“Oscar De La Hoya has done a lot for the city of Los Angeles, for boxing and for the Latinos,” says Nick Sanchez Sr., father of USC quarterback Mark Sanchez and an American with Mexican blood in his veins, just like De La Hoya. “Everything Oscar has done, in my opinion, has been first class.”
That is a typical comment from a Hispanic, a Latino, a Mexican American or an American with origins from Mexico, whichever you want to use.
On Monday, a bronze statue of De La Hoya was unveiled in front of Staples Center, next to the ones of Magic Johnson and Wayne Gretzky. As odd a place as Staples may be for a monument to a boxer -- De La Hoya never won a fight inside the arena -- nobody can deny the merits the Golden Boy has amassed during a career as rich in left hooks, knockouts and belts as in glamour, money and social influence.
So, what is the problem with De La Hoya having a statue in the new temple of sports in Southern California? Why not?
Johnson and Gretzky didn’t compete in Staples Center either, but nobody will argue they deserve to have their figures at the corner of Figueroa and 11th. Gretzky made huge contributions to hockey in California, but hockey will never be like boxing for the people of this great city, no matter what.
De La Hoya hasn’t been the purest athlete in the world. He has become half-boxer and half-businessman, and it’s been a while since he last won a really big fight. Many Mexican boxing fans will never forgive that the East L.A. fighter beat the great Julio Cesar Chavez, twice.
None of that really matters, however. De La Hoya’s legacy is much bigger than any of his detractors.
Boxer Urbano Antillon of Maywood says he is proud not only for De La Hoya, but also “for all the Latinos. The statue tells you that the sky’s the limit for us.”
Even the fact that AEG, which orchestrated the statue project for the boxer, has a partnership with De La Hoya’s Golden Boy Promotions shouldn’t detract from the bronze figure.
Please don’t get it wrong. It would have been better to wait until De La Hoya’s boxing career had ended to honor him with a statue, but the effect is still the same, as De La Hoya said Monday: “When the kids walk around the Staples Center, they will think, ‘Oscar De La Hoya, from East L.A., made it. Maybe I can make it too.’ ”
It is better to make the millions of Latinos in the Southland feel proud, belonging and considered, and with the exception of Fernando Valenzuela -- whose legendary No. 34 hasn’t been retired by the Dodgers, ouch! -- there is no better recipient than the Golden Boy, even if his statue is not a masterpiece.