On behalf of the Lakers, let me say this to all other L.A. sports teams: It's time to start pulling your weight around here. This city craves titles, and for a while now the purple and gold have been the only ones delivering the goods. I'm looking at you, Frank McCourt. And you, Tim Leiweke. I'm even, reluctantly, looking at you, Donald Sterling. The inability of your respective franchises to secure banners of the championship variety doesn't reflect well on your job performance. To varying degrees, the same indictment can be leveled at the rest of the big-time L.A. sports scene.
Consider: since 1980, the Lakers have won 10 NBA titles. Over that same stretch, the other major L.A. teams have collectively won just seven. (In this category I'm including the Dodgers, the Angels, the Clippers, the Kings, UCLA and USC football and men's basketball and, when they called Los Angeles home, the Raiders and Rams. Apologies to the Sparks, the Galaxy and UCLA men's water polo.) Moreover, you get to seven only by assuming that Anaheim is part of Los Angeles (fine, whatever) and by dodgily crediting USC football with a 2003 championship, even though LSU actually won the BCS that year. In other words, the Lakers get new rings once every three years. The rest of the city's teams combined, even with the benefit of the most generous assumptions possible, get it done once every four or five years.
This state of affairs isn't likely to change anytime soon. The Lakers have armed themselves to the teeth in an effort to take maximum advantage of the two or three peak years that Kobe Bryant has left. None of their Angeleno peers, meanwhile, seem on the verge of serving up any championship goodness. But just for giggles, let's diagnose each non-Lakers team's chance of being the next to bring a title to Los Angeles. Please note: The odds given below are not merely for entertainment purposes. You should absolutely find a way to wager on them and stake a sizable portion of your net worth on their accuracy.
1. Dodgers (30% chance) - The two local MLB squads are the front-runners in this race. They're both perennial playoff contenders in a sport whose economic structure allows them to exploit the size of the Southern California market. Of the two, the Dodgers have shakier management and a greater talent for self-sabotage, but they also don't have to play through the AL East behemoths to get to the World Series. I'm awarding them a slight probabilistic edge by virtue of the National League's relative weakness and ownership's innovative use of Russian mystics.
2. Angels (25% chance) - Their fabled farm system has been drained in recent years as prospects have become actual players, but a solid core of players in their mid-to-late 20s is in place. Payroll has remained robust. Their competitive ecosystem, unfortunately, is getting less hospitable with the rise of the Texas Rangers, whose present and future are plenty bright. Management's refusal to employ Russian mystics is likely to handicap the Angels for years to come.
3. UCLA Football (12% chance) - Here's our sleeper pick in the field. The football Bruins have never won an unambiguous national title. (In 1954 they finished the season undefeated and ranked atop the United Press poll. In the final Associated Press poll, however, they were placed second behind undefeated Ohio State.) They haven't really been in a national-title discussion since 1998. Rick Neuheisel is looking to change all that. He's proving himself a recruiting ninja, and with Pete Carroll out of the picture and the NCAA having thrown the book at USC, there's an opening for a UCLA power grab. For the first time since Edgerrin James turned a Bruins defense to pure mush in the Orange Bowl, a return to national prominence doesn't seem totally outlandish.
4. USC Football and UCLA Basketball (tied at 11% each) - Two pedigreed programs in rapid, though possibly short-term, decline. Through wounds inflicted by the NCAA police, the Trojans are bleeding out blue-chip recruits. The loss of Carroll and his succession by oily buffoon Lane Kiffin might prove even more damaging to the program than the sanctions regime that's been imposed on it. As for Bruin hoops, they blew a once-every-15-years shot at a national title when the stacked 2008 team (featuring four future quality pros in Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and Darren Collison) fell in the Final Four. Ben Howland is now trying to rebuild his talent base to the point where he can just get back in the tournament.
6. Kings (8% chance) - Too harsh for a team coming off a 101-point season? Negative. By historical track record and payroll, the Kings are no better than a middle-class NHL franchise. They missed the playoffs entirely the six previous seasons, and only once in team history have they reached the Stanley Cup Finals. If it weren't for the utter dross below them on this list, that 8 percent probability would be asymptotically approaching zero.
7. USC Basketball (2% chance) - There's a decent chance that nobody reading this was alive when USC last reached the Final Four. The Korean War had ended less than a year earlier. Institutionally overshadowed both by their own football team and by UCLA hoops, the Trojans lack the year-in, year-out recruiting juice that's a precondition to becoming a national power. When O.J. Mayo, Tim Floyd and Rodney Guillory are the names most prominently associated with your program, a six-win run through the NCAA tournament isn't a realistic objective.
8. NFL Franchise to Be Named Later (1% chance) - Don't get me wrong. I don't actually think an NFL team is about to plop down in Los Angeles. Strong forces -- economic, political and bureaucratic -- militate against the possibility. But who knows? Just five years ago rumors abounded that the NFL could move the Saints to L.A. Had that come to pass, Drew Brees might've made our recent list of the city's five most popular athletes.
9. Clippers (0% chance) - Do we even have to discuss this? Yes, the Clips have some talent. Yes, every once in a while, Sterling shells out for a decent free agent. Yes, Blake Griffin could be excellent. No, none of this creates even the slightest probability of the Clippers' winning a title in our lifetimes. In fact, that previous sentence is the first documented instance of Clippers and title appearing within four words of each other.
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