On a sunny fall Thursday afternoon in downtown Los Angeles, Magic was magic.
Juan Carlos Anzelmette, a tourist from Mexico City, leaned on the giant bronze Magic Johnson’s left knee and smiled.
“When I think about this city, this is what I think about,” he said.
A few minutes later, surrounded by two young children wearing Kobe Bryant jerseys, Magic was Christmas.
Mayuko Owens positioned her kids in front of Johnson’s giant embrace and began snapping photos.
“It’s for our Christmas cards,” she said.
In one of the most vibrant sports cities in the world, some of the coolest stars are the ones who never move.
I’m a sucker for the Staples Center statues. I can’t walk past them without stopping to stare at their craggy faces and marvel at their oversized permanence. Every star in this town eventually fades, right? Well, these guys don’t.
The statues don’t just stand there, they live there, serving as stately mentors and giant playmates and, in the case of Chick Hearn, an old buddy with whom you can sit.
Johnson’s left knee is faded from countless elbows that have leaned on it. The end of Wayne Gretzky’s stick is a bit scratchy from people tapping it. Check out Hearn’s left sleeve; it’s a tad burnished from his seatmates tugging on it.
Fans are constantly pulling up on Chick Hearn Court, jumping out of their cars, posing for photos with the statues, then driving away before being nabbed by the parking police. The night the Lakers beat the Boston Celtics for the NBA title in June, fans were literally grabbing the hands of the statues and dancing with them.
The most amazing things about the statues is while they have been poked and prodded, they have never been injured. Even though there are no guards and no barriers, not once have they been tagged with graffiti or defaced by vandals.
The area is swarming with cameras, so that helps. But, in this ever-evolving local sports climate, it is also about everyone respecting that rare greatness that will never change.
“People respect that it’s a celebration of L.A. sports,” said Tim Leiweke, president of AEG and the brains behind the statue plaza. “It’s a place where people here can activate and engage in the personalities that have made this such a great sports town.”
The statues were back in the news this week with the announcement that Jerry West was next. The former Lakers great will be bronzed and unveiled a couple of days before the NBA All-Star game in February, a solid choice that comes with tricky questions.
The Lakers will have two statues in front of their home arena, yet the NBA’s all-time leading scorer is not one of them? No Kareem Abdul-Jabbar? You don’t think the sky hook could be turned into a masterpiece?
Also, the Kings actually own the building, yet the only hockey player bronzed is one who never played there? When is it Luc Robitaille’s turn?
In talking to the folks from AEG, it seems apparent that Abdul-Jabbar and Robitaille are next on the statue list, but that just leads to more questions. What about Lisa Leslie? The scant Sparks attendance should not marginalize her female-empowering legacy.
All of which makes you wonder, when is the rest of the Los Angeles sports scene going to start sculpting its own legacies?
Actually, USC already does, with campus sculptures of Tommy Trojan, Traveler and the Wild Bunch defense. Inside Heritage Hall, most of the Trojans greats are either celebrated with their Heisman Trophies or bronze busts. All except, well, you know, reggiebush.
UCLA has a Jackie Robinson statue outside its off-campus baseball stadium, but nothing in front of Pauley Pavilion or the Rose Bowl. There were thoughts that a John Wooden statue would be perfect in front of the new Pauley Pavilion, which is scheduled to open in a couple of years, but I’m guessing his family would think that would be perfectly wrong for Wooden’s humble legacy. So maybe Bill Walton?
The Dodgers had great plans for all sorts of public decorations before it became clear the McCourts couldn’t even pay for a pitcher, so everything is on hold until after the divorce is settled. But this one should be easy.
Adorn the area behind the center-field fence with three statues of the Dodgers’ heart, soul and voice — Sandy Koufax, Tommy Lasorda and Vin Scully.
“With the storied history of the Dodgers, you can probably name a dozen or more legends who deserve a statue at Dodger Stadium,” said Josh Rawitch, team spokesman. “These legends are part of the DNA of this franchise and we’re always thinking of ways to continue to honor their contributions to the organization.”
The Angels have statues of Gene Autry and Michelle Carew in their stadium, but only a couple of giant baseball caps outside, so there’s plenty of room for more.
“It hasn’t been something we’ve actively discussed, but obviously the two statues we have are very important to this organization and there’s always room to grow,” Angels spokesman Tim Mead said.
They should grow with a statue of Nolan Ryan on one side of the entrance plaza, and a statue of Tim Salmon on the other side.
Oh, I almost forgot, what about a Clippers statue? How about Baron Davis? Wait. He already is one.