Magic Johnson arrived in Los Angeles as a wide-eyed teenager in 1979, when Dusty Baker, Ron Cey and Steve Garvey starred for the team that had captured the affection of the city.
“I’ve seen how the Dodgers can be as big as the Lakers,” Johnson said when he announced his pursuit of an ownership stake in the Dodgers in 2011, “and I want that to happen again.”
His vision has come to pass, at least by one measure. The Dodgers are more popular than the Lakers, for the first time in the four years a Loyola Marymount survey has asked Los Angeles County residents to identify their favorite pro sports team.
The Dodgers got 36% of the vote and the Lakers 35%, making each team more than four times as popular in Los Angeles as any other local team.
The Clippers got 7%, the Angels and Kings 6% each, the Galaxy and Rams 5% each and the Sparks 0.2%.
The survey, conducted in January by the Thomas and Dorothy Leavey Center for the Study of Los Angeles, asked 2,400 adult residents this question: “What is your favorite professional sports team with L.A. in its name?”
So, even though the Los Angeles Angels and Anaheim Ducks play in Anaheim, the Ducks were not included in the survey. The poll did not extend to Orange County residents.
Although the Rams had just completed a dreadful first season back in Los Angeles at the time of the survey, the results are particularly ominous for the Chargers, a team loved in San Diego but with virtually no history or following in Los Angeles.
Their “Fight for L.A.” slogan might be all too uncomfortable. They might have been kings in San Diego, but they figure to rank below the Kings and seven other teams in local fervor during their debut season in Los Angeles next fall.
“But 3% of a population of 10 million, that’s still a lot of people,” said Fernando Guerra, the center’s director, citing the population of L. A. County.
In 2014, the first year of the survey, the Lakers got 42% of the vote and the Dodgers 35%. Although the survey did not ask respondents to explain why they favored a team, Guerra said there is no mystery to how the Dodgers leaped past the Lakers.
“L.A. loves a winner,” Guerra said. “You’ve seen the decline of the Lakers.”
In 2012, Johnson and his Guggenheim Baseball partners inherited a Dodgers team that had fallen into bankruptcy and out of the top 10 in the major leagues in attendance and payroll. In each of the first four full years under Guggenheim ownership, the Dodgers have led the majors in both categories and advanced to the playoffs.
“The first thing we said we wanted to do was to bring the fans back,” Johnson said last Saturday, after the Dodgers unveiled a statue of Jackie Robinson.
“The second thing we wanted to do was to put money into the stadium. We put over $250 million into the stadium, to upgrade it for our great fan base. We wanted to make the team better, so we invested in the players. The next thing we wanted to do was to honor Jackie Robinson, and we’ve done that.
“Check. Check. Check. Check. We’ve got one more box to check, and that is winning the World Series.”
The Lakers bid farewell to Kobe Bryant last year and fired their general manager this year, at the same time the owner fired her brother as executive vice president of basketball operations. Their last four seasons are the worst four seasons in franchise history, as measured by losses.
None of their succession of lottery draft picks — Julius Randle, D’Angelo Russell and Brandon Ingram — has delivered anywhere near the impact that reigning National League rookie of the year Corey Seager has had on the Dodgers.
“The Lakers have had three top draft picks that have made no impact, really,” Guerra said. “You’ve got the retirement of Kobe, so the Lakers are starless, and the Dodgers have [Clayton] Kershaw, Seager, [Kenley] Jansen, etc.
“The one thing that mitigates this is that the Lakers are actually on TV a lot more, but that hasn’t held the Dodgers back. It’s about winning.”
Guerra said the Lakers could leapfrog the Dodgers, particularly since the Lakers remain more popular among millennials — the youngest adults — in the survey. But they’ll have to get back to winning, and to securing the better players who make for a better team.
The person accountable for acquiring those players — and thus for making the Lakers more popular than the Dodgers once again — is their new president of basketball operations.
His name is Magic Johnson.
Follow Bill Shaikin on Twitter @BillShaikin