owned by a parking lot kingpin and his wife. They brought unease, which evolved into dread. Then scandal ensued over a messy divorce and the beating of a fan by cretins. When they finally left the scene, the collective sigh swept through the L.A. basin like a Santa Ana wind.
But there was more sorrow. Much more.
The Clippers had long been mirth makers of the negative kind. USC football was banned from postseason play. UCLA seemed to ban itself from relevance. The Angels had underachieved. And the two NHL teams in the area might as well have been playing on a pond in Moose Jaw for all the attention they received.
But the tired, poor, huddled masses of Gucci-clad sashimi-eaters longing for sports satisfaction in and around El Lay might finally be enjoying their renaissance. Los Angeles is the sports capital of the universe right now.
New York, you had your Eli-te Manning and the Super Bowl champions, the East-leading Rangers, Linsanity, Tebowmania and the ever-present Yankees. Boston, you were an amazing David Tyree catch away from a NBA-MLB-NFL title sweep in 2006. Dallas, there was Dirk and another World Series heartbreak last year.
But Southern California is where it's at now.
Let’s start with the Clippers. Because when you begin a discussion about an uptick in Los Angeles sports success with the Clippers, that is the starkest indication possible that the Earth has indeed tilted, and life never will be the same.
The Clippers are up on the Grizzlies 3-2 heading into Friday's Game 6 in Los Angeles. In other words, the Clippers are poised to actually win a playoff series. No, that’s not an editing error. We checked.
The Clippers? They don’t do this. The only time that franchise ever fought anybody is when the league mentioned it in contraction talks. But when the Clips acquired an actual superstar in Chris Paul — easily the best player in their entire history, even going back to Bob McAdoo in the team’s Buffalo Braves’ days of the 1970s — to join Blake Griffin and a dandy supporting cast, they suddenly became competent and admirable in one shocking Halley’s comet moment.
Then there are the Lakers, who can be boffo or baffling, depending on the day. Despite their current missteps against the Nuggets — L.A. failed to end it Tuesday and must work a Game 6 in Denver on Thursday — the Lakers remain an attraction worthy of top billing. If you caught how Kobe Bryant almost single-handedly resurrected his team in the fourth quarter of Game 5 on Tuesday, you know that as long as they have him all things are possible.
The Kings are in the NHL’s Western Conference finals for the first time since 1993, when they went on to reach the Stanley Cup Finals and lose in five games to the Montreal Canadiens. There is a standard belief in L.A. that the Kings have 18,000 fans, and they all go to the home games. But when something like this happens, the fan base might actually swell beyond 20,000. Most of the extra people are transplanted Canadian actors.
The USC Trojans could enter the 2012 season as the No. 1 team in the land. Their quarterback, Matt Barkley, could also be the favorite for the Heisman Trophy as well as a possible No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft. This fall, expect the USC marching band to perform “A Tribute to the NCAA” at halftime and form a giant middle finger.
UCLA has a new head coach in Jim Mora Jr. Can’t hurt. And recently the Bruins’ basketball team — after making some embarrassing headlines from a Sports Illustrated story about the tenure of head coach Ben Howland — landed arguably the best recruiting class in the country.
Although high-priced Albert Pujols is hitting home runs for the Angels about as often as Aston Martins are spotted on Craigslist, Matt Kemp has blossomed into the best player in the majors for the Dodgers. With Frank McCourt gone as owner, replaced by a group led by Magic Johnson, the Dodgers have both gravitas and cachet. They lead the National League West, they boast the reigning NL Cy Young winner in Clayton Kershaw, and they lowered the price of parking from $15 to $10. They are also working on solving the traffic problem at rush hour and finding more work for Lindsay Lohan.
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
It’s nearly impossible to ask them to be giddy over the Dodgers when the team was out of the running last season and didn’t know when the ownership fiasco would end. Ditto for getting worked up about the Lakers when they were perceived as fading. Hockey is a tough sell in a town that is considered the entertainment capital of the world and where the temperature is always around 75 degrees.
But look at the competition for No. 1 sports city in the U.S. Who else is hotter? Who else is operating on all cylinders? Who else has so many reasons to be excited? Heck, L.A. is atop the heap without even having a franchise playing NFL football, the most popular sport in the country.
Los Angeles has been kicked around long enough. Now it’s doing some of the kicking. Granted, it’s doing the kicking while wearing $1,300 Louis Vuitton boots, but you get the idea.
Michael Ventre is a regular contributor to NBCSports.com. Follow him on Twitter http://twitter.com/#!/MichaelVentre44
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