Who knows the exact reason — probably the combination of sun, surf, access to a media juggernaut and world-class pedicures — but in the last few months, Southern California has managed to assemble the finest collection of athletic star power the world has ever seen.
With Tiffany franchises of their own, New York and Boston have had star-power moments, but neither has boasted the number of A-list athletes Los Angeles currently possesses. Historically, the only era that would even come close is the L.A. of the mid- to late ‘60s, when Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, O.J. Simpson, Roman Gabriel and the Fearsome Foursome were media beasts.
Even so, today’s roster trumps that in depth and marketing brawn. Amplified by the recent acquisition of Dwight Howard and the shimmer of Olympic metal, Los Angeles has easily become the sports capital of America.
Not since Zeus hurled lightning bolts at Atlas’ noggin have we seen star power like this. It begs a list, and as soon as you start making lists, the natural inclination is to rank them in some way.
So behold our ranking — study it, marvel at the amazing names or crumple it in disgust and fling it at the cat. Whatever. Even skeptics, transplants and radio-show goofs have to acknowledge that we haven’t seen a lineup of athletes like this before.
Keep in mind too that this is without an NFL team, which usually boasts the biggest stars in any town. Here, who needs ‘em? You’ve got a Heisman front-runner, and most NFL franchises would be hard-pressed to match the magic of the Coliseum during a Pac-12 game.
Look also at the two NBA dream teams assembled at Staples, either of which would have won Olympic gold in London. And I’m no Vin Scully — heck, I’m not even Vin Diesel — but when did Southern California ever have this many good baseball players? Meanwhile, the Kings and the Galaxy are coming off championship seasons.
Note that our list isn’t based on character or value to the community. In that case, Nobel Prize contender Clayton Kershaw would jump several places. This is mostly sizzle factor.
One key ingredient in our rankings is a rating known as “Q Scores,” a name-recognition number based on a national survey of fans. Those scores can also be broken down by how positive or negative respondents feel about the individual. In Kobe Bryant’s case, as well as Serena Williams and David Beckham, surveys show through-the-roof name recognition, but their negative scores were higher than their positive scores.
And still, based on the occasionally hollow qualities of charisma, moxie and glitz, Bryant’s an easy No. 1.
“That’s what we do in L.A. is generate celebrity,” noted Daniel Durbin, director of USC’s Annenberg Institute of Sports, Media and Society. “That’s why really smart athletes want to get out here. I don’t care what anybody says about New York, this is the media capital of the world.”
The criteria: a fragile calculus of salary, marketing heft, Q Scores and General Sentiment’s rankings of online presence — the new Nielsens. Personal perception played a role too, making this closer to college football’s coaches’ poll than the BCS.
Money isn’t everything, or Matt Barkley and Mike Trout wouldn’t rank so high. Neither is social media buzz, or Bryant wouldn’t be at the top — he doesn’t tweet, nor does he apparently need to.
“I think there’s a certain level of sports performer, people who were immense celebrities in their former markets, who decided that L.A. is the next great move,” said communications and marketing strategist Steve Caplan, who assisted with our list. “What we’re seeing is probably unprecedented in this city and any other city in the world.”
Some will wonder about the timing. After all, won’t the post-Olympic pop that Alex Morgan and Misty May-Treanor now enjoy wear off in a few months?
Indeed, this is a fluid ranking. The Dodgers have a great postseason, and Matt Kemp climbs. Barkley wins the Heisman and the Trojans finish No. 1, he might even bump Kobe off the list. He’d also lift the star power of his receivers. All we could measure is the L.A. sports landscape as it stands at this moment.
Where rankings were close, we took into account whether careers were on the upswing. To be considered, you have to live here, at least part time, which is why SoCal natives Tiger Woods and Missy Franklin weren’t considered.
More art than science, you’ll no doubt have adjustments. “No boxers?” you ask. Or, “Why not Laird Hamilton, the David Beckham of surfing?”
Honestly, we considered them all. Our list is our list. A very competitive list, and once again — and probably most noteworthy — the finest collection of athletes ever assembled in one city.
Of that there can be little argument.
So go ahead, argue.