Rock music throbs through UCLA’s John Wooden Recreation Center, home of the longest current sports dynasty in Los Angeles, as the powerful athletes fling their bodies through a four-hour practice session.
These athletes aren’t six-and-a-half- and seven-footers, like the players on Wooden’s 10 NCAA-champion men’s basketball teams, and don’t at all resemble the muscled behemoths on Pete Carroll’s USC football teams. Some are scarcely 5 feet tall.
The members of Coach Valorie Kondos Field’s UCLA women’s gymnastics team, however, have won four NCAA championships in the last six years
The 13 UCLA women are carrying on a unique L.A. tradition. No other city has produced as many collegiate and professional sports dynasties, measured by national championships and near-championships over a compact stretch of years.
Wooden’s teams of the 1960s and ‘70s, and the “Showtime” Lakers of the 1980s, are among the most famous dynasties in sports. Others have been obscured by time or the low profile of their sports.
L.A.'s sports dynasties over the years:
USC footballMore than any other sport, Trojan football is bound up with the growth of L.A. as a city.
“USC was just a rinky-dink school in the 1920s and L.A. wasn’t much of a city at the time,” says football historian Michael Oriard of Oregon State University. “They grew together. They fed each other.”
USC football became the darling of civic boosters. The Trojans were the only tenant of the Coliseum, built by the business elite as a monument to the city in 1923, and the decision of USC President Rufus von Kleinschmidt to seek a cross-country rivalry with Notre Dame in the mid-1920s put the university on the national sports map.
In a sport historically unconducive to dynasties — only Notre Dame won or shared as many as four consecutive championships from the beginning of the 20th century on — USC has flirted with history three times.
From 1928 through 1932, the Trojans, under Coach Howard Jones, won three championships, as determined by various national polls.
Then, from 1962 through 1978, they won five more, under coaches John McKay, above, and John Robinson.
Beginning with a victory over Arizona State on Oct. 4, 2003, a new generation of Trojans embarked on a historic, 34-game winning streak that brought them national titles that year and in 2004 under Coach Pete Carroll. The streak and the Trojans’ three-year dominance of the No. 1 spot in national polls came to an end with their dramatic loss to Texas in January’s Rose Bowl.
Trojans have won the Heisman Trophy — emblematic of college football’s best player — seven times since 1965, when running back Mike Garrett won it. USC Heisman laureates since are running backs O.J. Simpson, 1968; Charles White, 1979, and Marcus Allen, 1981, and, in remarkable succession, quarterback Carson Palmer, 2002; quarterback Matt Leinart, 2004, and running back Reggie Bush, 2005.
UCLA men’s basketballUnder Wooden, above, the Bruins of 1963-64 through 1974-75, constituted the most renowned sports dynasty Los Angeles has produced. During those 12 seasons, his teams, known for their teamwork, discipline and basketball intelligence, won 10 NCAA championships, including seven in succession, unprecedented feats many believe will never be equaled.
Over those 12 seasons, the Bruins had a record of 317-13, which included an NCAA-record 88 consecutive victories. Successive superstar centers Lew Alcindor, later known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Bill Walton were selected college player of the year three times each.
Abdul-Jabbar went on to become the leading scorer in NBA history and led teams to league titles six times.
Walton, a two-time NBA champion, played what many regard as a near-perfect college game in the Bruins’ 1973 NCAA championship victory over Memphis State, scoring 44 points on 21-for-22 shooting. The UCLA teams of those years produced numerous other NBA players, such as Gail Goodrich, Jamaal Wilkes, Sidney Wicks, Keith Erickson, Henry Bibby and Curtis Rowe.
DodgersA year after their move from Brooklyn to L.A., the Dodgers embarked on their longest sustained streak of success. From 1959 through 1966, on the strength of Cy Young Award winners Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale, they appeared in the World Series four times, winning in 1959,1963 and 1965. Koufax was selected World Series MVP the latter two years.
The franchise emerged again as a consistent contender in the mid-1970s. During a streak that straddled the managerships of Walter Alston and Tom Lasorda, above, and featured standout players Don Sutton, Bill Russell, Ron Cey and Steve Garvey, the Dodgers appeared in the World Series in 1974, 1977 and 1978, but lost each time.
In 1981, the year Fernando Valenzuela won the Cy Young and National League rookie-of-the-year awards, the mostly intact Dodgers defeated the New York Yankees to win the World Series. They also won the 1988 series.
LakersLos Angeles’ most glamorous sports team, the Lakers are the most consistently successful franchise in the NBA over the last 26 seasons, having made it to the league finals 13 times and won eight championships.
Laker history divides neatly into three dynasties.
The first was the era that featured Jerry West, Elgin Baylor and, later, Wilt Chamberlain. From 1960-61 through 1972-73, the Lakers reached the NBA Finals nine times.
But their streak largely coincided with the historic run of Bill Russell’s Boston Celtics — the greatest NBA dynasty, with 11 championships in 13 seasons. That edition of the Lakers took the title only once, in 1972, when Chamberlain was selected most valuable player of the Finals.
The second Laker dynasty began immediately upon the arrival of Earvin “Magic” Johnson, left, in 1979. The big rookie guard electrified the league with his passing and passion for the game.
In the sixth and deciding game of the Finals against the Philadelphia 76ers in the spring of 1980, Johnson replaced the injured Kareem Abdul-Jabbar at center and had 42 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists in the Lakers’ 123-107 victory.
It was one of the most remarkable performances in NBA Finals history, and earned Johnson the MVP award, the first of three he would receive. In the ensuing 11 seasons, these “Showtime” Lakers — so named because of their high-flying, elegant style of play — earned trips to eight more Finals, three of them against the Larry Bird-era Celtics, and won four titles.
The most recent Laker dynasty began as perhaps the most promising but was the shortest-lived. Led by superstars Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant, under the new guidance of Coach Phil Jackson, who had won six NBA titles in Chicago, the team racked up championships in 2000, 2001 and 2002 before O’Neal was traded.
The rest of the best
USC baseball The Trojans have been, by far, the most successful college baseball program in the United States. Since the inception of the College World Series in 1947, they’ve won 12 NCAA championships, turning out dozens of major league players.
From 1958 to 1974, Trojan teams under Coach Rod Dedeaux made it to the College World Series in Omaha a dozen times and won 10 titles, including from 1970 through 1974.
UCLA men’s volleyball Bruin volleyball Coach Al Scates has won more single-sport championships — 18 between 1970 and 200 — than any other coach in NCAA history.
USC women’s volleyball After defeating UCLA in 1976 for their first national title, the Trojans won three more over the next five years. The team also put together NCAA titles in 2002 and 2003.
USC men’s track and field The Trojans won 22 NCAA team championships in 33 years. The streak began in 1935 with nine consecutive titles.
The program earned seven more consecutive national championships from 1949 through 1955, and won five more titles between 1961 and 1968.
UCLA men’s tennis Between 1950 and 1961, the Bruins won the NCAA team championship seven times, then again in 1965. The program won five national titles during the 1970s, two in the early 1980s, and last year’s.
USC men’s tennis In 1951 and again in 1955, the Trojans interrupted Bruin championship streaks. Beginning in 1962, USC won seven NCAA titles in eight years. From 1950 through 1976, USC and UCLA won 22 national team championships in 27 seasons, sharing the title in 1976. The Trojans took three more titles in four seasons, 1991-94 and won their most recent in 2002.
USC women’s tennis The Trojans won six national team championships under Coach Dave Borelli in the nine seasons between 1977 and 1985.
USC men’s swimming During Coach Peter Daland’s tenure from 1958 to 1992, Trojan swimmers won nine NCAA team championships and were runners-up 11 times. They recorded four consecutive national titles twice, from 1963 through 1966, and from 1974 through 1977.
UCLA men’s water polo The Bruins dominated in the early 1970s and late 1990s. They won NCAA championships in 1969, 1971 and 1972 and in 1995, 1996, 1999, 2000 and 2005.
UCLA softball In the 24 seasons since the Women’s College World Series was established, UCLA has climbed to the eight-team championship tournament in all but three years, and won 10 titles, most recently in 2003 and 2004.
UCLA women’s gymnastics Under former ballet dancer Kondos Field, the Bruins have been preeminent in college gymnastics, winning NCAA championships in 1997, 2000, 2001, 2003 and 2004, while stressing team accomplishments over individual achievements. Kondos Fields’ philosophy tracks with that of Wooden, who regularly attends the women’s home meets.
“He sees in a sport that could be so individual, a true team approach,” she says.