As I write this, 2013 has roughly forty something hours to go.
To paraphrase a line in the movie Rent, I can’t believe a year has gone by so fast.
And as always, much has happened as far as sports in America’s largest city west of the Mississippi River; some good, some not so good.
I won’t waste anymore time: in no particular order here’s what happened in the City of Angels’ sports world this year, starting with the passing of an icon:
1. JERRY BUSS, 1933-2013
Before this businessman and real estate investor bought the Lakers and the Forum in 1979 (as well as the Kings), the Lakers were known as a good team that was firmly entrenched in the shadow of the Dodgers in the Los Angeles sports scene.
Within ten years, Dr. Buss blew that notion to smithereens as he brought “Showtime” to that franchise, doing things like signing Magic Johnson, creating the Laker Girls, and making the Forum – and later Staples Center – the place to be seen as the Lakers became a celebrity haven, led by Jack Nicholson but followed by countless other rich and famous folks, so many that I’d have to write a separate article to list them all.
The fact that the Lakers won ten NBA championships during Dr. Buss’ tenure certainly didn’t hurt as more than anything else, the Lakers brought Los Angeles together.
The team may be in a bit of a mess now as Jim Buss has shown to this point that he is not his father, but what Dr. Buss, who passed away in February, did for that Laker franchise will not likely be duplicated again.
The thousands of luminaries and fans who packed Staples for his memorial service illustrated that.
2. DWIGHT HOWARD A LAKER BUST
Laker fans, when they think about it, would probably realize that they should have known that Dwight Howard being a Laker wouldn’t have worked out.
Sure, his 17.1 points per game in purple and gold was a perfectly respectable average, and he did lead the league with his 12.4 rebounds a contest.
And sure, everyone was excited when he decided to sign with the Lakers in 2012. But…
It was pretty much inevitable that he would clash with Kobe Bryant as the old Wild West adage of this-town-ain’t-big-enough-for-the-two-of-us definitely applied here; Howard couldn’t take a back seat to Kobe.
What soured me to him in particular was that his free throw shooting ability, at a pathetic 49%, made Shaquille O’Neal’s look brilliant.
And by the end of the season, with Mike Dantoni’s offense not tailored toward Howard it was crystal clear that “Superman” was unhappy in Kryptonite-laden L.A. and couldn’t wait to escape to Houston -where he is doing much better – despite the big billboard campaign to get him to stay.
The lesson here: Los Angeles is not for everyone.
3. THE ACHILLES TEAR HEARD AROUND L.A.
When Kobe Bryant heard the back of his ankle pop at Staples Center on April 12, that, in retrospect, was the first sign of something that all athletes, elite or otherwise, must eventually face:
The fact that age will catch up to you and your body will betray you.
Any Laker hopes of an NBA title, as small as they were, ended that spring day as they were swept out of the first round of the playoffs.
It was very admirable to see Kobe come back from that Achilles tear on December 8, but in the ultimate proof of time waiting for no one, the 35-year old and 18-year NBA veteran showed that even the best of players can’t defeat Father Time when he fractured his knee 11 days later and the Lakers declared that he would be out for six weeks.
As much as it hurts to say this, those injuries may just be the beginning.
One thing is for certain: I sure would hate to see Kobe end his career as a shell of what he was at his peak.
4. PUIG POWER
When Yasiel Puig, one of the many young Cuban defectors who can do great things with a baseball, was called up to the Dodgers on June 3rd, L.A. was nearly ten games under .500, clearly underachieving and well on the way to being pegged as Major League Baseball’s biggest disappointment.
Over the next two months, the Dodgers tied a record by winning 42 of their next 50 games, going on to win the National League West by 11 games and earning a spot in the NLCS by beating the Atlanta Braves in the division series.
And in the grand tradition of a young child leading them, this now 23-year old hit .319 with 19 home runs in his 104 games in Dodger Blue, starting his time in L.A. by going 2-for-4 and doubling up a runner from first to end the game in his debut and hitting two home runs in his second game.
The excitement that Puig generated at Dodger Stadium was the biggest since Fernando Valenzuela in the early 1980s.
Sure, pitchers figured him out as he went into a slump at the end of the season, which probably led the voters to not choose him as Rookie of the Year.
Sure, his fundamentals were shown to need a bit of work, particularly during the NLCS against the St. Louis Cardinals – who the Dodgers lost to in six games – when he made a bad throwing error in Game 6.
And after his arrest for speeding in Florida, his second in the U.S. as he was caught doing the same thing in the minors in April, it can’t be clearer that this phenom lacks one important thing in his makeup:
When Puig gets that maturity, he can be one of the greatest Dodgers ever if not the greatest.
This coming spring training and subsequent season will be extremely important for this young man.
5. THE FIRING OF LANE KIFFIN AND OTHER TROJAN DOINGS
After the USC Trojans were whipped in Tempe, AZ by an Arizona State Sun Devil team that would go on to win the Pac-12 South, looking back it wasn’t that surprising that Lane Kiffin’s time as the Trojan coach were more or less at an end, with the team being 0-2 in the conference and all.
What upset me was the way Kiffin was fired, being pulled off the team bus at the Los Angeles International Airport by athletic director Pat Haden after their 62-41 beat down, being told in a side room that he was gone, and not even being allowed to ride with the team back to campus.
Talk about a lack of respect and dignity; Kiffin may have deserved to be let go, but he didn’t deserve to be fired like that.
No one does.
I certainly wouldn’t want to be treated that way in losing my job.
The Trojans deserve much credit in rallying under interim coach Ed Orgeron to win six of their next eight games, including a spectacular upset of #4 Stanford, but the losses to Notre Dame and UCLA sealed Orgeron’s fate as to his chances at the permanent head coaching job.
I certainly don’t blame the man for resigning upon hearing that Haden passed him over for Steve Sarkisian; I know Orgeron felt that after essentially turning the season around, he deserved to have the ‘Interim” removed from his job title.
We’ll certainly see how ‘SC, after winning the Las Vegas Bowl and finishing with ten wins, goes forward.
6. THE CONTINUING PROGRESS OF BRUIN FOOTBALL
At 9-3 and going into a date with Virginia Tech in the Sun Bowl, it’s safe to say that with the tougher schedule that they faced this year, UCLA, at least to this point, has had a better season in 2013 than in 2012.
And not just because they beat USC for the second straight season – in their Coliseum house for the first time in 16 years and breaking a seven-game losing streak there, no less – with their largest margin of victory over the Trojans since 1970.
To put that in perspective, the last time that the Bruins beat ‘SC by more than 21 points, the Beatles had just broken up.
Unlike previous seasons when UCLA would fade in November, these Bruins went 4-1 in that month this year, showing the change in culture that Jim Mora induced in this second year in Westwood.
Now if they can beat Virginia Tech in El Paso and Brett Hundley announces that he is returning for his junior year in 2014, things will be near-perfect in Bruin Nation.
That – in not such a nutshell – was the biggest happenings in Los Angeles sports in 2013.
I know that some of the L.A. teams (Read: The Lakers and the USC Trojan football team) hope for less drama in 2014 .
I also know that the Dodgers and UCLA’s football team hope for continued progress in the coming 12 months – maybe even a championship?
We’ll certainly see…