As everyone who’s ever even heard of Los Angeles is aware, this has not always been the case. My neighbor Matthew, who’s currently living in New Jersey, sent me a message earlier today. In it, he asked me how much of this sudden pride in the Los Angeles hockey team came directly from the fact that the Lakers had been eliminated early last month.
Even from across the country, he brings up a question that many Angelenos are currently debating. Where on Earth did the sentiment of beloved pride come from, and how did we place it onto a Kings team that many of these same “fans” could not identify less than three months ago?
Jonathan Quick stood confidently in the goalie’s box during Game 6 of the NHL Finals, as the fans at Staples Center showered him with chants of “M-V-P! M-V-P! M-V-P!” so booming that only Kobe Bryant could identify with the mood of the arena. The Slovenian-born Anže Kopitar reached an instant celebrity status in the city that few ever acheive. Captain Dustin Brown hoisted up the Stanley Cup trophy, and the city of Los Angeles was full of an excitement so rich that it felt like it may have been exploding.
Suddenly, the Los Angeles Kings owned the world, as the historically celebrated Los Angeles Lakers watched from home.
The Los Angeles Lakers, who moved to the city in 1960, have 16 championship banners in their name. The Los Angeles Kings entered Monday’s game against the New Jersey Devils with zero instances of their name etched into the Stanley Cup trophy. Yet when the Devils pulled their goalie after the Kings took a 4-1 lead and the Kings managed one more score to put the nail in the coffin, the city of Los Angeles acted as an integral character and let their cheers rain over the region of Southern California.
The Los Angeles Lakers are arguably the most celebrated franchise in NBA history and are ranked as the highest valued team in the league by Forbes Magazine. The Los Angeles Dodgers are rich in history and were just sold for an incredibly high $2.15 billion. Much like the Clippers, the Kings lived in the shadows without much mainstream and professional success.
What do we as a city do when the Kings do show up with poise and win the Stanley Cup, bringing the first hockey title to the city of Los Angeles?
The road to the finals was littered with flags, billboards, bus advertisements, appearances and celebrity cameos for games, endorsements, commercials and Facebook profile pictures and Twitter links from all of my Los Angeles friends. Coming back from Eugene and seeing all of this was both shocking and overwhelming in the best ways possible.
As I found my way into town, I realized that it was not the Lakers that the city of Los Angeles was infatuated with.
Sure, the Lakers are the darling golden (and purple?) child of the city. Certainly, they’ve seen the most success and have given us the most reason to shed tears of joy over the years. Indeed, they have the most support from the city and the stars like Jack Nicholson that reside in it.
But the city of Los Angeles likes the Lakers because they give us something to root for.
Every city in the world can agree on one thing. We’ll root, root, root for the home team, and if they don’t win, it’s a shame. Whether it’s one, two or three wins away from the trophy, fans will come out and buy the expensive and cheap seats alike.
Hockey may be more of an East Coast thing—or more of a Canadian thing—but the celebration of winning?
That’s an “everybody” thing reserved for an exclusive club of organizations that have been able to hoist up a championship trophy. Each sport only gives one city a year an opportunity to do that. Why would anyone be surprised that a citizen of Los Angeles who could not pronounce “Gagne” this time last month now sports one of his black and white jerseys?
Los Angeles is one of the biggest metropolitan areas in the country and would have no trouble selling jerseys and tickets regardless of whether or not the team listed is good at the sport that they play. Playing in front of the home Los Angeles crowd is a dream for athletes across the world. The fact that the Lakers and Clippers had untimely playoffs eliminations right before the Kings started to heat up only added fuel to the brewing fire.
The county of Los Angeles is physically divided in half by the valley and the city. Within the city, there are multiple city centers littered throughout the area. There’s Hollywood and Downtown. There’s Venice and Malibu. There’s the Marina. There’s Santa Monica and Culver City—even though neither are technically part of the city. There’s Long Beach, Crenshaw and Inglewood. As divided and large as Los Angeles may feel at times, there’s nothing as powerful as sports to remind us that we are one.
When Dustin Brown lifted up his trophy and proved to the country that the Los Angeles Kings were for real, his boyish grin and grizzled beard reminded us why we watch this game. The teams give us something to root for and unify us. And for that, the Kings can never be thanked enough.
On Thursday, June 14th, the parade in celebration of the Kings’ Stanley Cup will be a nice start.
Bryan is always interested in new opportunities and can be reached on Twitter. Click here to Follow @BryanKalbrosky.