Stars Changing L.A. Sports Landscape
By Dennis J. Freeman
It’s been one wild and crazy week in Los Angeles. It’s been so much of a roller-coaster that the sports world has turned upside down as one star after another trickled into the land of Hollywood. It began with Major League Baseball buzzing over the fact that perennial all-star and future Hall of Fame first baseman Albert Pujols said good-bye to the St. Louis Cardinals after 11 years of service.
For $254 million, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim essentially gave Pujols the keys to the city, something the red birds in the “Show Me” state weren’t willing to give to the three-time National League MVP. So Pujols decided to show the Cardinals who was the one that was large and in charge and bid adios to a team that he helped win two World Series.
Now he’s in Southern California, soaking in all the sun and surfing waters his heart desires for the next decade.
“I’m going to be here the next ten years, and I’m going to enjoy,” Pujols said at a press conference centered on his arrival to Anaheim. “I’m going to try to do the best that I can, not just for the team, but also for the community, off the field. As you guys know with my foundation I’ve done a lot of great things-not just in the city of St. Louis, but in the Dominican Republic. I’m going to continue to do that.”
The week ended with a big bang as the Los Angeles Clippers added NBA superstar Chris Paul to its roster, giving abrupt pause to the rest of the league as teams now must contend with the explosive potential he and Blake Griffin pose. In between these two headline-dropping developments-there was also a lot of drama. It was the type of drama that would have made the attention-grabbing Kardashians blush.
Unfortunately for the Los Angeles Lakers, they were forced to endure the type of drama they can do without.
Before the Clippers got their hands on the game-changing Paul, the Lakers believed they had secured a trade for the four –time NBA All-Star, leveraging both Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom. NBA Commissioner David Stern and the league of owners said no to the deal, effectively shutting down the trade. That move didn’t sit too well with the Purple and Gold.
Nor did it sit too well with Odom, last year’s NBA Sixth Man of the Year, and one of the most versatile players in the league. Feeling disrespected by the team, Odom requested a trade. The Lakers obliged and gave Odom an out, sending him to Western Conference rival Dallas Mavericks for basically nothing. Taking that indignity a step further, all the while rubbing the Lakers noses in the ground in humiliation, Stern and the league approved of a trade that sent Paul to Los Angeles to pair up with Blake Griffin in a Clippers uniform.
Talk about buzz-kill. The Lakers, the most successful team in league history, got worked out of a deal that would have built on their rich tradition of placing several superstar athletes on the court in the pursuit of that championship hardware. And just like that, a team with 16 NBA titles and used to excitement and buzz bestowed on them now has to take an unaccustomed backseat to team that has made just four playoff appearances in the last 40 years.
On paper, the Clippers are now the ones with the big-time players everyone wants to pay to see. It’s way too early to say if the power shift has changed, but on the popularity meter, the Clippers, in one bold move, has generated the type of excitement that has only came along with Magic Johnson’s “Showtime” and Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal ’s “The Lake Show” eras.
Forget about Batman and Robin. Paul and Griffin are now the NBA’s version of Superman and the Atom.
“From our team standpoint, it’s about these guys wanting to be part of something, being part of something we’ve built here,” Griffin said at the Clippers media day. “It started with Coach (Vinny) Del Negro and his staff coming in and laying the foundation last year. Now we’re taking that a step further in year two, making it an environment you want to be a part of.”
But don’t sleep on the Lakers just yet. Gasol is still a top-notch, low-post player. Andrew Bynum, if he stays healthy, can dominate the paint. And they still have Bryant on the wing. Bryant, aka the” Black Mamba,” is still the most feared player in the league. The question now is whether or not Bryant and the Lakers still their swagger or has it jumped off on to the team they share Staples Center with.