This year in Los Angeles sports has been a series of ups and downs, with some decidedly deep downs. The sports scene added new faces and, predictably, also lost some. The Dodgers’ epic loss in Game 5 of the National League Division Series will be remembered for a long time. But the additions to the rosters of the Lakers and Clippers are sure to keep fans on the edge of their seats for a while to come. Take a step back with us and review the top sports stories of 2019:
Rams lose the big one
No one thought it would take the Rams only three seasons to make it to the Super Bowl after their return to Los Angeles, but that’s what they did. They got there with a 26-23 overtime win over the New Orleans Saints, aided by a controversial no-call on what appeared to be pass interference. In the Super Bowl, the Rams met the five-time champion New England Patriots, and the result was the lowest-scoring title game in history. The Patriots won 13-3, and the Rams have struggled this season, trying to make the playoffs as a wild-card team.
Horse racing in peril
It was mid-February when people started to notice that horses at Santa Anita were dying at an alarming rate. It quickly became a national story that not only threatened Santa Anita, but also the horse racing industry. Safety protocols were introduced and other changes made, but the deaths continued, 37 in all — the last following the $6-million Breeders Cup Classic.
The Lakers were on the way to missing the playoffs for the sixth straight season. The front office was in turmoil. But it was still shocking when Magic Johnson, president of basketball operations, quit and later said Rob Pelinka, the general manager, had backstabbed him. After the last game, coach Luke Walton and the Lakers parted ways. After flirting with several candidates, the Lakers replaced Walton with Frank Vogel, who had a 54-110 record with the Orlando Magic.
Twice as nice
Chatsworth’s Sierra Canyon High School knows basketball. The school pulled off an impressive double by winning the boys’ and girls’ state high school basketball championships. The Trailblazers won the boys’ open division for the second straight season by beating Sacramento’s Sheldon High 76-52. The girls’ team won its fourth overall title with a 69-51 win over Pinewood School in Los Altos Hills.
Andy Ruiz Jr., 30, shocked the boxing world when he upset Anthony Joshua to become the first person of Mexican heritage to become the world heavyweight champion. The win came with a technical knockout in the seventh round at New York’s Madison Square Garden. Imperial Valley, which Ruiz calls home, held a parade for him. The title fight was his 33rd win in 34 bouts. But Joshua earned revenge later in the year, taking back the title by unanimous decision in a rematch in Saudi Arabia.
A sad ending
The Angels were heartbroken when pitcher Tyler Skaggs, 27, was found dead in his hotel room in Texas. The outpouring from Angels fans and teammates was overwhelming. When the team returned to Anaheim 11 days after his death, Skaggs’ mother threw a strike on the ceremonial first pitch, setting the tone as Taylor Cole and Felix Peña combined for a no-hitter in a 13-0 win over the Seattle Mariners. Months later, it was discovered Skaggs had fentanyl, oxycodone and alcohol in his system when he died. A team employee reportedly admitted to routinely providing Skaggs with drugs.
Clippers find relevancy
The Clippers have always lived in the Lakers’ shadow, even when they had the better team. But they could never get equal billing, until this year, when they signed Kawhi Leonard and traded for Paul George. Getting the two Californians back home has made all the difference. The excitement is back at Staples Center, as the team awaits a new arena. And the team is hovering around the top of the standings, along with the Lakers.
Anthony Davis to the rescue
A year ago, LeBron James came to the Lakers to revive the franchise to past glory. He found it wasn’t that easy; he needed help. So, in a blockbuster trade, the Lakers gave up veterans and first-round picks to acquire Anthony Davis from the New Orleans Pelicans. It didn’t hurt that James and Davis share the same agent. It was working out well as the Lakers were off to an excellent start to the season.
Dodgers’ crushing loss
It was Game 5 of the National League Division Series. The Dodgers were leading 3-1 in the seventh, and Clayton Kershaw was called in to get the final out of the inning. He did. But then he came back in the eighth and gave up back-to-back home runs. Still, there was a chance. Manager Dave Roberts sent Joe Kelly out for a second inning in the 10th. A Howie Kendrick grand slam later, the Nationals had won 7-3, ending the Dodgers’ season.
There was a lot of pain in the Dodgers’ and Angels’ seasons, but in the end both teams had most valuable players. Cody Bellinger became the first Dodger to win the National League award since Clayton Kershaw in 2014. Mike Trout won the American League award for the third time, a nice accomplishment since the Angels lost 90 games and didn’t make the playoffs.
In the midst of problems on many levels, Donna Heinel, USC’s senior women’s athletics administrator, was indicted on bribery charges in connection with a college admissions scandal that roiled several big-time sports programs. Later, the Trojans were left without an athletic director when Lynn Swann resigned two weeks into another disappointing — by USC standards — football season. Swann was under pressure to fire coach Clay Helton as the team performed inconsistently and lagged in recruiting. Ultimately, that decision was left to Mike Bohn of Cincinnati, whom new university president Carol Folt hired to replace Swann. Bohn decided to retain Helton, who is under contract through 2023.
Scandal U, Westwood
UCLA was also ensnared in the college admissions scandal. Former men’s soccer coach Jorge Salcedo was accused of accepting $200,000 in bribes to help enroll two students using fake athletic profiles. Also, a Times investigation showed at least 18 students who were either the children of coaches or administrators or had other strong ties to the university were admitted as athletics recruits — including several with only modest sports resumes.
Show them the money
California became a trailblazer for reform when Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law a measure allowing college athletes to make endorsement deals. Players will be able to receive compensation for the use of their name, image or likeness beginning Jan. 1, 2023, much to the chagrin of the NCAA, which had warned that the state’s universities might not be allowed to participate in championship events or could even face expulsion from the organization. Other states are considering similar legislation.
Couldn’t stick the ending
Katelyn Ohashi set the tone for UCLA’s women’s gymnastics team in the second week of the season, earning a perfect 10 with a floor routine that resulted in a video that went viral over social media. The Bruins produced a record number of 10s during the regular season but couldn’t send coach Valorie Kondos Field into retirement with a national championship. Oklahoma knocked UCLA off in the final, meaning Kondos Field left with seven titles in her 29 seasons as head coach.
Congrats and goodbye
One of the best rivalries in Los Angeles is between its two Major League Soccer teams — the Galaxy and LAFC. LAFC enjoyed a record-setting regular season and eliminated the Galaxy in the playoffs but was upset by Seattle in the conference final. Carlos Vela of LAFC won the league MVP award. After the season, the Galaxy said goodbye to Zlatan Ibrahimovic, one of the best strikers to play the game.