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Column: Connection between Los Angeles and Las Vegas is strong and sports is making it stronger

10 U.S. road signs to see before you die
The Welcome to Las Vegas sign located on the Las Vegas Strip in Las Vegas.
(Dreamstime / Tribune News Service)

Los Angeles and Las Vegas are forever connected.

Beyond the I-15 that links both alongside landmarks such as Route 66, the Barstow Del Taco and Zzyzx Road, the two cities are intertwined in a way unlike any other two metropolises located in different states.

Think of some of the greatest movies involving Las Vegas — “Swingers,” “The Hangover,” “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” “Rain Man,” “Leaving Las Vegas,” and “Very Bad Things” — and most involve the infamous Los Angeles-Las Vegas road trip that anyone who has lived in either city has endured a time or 20.

There are 88 incorporated cities in Los Angeles County, but it feels like Las Vegas, despite being 270 miles away in Nevada, might as well be No. 89. There’s a good chance if you live in Los Angeles that you’ve been to Vegas more than to at least 80 of those incorporated cities.

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Whenever I check into a hotel or get into a cab and they ask me where I’m from, they usually laugh when they hear “L.A.” I might as well have told them I was from Henderson or Summerlin. “You’re basically local,” my cab driver told me. “If you can fly here in 45 minutes or drive here in four hours, you’re local.”

That is, no doubt, one of the selling points the Dodgers are using in their pursuit of Bryce Harper, who is from Las Vegas and lives in nearby Henderson, which is about 15 miles southeast of The Strip.

The bond between the cities will only grow stronger in 2020 when the Raiders move into a new stadium being built across the freeway from the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. Los Angeles Raiders fans who have continued to support the team over the past 25 years in Oakland will now make that short drive or flight to see their team in Sin City before returning home after a fun weekend.

Suddenly a city that sports fans viewed as nothing more than an outpost for teasers, parlays and pick ’ems is the home of an NFL, NHL and WNBA team with local businessmen and politicians seemingly working on getting the other pro leagues to the city as well.

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One of the best byproducts of Las Vegas becoming a pro sports town is it creates more rivalries for Los Angeles, which for years, viewed Vegas as a friendly oasis of blackjack tables and comped drinks. Kings fans hate the Vegas Golden Knights after they swept them in the first round of last year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs, Sparks fans don’t like the Las Vegas Aces and Rams fans already don’t like the Raiders but will grow a newfound hatred for the Las Vegas Raiders in 2020.

Los Angeles and Las Vegas were already intrinsically connected but now they can add pro sports to the bond that ties these two cities together.

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Las Vegas is calling this weekend the “Ultimate Vegas Sports Weekend” with NASCAR, USA Sevens Rugby, UFC, Tuff Hedeman Bull Riding Tour and the Vegas Golden Knights in town Thursday through Sunday. If you don’t think there are people out there that will watch and wager on all these events, you’ve never strolled through a Vegas sportsbook before.

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UFC 235 media day was held at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on Wednesday and I asked UFC light-heavyweight Jon Jones whom would he like to fight next if he beats Anthony Smith on Saturday. He told me he would like to have a crack at former UFC heavyweight champion and current WWE wrestler Brock Lesnar over UFC heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier.

“I think me and Brock Lesnar sells more than me and D.C. at heavyweight,” Jones told me. “I think the UFC is really good at making things happen that the fans want and I think what they need to do is say, ‘Bones, we have some cha-ching for you.’ Brock brings in a whole new audience. People have already seen me make D.C. cry twice.”

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A painful eyesore was permanently removed from the Los Angeles sports scene this week when the tented scaffolding known as the “Peristyle Suites” were removed from the peristyle end of the Coliseum. I understand the need to squeeze every last dollar in pro and college sports, especially when you’re playing in a stadium as old as the Coliseum, but the makeshift suites looked awful and blocked one of the most iconic stadium structures in the world. There’s no need to shed a tear for those who watched games from the suites. They’ll be moving into new suites and club seats as part of the Coliseum’s $300 million renovation, which will be completed before USC’s first game against Fresno State on Aug. 31.

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Who would have thought last summer after the Lakers signed LeBron James and the Clippers looked like they were in the midst of a rebuild after moving on from Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan that it would be the Clippers, not the Lakers, who would be in the playoffs this year? And that it would be the Clippers, not the Lakers, that would be the Los Angeles NBA franchise most enticing for free agents to join this summer? As fun as the Clippers have been to watch this season, just imagine what they could look like next season if Steve Ballmer, Jerry West and Doc Rivers can recruit two max players to the team.

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Two of the best events on the sports calendar are March Madness and the Stanley Cup Playoffs but with USC and UCLA stuck in the middle of an underachieving Pac-12 Conference and the Kings and Ducks at the bottom of the Western Conference, it looks like fans of those teams will have to pick something else to watch come March and April. Then again, they could always drive to Vegas and pick another team to root for, you know, strictly for financial purposes.

arash.markazi@latimes.com


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