Good, Bad and Ugly: the Tidings of 1996

"Unforgettable! The 100 Greatest Moments in Los Angeles Sports History," was the L.A. Sports Council's contribution to bookstores for last Christmas. In case you missed it or need your memory refreshed, Kirk Gibson's home run for the Dodgers in the 1988 World Series was No. 1.

There were no spectacles as grand as that this year in Greater Los Angeles/Orange County. Still, the Sports Council had much to choose from in selecting these top 10 moments of 1996, listed chronologically:

1. Galaxy signals a return of big-time soccer to Los Angeles; traffic stops as 69,000 attend opening game at Rose Bowl.

2. Oscar De La Hoya from East Los Angeles beats Julio Cesar Chavez for boxing's 140-pound title.

3. Lakers sign Shaquille O'Neal to $120-million contract.

4. Tom Lasorda era comes to an end as Dodger manager retires after 20 seasons.

5. Gold rush by Southern California athletes at the Atlanta Olympics.

6. Golfer Tiger Woods from Cypress turns pro and emerges as a force on the PGA Tour.

7. Brett Butler returns to the Dodger lineup after battling back from cancer.

8. Dodgers' Hideo Nomo pitches a no-hitter against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field.

9. UCLA's 48-41 double-overtime comeback victory over USC, the Bruins' unprecedented sixth in a row against the Trojans.

10. USC defeats Notre Dame in overtime, 27-20, ending the Trojans' 13-game winless streak against the Fighting Irish.


Mark Meyers, the Sports Council's publicist, said other events received strong consideration, including USC's Rose Bowl victory against Northwestern, Magic Johnson's comeback, the transfer of Angel operations from the Autrys to Disney and Todd Hollandsworth's selection as the Dodgers' fifth consecutive rookie of the year. How about 15-year-old Michelle Kwan of Torrance becoming the third-youngest women's world figure skating champion?


In the interest of journalistic balance, I am compelled to list the Southland's downers of 1996. Because the Sports Council already has dealt with Butler's cancer and Lasorda's heart problems and retirement, I'll move on to the next eight. In reverse order:

8. Nick Van Exel and Magic Johnson within one week are suspended for accosting referees.

7. The Galaxy loses a two-goal lead with 20 minutes to play and falls in the Major League Soccer championship game to D.C. United.

6. Defending its NCAA basketball championship, UCLA loses to Princeton in the first round of the tournament.

5. The Dodgers blow the pennant! The Dodgers blow the pennant!

4. Wayne Gretzky leaves L.A.

3. For reasons that may or may not have been entirely explained, USC and UCLA fire basketball coaches Charlie Parker and Jim Harrick.

2. Two high school football players, Eric Hoggatt of Reseda and Adrian Taufaasau of Coronado, die after games in Southland stadiums.

1. Three legends in their field--Allan Malamud, Chet Forte and Pete Rozelle--die.


The Lakers' disintegration against Chicago only seems like a lowlight of the year because it's fresh.

Mitch Kupchak, the Laker general manager, arrived at his Forum office Wednesday morning in a funk. He thought everyone else would be in the same mood but discovered that colleagues in the ticket office were too busy answering phones to think about the loss one way or the other.

A lot of fans who watched the game apparently were more excited about the Lakers' first three quarters of Showtime Revisited than disturbed by their unraveling at the finish.

Kupchak thought the outcome might have been different if Cedric Ceballos had played. With the Lakers unable to set their offense against Chicago's pressure defense, they could have used a freelance operator. They also could have used some more successful free throws. One more in regulation would have won the game for them.

"If there's something positive from this, it's that we can play with the world champions," Kupchak said. "We know that. They know that. On the other hand, we're still learning how to overcome adverse conditions--when there's a crowd against us and the momentum flip-flops.

"The Bulls have that air of confidence defending champions have. Even when we were up, the camera went to the Chicago bench and Scottie Pippen was smiling."


On hold while the INS checks Toni Kukoc's papers, I was thinking: Elvis Grbac will be Kansas City's next quarterback, the NBA was more entertaining with Mike Fratello on television than as a coach, the L.A. City Council is blowing the arena deal, Eddie Murray is a great guy to have in the clubhouse if you're not carrying a pen.

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