As I write this, 2012 is about to end.
As far as sports in America’s second largest city is concerned, it was quite the eventful year, a year full of events that were both expected and unexpected.
So now that 2013 is about to commence, I think it’s high time that a review of what happened on the diamonds, gridirons, courts and rinks in Los Angeles is in order, so here’s a list of the good things that happened as well as the bad:
First, the good:
1. KINGS WIN STANLEY CUP
Going into their 45th year of existence in which the potential was pretty much unfulfilled, no one - save for perhaps a few diehard fans – thought that this hockey team would be hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup in June.
Especially when you consider that these Kings barely made the playoffs as the 8th and last seed in the Western Conference, finishing 29th out of 30 teams in scoring and having replaced their coach a couple of months into the season.
The run that the Kings made was the ultimate example of a team getting hot at the right time, because they absolutely caught fire as they blew out their first three opponents and took care of business in the Finals against New Jersey rather convincingly.
All while never having home ice advantage as they essentially did their damage on other teams’ ice.
This was clearly the top story of 2012 in L.A. sports, and it’s an utter shame that because of a group of owners and a league that’s the most hardline in professional sports, these Kings haven’t gotten the chance to hoist their championship banner on the Staples Center wall or to defend their cup – and may not get that chance the way things are developing.
2. MAGIC JOHNSON AND THE GUGGENHEIM GROUP BUYS THE DODGERS
After going through what this iconic team went through under the ownership of Frank and Jaime McCourt, I was only one of millions of Dodger fans who were going “YAY!!” and jumping for joy when it was reported that the former Laker great was part of the group that would free the Dodgers from the McCourts’ grip.
More than anything else, the Dodgers finally started to act like what they were: a big market team as they acquired stars like Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez, Carl Crawford and Zack Grienke and – more important – locked up Andre Ethier and especially Matt Kemp, the face of the team, to long term deals.
Although their 86-76 wasn’t quite good enough to overtake the Giants, who ended up winning their second World Series in three years, things are definitely looking up in Chavez Ravine, so much so that I reckon many pundits will pick the Dodgers to at least win the West Division in 2013, if not go all the way to the World Series.
3. THE RISE OF THE CLIPPERS
I don’t care what anyone else – particularly Laker fans – says; for the time being at least, the Clippers, long a laughing stock to the point of Sports Illustrated once calling them the worst franchise in sports, have taken over L.A.
- The most explosive forward in the NBA in Blake Griffin.
- The best point guard in the NBA in Chris Paul.
- The NBA’s best bench. And…
- With their 107-96 win over the Jazz on Sunday night, a 17-game winning streak, the fifth longest in league history. Not to mention the league’s best record at 25-6.
Now this doesn’t guarantee a trip to the NBA Finals in June, of course, as the season isn’t even halfway done, but for right now this city is ruled by Lob City.
4. UCLA FOOTBALL BEATS USC AND BECOMES RELEVANT AGAIN
The hiring of Jim Mora, who wasn’t even the top choice, has turned out to be a genius hire for athletic director Dan Guerrero as their three-game losing skid to end the season notwithstanding, the Bruins developed a toughness and a sense of accountability to win nine games, the most in a season since 2005.
And took over Los Angeles (as least for now) in beating USC 38-28 in a rain-soaked Rose Bowl and taking back the Victory Bell in the process.
The emergence of quarterback Brett Hundley has obviously made a huge difference as well as much like the Dodgers, things are definitely looking up in Westwood on the gridiron.
5. THE EMERGENCE OF MIKE TROUT
This 21-year old, barely old enough to drink pup – who didn’t even turn 21 until this past October – had a season that turned the heads of many:
- A batting average of .326
- The first rookie, and the youngest ever, to join the 30-30 club as he hit 30 home runs and stole 49 bases
- A season which saw him make spectacular, homer-robbing catches time and time again, and…
- The unanimous choice for American League Rookie of the Year; he was widely considered for MVP and may have gotten that award if it weren’t for the fact that Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers won the Triple Crown and went to the World Series.
Not bad at all considering that he wasn’t even called up to the Angels until the end of April, spending the first few weeks of the 2012 season at triple-A Salt Lake.
As for Trout being the second coming of Mickey Mantle? True, he has a blond crew cut like Mickey and has great speed and power, but I don’t know about him being the next Mantle, at least not yet as Trout needs to have a long string of seasons like his first.
6. GALAXY WINS SECOND STRAIGHT MLS TITLE
Which was a hard-earned crown the second time around as the Galaxy started slowly and went into the MLS playoffs as a fourth seed.
But like their hockey counterparts, they caught fire at the right time and sent out David Beckham, and maybe Landon Donovan depending on how he feels, on the highest note in beating Houston for the second straight year at Home Depot Center to keep their MLS Cup and, most of all, growing the world’s most popular sport in L.A. and the U.S.
All right, now that the good things in L.A. sports for 2012 have been listed, here’s a list of the bad things that went down, starting with the single worst thing:
1. USC FOOTBALL BADLY DISAPPOINTS AFTER STARTING THE YEAR WITH HUGE EXPECTATIONS
Any team that enters the season as the top-ranked squad in the nation and was:
- Picked to go to the BCS championship game,
- Led by a record-setting senior quarterback who was picked by many to win the Heisman Trophy,
- That goes on to lose six games, including five out of their last six contests,
- Which included a loss in the Sun Bowl to 6-7 Georgia Tech, 21-7, and defeats at the hands of their two big rivals, Notre Dame (who will be playing in the BCS title game) as well as UCLA – in the same year for the first time since 1995…
Deserves to be chosen as the number one spot on this list.
2. LAKERS START SLOW DESPITE GETTING DWIGHT HOWARD AND STEVE NASH
Their 0-8 record in the preseason should have been a red flag for Laker Nation; it certainly was for the Lakers’ front office, who fired Mike Brown and hired Mike Dantoni (with Bernie Bickerstaff serving as the interim coach) just five games into the campaign.
Which would have been all right if it weren’t for the fact that the team started 9-14 overall and went through sone drama with injuries to Nash and Pau Gasol, as well as finding out that Howard is the second coming of Shaq in his lack of free throw shooting ability, before evidently righting the ship in winning six out of their last seven games.
With this recent run, things are getting better, but I’m positive that no one expected the Lakers to be 15-15 going into the new year.
Time will tell if this team can continue their progress, particularly in light of their upcoming showdown with the down-the-hall rival Clippers on January 4th.
3. ANGELS START 7-15 DESPITE THE SIGNINGS OF ALBERT PUJOLS AND C.J.WILSON
When Angels owner Arte Moreno signed baseball’s best hitter, Albert Pujols, a year ago along with standout pitcher C.J. Wison, I was one of the many who picked this Halo team from Orange County to represent the American League in the World Series.
Obviously speaking, it didn’t turn out that way as Pujols had the little task of having to adjust to American League pitching after years in the National League, which showed as his average was around .200 with one home run for a while before things turned around and his numbers ended up where they usually are.
As such, though they managed to win 89 games the Angels’ season has to be counted as a disappointing one because of the expectations.
Perhaps them signing Josh Hamilton will put them over the top.
4. UCLA BASKETBALL IN TURMOIL
2011 couldn’t have started off worse for this iconic Bruins team that had such high hopes; I knew that things wouldn’t be so good when they lost to mid-major neighbor Loyola Marymount the first game of the season.
And I really knew that UCLA’s season would be a bust when:
- They started off losing five of their first seven games,
- Their best player, Reeves Nelson, was found to be a bully and an ultimate cancer to the team and was eventually kicked off the squad,
- Sports Illustrated’s article, “Not The UCLA Way”, exposed the program’s problems as far as their coach, Ben Howland, seemingly losing control of his players along with the issue of Nelson and others.
Not to mention missing the NCAA tournament for the second time in three years.
It’s a good thing that the Bruins signed the nation’s second ranked recruiting class, including Jordan Adams and super-stud Shabazz Muhammad, and re-opened a renovated Pauley Pavilion to glorious reviews, and they have seem to be turning things around with their 10-3 mark so far this season, including their recent 97-94 upset over 7th ranked Misssouri.
Can this turn-around continue as they open Pac-12 play? We’ll see.
That’s about that for how things unfolded in Los Angeles sports in 2012.
Here’s to a 2013 filled with nothing but highlights for all the L.A. teams – and a very Happy New Year from L.A. Sports Hub!