Famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright once remarked: “Tip the world over on its side and everything loose will land in Los Angeles.” To Phoenix sports fans, it’s only the desirable stuff that seems to land on our bigger, bolder, imagined rival to the west.
Starting a gut-wrenching span of 24 hours, Valley fans watched our decidedly mediocre Suns roll into Staples Center for a game with the reviled Lakers, now boasting the Suns’ former favorite coach (Mike D’Antoni) and former favorite point guard (Steve Nash). Although neither Nash (injured) nor D’Antoni (recovering from knee surgery) participated, it hardly eased the sting of the Lakers’ runaway win.
Less than a day later — and nearly one week before two decidedly mediocre local teams battle for something called the Territorial Cup — No. 21 USC prepares to take on No. 17 UCLA at the Rose Bowl with the Pac-12 South Division title on the line.
It’s enough to give a city a complex. But in our case, it’s too late. We already have an L.A. complex. And it stretches back nearly four decades.
In 1969, in what has become a key bullet point in the Valley’s sports lore, the Suns lost the coin flip that determined the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft. The Milwaukee Bucks won. They got Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (formerly Lew Alcindor). We lost. We got Neal Walk.
But if that weren’t bad enough, the Bucks did the unthinkable, trading Abdul-Jabbar in 1975. The Lakers got him and Walt Wesley. The Bucks got Elmore Smith, Brian Winters, Dave Meyers and Junior Bridgeman.
Phoenix? We got nothing. And that’s pretty much how it’s been ever since.
In L.A, USC claims 11 national football championships (the NCAA claims otherwise), while UCLA claims 11 national basketball titles. In Phoenix, we still gush about the Sun Devils’ 1997 Rose Bowl berth, even though ASU lost.
With D’Antoni and Nash in L.A., there is talk of adding to the franchise’s 16 NBA championships. In Phoenix, we still talk about John Paxson’s 3-pointer, Robert Horry’s hip check and that swell triple-overtime game against the Celtics.
In L.A., they got the Wayne Gretzky who played. In Phoenix, we got the Gretzky who coached. Sort of.
In Los Angeles, they’re playing for the Pac-12 South title this weekend. In Tucson, ASU and Arizona are playing for a New Mexico Bowl berth.
In L.A., they get excited about Stanley Cup parades. In Phoenix, we get excited when our hockey team wins a playoff series and stays in the Valley for another season.
In L.A., Nash gets Kobe Bryant to work with and D’Antoni gets a Jerry Buss. In Phoenix, we gave Nash Raja Bell and D’Antoni got Robert Sarver.
In Los Angeles, the current pro and major college teams boast 45 championships between them, and that doesn’t even include the Super Bowl the L.A. Raiders won in 1984. In Phoenix, we’ve got one, the Diamondbacks’ 2001 World Series title.
And it doesn’t figure to get better any time soon.
The Lakers are poised for another championship run while the Suns are in rebuilding mode. The Kings will have one of the deepest rosters in the NHL if they ever play hockey again. The Coyotes, as always, are short on offense.
While USC’s postseason ban and scholarship limits have created a short window of opportunity in the Pac-12 South, it has been UCLA, not ASU, that has cashed in thus far.
L.A. may not have an NFL team yet, but the Cardinals’ three-year struggles are hardly cause for crowing. The Diamondbacks may have young talent, but the Dodgers, with new ownership, have more money to spend. In the only major sport that lacks a salary cap, money makes consistent success a whole lot easier.
Of course, there is always hope in sports. Maybe Todd Graham will get this thing turned around in Tempe. Maybe Coyotes GM Don Maloney finally will find the center he has long coveted and the cash to actually acquire him. Maybe Robert Sarver will sell the team back to Jerry Colangelo.
But don’t hold your breath. This L.A. complex has existed for a long time, and there are no tangible signs of its resolution. Which reminds us of a line from one of L.A.’s most celebrated celebrities, Jack Nicholson.