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For L.A. sports fans, a year of unbelievable moments

For L.A. sports fans, a year of unbelievable moments
Lakers Kobe Bryant pauses for a moment as confetti streams down following his last game at the Staples Center. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Amid a constantly changing landscape of championships and collapses, greatness and silliness, heroes and fools, there were always three things that Los Angeles sports fans could trust.

Vin Scully on the television, Kobe Bryant on the court, and the NFL somewhere else.

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All of which makes 2016 one of the most compelling calendars in local sports history, this being the year that the three truths were turned on their red, shaven and helmeted heads.

Vin Scully retired. Kobe Bryant retired. And the NFL came to town.

Not only did the Los Angeles sports terrain shift, but it did so with such dramatic force that the accompanying cacophony will be remembered forever.

In Scully's final game at Dodger Stadium, the Dodgers clinched the West Division title on a 10th-inning home run by Charlie Culberson, after which Scully serenaded weeping fans with, "Wind Beneath My Wings.''

In Bryant's final game at Staples Center, he scored 60 points amid three hours of roars and tears, after which he properly said, "This is crazy, this is absolutely crazy.

Then there were the Rams, who, returning here after a 22-year-absence, were just as dramatic in their quick fall from grace. First they sold out the Coliseum, then they stunk up the field, then they fired their coach, all within four months, quite the homecoming parade.

It was a year of changes in other ways, some celebrated, others mourned, none without turmoil.

USC football became USC football again, following the steady lead of Coach Clay Helton, winning eight consecutive games and returning to the Rose Bowl for the first time in eight seasons.

The Dodgers moved a step closer to being the glorious Dodgers again, winning a deciding Game 5 in the Division Series against the Washington Nationals before pushing the eventual world champion Chicago Cubs to six games in the seven-game National League Championship Series. But once again, their season ended with star pitcher Clayton Kershaw on the mound, where he's been for the final game of three of the Dodgers' last four postseason failures, his weary struggles an eternally puzzling yet sadly familiar site.

Then there was UCLA basketball, which ended the year on the verge of returning hoops greatness to Westwood, winning its first 10 games of the season thanks to a great group of freshman recruited by Coach Steve Alford. All of this happened a mere months after they finished a 15-win season by missing the NCAA tournament. Not everything was different in 2016, but that wasn't all good, either.

The Clippers followed a great regular season with an injury-ridden collapse in the first round of the playoffs. The Angels continued their losing ways, with Mike Trout once again baseball most forlorn great talent, the two-time MVP having played five full seasons without a postseason victory. Then there was UCLA football, which returned to the shadows with the injury to Josh Rosen and questionable coaching by Jim Mora. And yeah, Dodger Stadium parking still stinks, some things will never change.

But through all this there was a champion. All hail the Los Angeles Sparks, the WNBA team that won its first title in 14 years. They did it with the guttiest play of the Los Angeles sports year, Nneke Ogwumike sinking a 5-foot shot while falling on her back with two seconds remaining to give the Sparks a 77-76 win in a deciding Game 5 of the WNBA Finals against the Minnesota Lynx.

After the game, Finals MVP Candace Parker asked, through, tears, "Is this real?''

In reflecting on a year of sad farewells, warm welcomes and  honeymoons that lasted as long as it takes to say the name, "Jeff Fisher,'' Los Angeles sports fans could be forgiven for asking themselves the same thing.

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Get more of Bill Plaschke's work and follow him on Twitter @BillPlaschke

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