Every sports market needs a good cast of villains. Some of them we love to hate. Some we once embraced, only to see the relationship curdle and become toxic over time. A few we couldn't stand the sight of from the moment they walked in the door. Below is a countdown of the five most odious characters currently tormenting L.A. sports fans. In ways both large and small, we are poorer for having known them.
5. David Beckham. Becks is still hanging around, technically, though you'd be forgiven for having thought otherwise. His saga with the Los Angeles Galaxy has been notable mostly for his frequent and extended absences from the pitch. He misses gobs of matches because of injury but keeps himself busy with hobbies that include forcing loans to European teams, sparking feuds with the most popular soccer player in L.A. history and cementing negative stereotypes of Laker fans by sitting courtside and looking extremely bored. Beckham's willingness to parade his superhot wife around town would usually make him one of history's greatest heroes in my book, but his hype-to-payoff ratio shatters the previous L.A. record, jointly held by Todd Marinovich and Gretchen Mol, and earns him a spot on this list.
4. Donald Sterling. What's this? Only a fourth-place finish for the man with nearly perfect attendance at the NBA's draft lottery? Call it a case study in Stockholm Syndrome. Sterling's aggressive brand of incompetence has been making our lives worse for so long now, the city just wouldn't feel the same without him. (In that sense, he's not unlike air pollution and gang-related crime.) For two decades, his oversight of the Los Angeles Clippers served as the gold standard for cheapee sports owners everywhere. Just when he started to rehab his image in the mid-aughts with a bigger payroll and a halfway decent on-court product, he quickly reminded everyone of his unlikeability by getting sued for housing and employment discrimination. Sterling's known to take out ads in the Los Angeles Times touting his own charitable activities, which just confirms his status as a world-class tool.
3. Bill Plaschke. Do you enjoy the smug self-righteousness of old white guys? Do you like your prose delivered in cutesy and tortured one-sentence paragraphs? Do you admire the mile-wide, inch-deep analysis of the 800-word sports-column generalist? The Times sure thinks you do. The paper has apparently granted Plaschke, now in his 18th (!) year of Page C1 hackery, the type of job security unknown to anyone not employed as a U.S. Supreme Court justice. Until the day comes when the Times exhales its dying breath in a Chapter 7 proceeding, Plaschke and his enraging smirk will be on your doorstep every few days, just waiting to scold you for not caring enough about steroids. His column yesterday was representative of the fine work routinely produced by this top-notch wordsmith: "I'm not saying the Dodgers and Angels are done. I'm just saying they're, well, done." Thanks, Bill. Glad you're here.
2. Lane Kiffin. Nearly seven months after Kiffin was hired as USC football coach, no one has come up with a plausible explanation for why he has the job. As coach of the Oakland Raiders, he lost 15 of 20 games. Then, as headman of the Tennessee Vols, he compiled a sterling 7-6 record. Naturally, with such a spotless track record, he was an irresistible candidate for a USC administration needing to replace one of the most successful college football coaches of all time. Kiffin's career strategy of failing upward is appalling enough. What's worse is that he can't walk three feet without committing a secondary recruiting violation, and that he speaks at all times with the hinky cadence of a compulsive liar. For his latest trick, he's managed to get himself and USC sued by the Tennessee Titans. That Kiffin has reached the two hole on this list without even coaching a game for the Trojans deserves your applause.
1. Frank McCourt. During his tenure as owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers, McCourt has reenacted in miniature all the recent sins of the U.S. financial industry. In 2004, in the early stages of the credit boom, he purchased the Dodgers from NewsCorp in a massively leveraged transaction. To help service his debt burden, he proceeded to raise ticket and concession prices annually, all the while ramping up a cartoonishly lavish lifestyle that includes four houses within 10 miles with each other. Now embroiled in a ferocious divorce battle with his wife Jaime, McCourt has driven the Dodger payroll down to its lowest level in years and throttled back investment in the amateur draft and Latin American market. In slow motion, he's strip-mining the franchise to bankroll his non-baseball expenses, which is as good a way as any to get fans to hate you. Even the judge in his divorce proceeding is hinting that he should sell the team. That's certainly his best hope of getting off this list anytime soon.
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