Some of my very best friends were in town visiting from Tennessee this past weekend. Warren and Rachel — I call them my best 'married friends' — are incredibly well-liked and practically made friends with everyone in L.A. before moving back to Rachel's home town last fall. They were some of the first few people I met when I moved to Los Angeles four and a half years ago, and believe me, the day they packed their bags to move back east, there were enough tears in town to fill the L.A. river basin — and we all know how deep that canyon goes.
Needless to say, their week back has been full of favorite stops around the city, and with each excursion comes a plethora of old friends with much catching up to do. I guess you could say, they are some of L.A.'s finest royalty — the 'kings' of L.A. if you will. But while we played volleyball at Manhattan Beach's 'El Porto' Monday afternoon– one of our all-time favorite traditions — I could really only think about the possibility of the crowning of the real new 'king' of L.A. that could transpire later that night around 5 P.M. PST.
As we wrap up the volleyball action, I'm walking with the girl I'm dating up to one of the local beach bars to wind down — although, once again, I have 'that game' in the back of my head. We step up to the cross walk where we see a few fans donning Kings gear and I concisely explain to her that if the Kings win tonight's game, they'll win the Stanley Cup, the first in the city's history. Big deal.
She smiles and asks if those were the same Kings that beat the Lakers in the playoffs?
With a half hidden, both-lips-bitten grin, I mildly laugh and explain to her that she's mixing up her sports. But it's an honest mistake since there are the Sacramento Kings in basketball.
First and foremost, this girl is incredibly athletic. She was arguably the best volleyball player on the sand Monday and she also plays football, basketball, softball — she even rock climbs. She's attended Dodgers and Angels games — even been to one Kings game, but said she was more entertained by the paper airplanes fans were throwing in the upper deck where she was sitting. A suprised look on my face in response explains that boredom at a Kings game today is about as likely as Jabba Da Hutt walking through the door to order a Blue Moon.
I didn't know it yet, but I was slowly, yet exponentially, inching towards becoming an official Kings fan; and Crystal — my date — was going to as well.
We sit down at the bar with the game just underway and order an appetizer and some drinks. You can already tell this place is on the edge of breaking loose. The entire establishment is black and purple. All eyes are transfixed toward the flat screens. With a big smile, Crystal says she likes this place. I tell her to get ready; if the Kings score a goal, this place is going to explode.
It didn't take long.
11:03 into the fist period. Dustin Brown knocks in a power play goal via an assist from stud Drew Doughty. LA 1 — NJ 0.
The bar erupts, and Crystal — all wide-eyed — corresponds with an instant perma-smile. I immediately think about all the other bars across town that are doing the exact same thing at the exact same moment.
When L.A. was up three games to nill and could have completed the sweep last Wednesday, myself, along with all my buddies — and a Canucks fan, bummer — met up at a sports bar on the south end of Burbank close to where we all live. A place that is usually empty on a Wednesday night was jam packed. Over 100 people ready to see their Kings take the title. Of course we all know they couldn't quite get it done that night, but it was fantastic seeing the profusion of fans come out of the ever so seemingly woodwork. Even while driving home, I passed the Burbank mall downtown only to see mobs of depressed Kings fans leaving the bars. I could probably count the number of Kings jerseys I've seen in Burbank on one hand in over four years of living here. Not anymore.
I snap back to reality.
We continue to munch on our mozzarella sticks when our ears go deaf again. The bar explodes into pandemonium after Jeff Carter scores a goal on the same power play. Just 1:42 later, and it's LA 2 — NJ 0.
You can see it in everyone's eyes. They're thinking, "Could this really happen? Is this for real? I didn't have this much to drink already."
I've always said that L.A. is a town that bleeds purple. Sure, you have the 'Doyers,' Clippers, USC, UCLA….Galaxy — OK, soccer is pushing it; but it's the Lakers that bring championships and that's the club that any Angeleno will lay down for. Then again, I saw a funny thing driving home from work last Monday…
While driving through the Baldwin Hills area of town just north of Culver City, I saw a little Hispanic man setting up his tent on the corner of a popular intersection. His tent — which is more of a tent-shop — is full of athletic apparel and fan gear, which is common around L.A., especially around game time. It's prevalent to see USC attire, or even more so, Lakers paraphernalia. But this man's tent was full of nothing but black and purple. Yup, the tent was King'd-out to the max.
Before I can finish my thought or even that same mozzarella stick for that matter — and sure, I'm a slow eater — the bar gives out yet another burst of excitement. Just 2:16 later and the Kings have scored again, this time from Trevor Lewis.
Now you can really see that look in everyone's eyes. "We're actually going to do this." I know that look. I've seen it before. It was 2004.
Being a big Cardinals fan, and too young to remember the last time St. Louis made the World Series, I was all about getting tickets to the Series when they won the pennant to square off against Boston that year. I told dad to get tickets for Game 4; that way we had the possibility of being at Busch Stadium to witness history in person, just in case they swept the Red Sox. Funny, right? The universe had a completely adverse disposition.
I was there to witness Boston break 'the curse' that night as they swept my Cardinals instead. Sox fans had that look in their eyes as they saw their first World Series title in 86 years. I sprawled an ironic smile, my die-hard Cardinals fan dad went delusional and walked around congratulating other Cardinals fans and mom cried. But hey, I was right about one thing: we did witness history. Now L.A. was about to have theirs.
Crystal and I leave following the end of the first period because she had to drive back home for the evening. After a quick, but definitely not rushed good-bye with her — sorry, not disclosing any 'deets' there — I hopped in my car and turned on the radio to listen to the game. Only problem was that unless you had satellite radio, the game wasn't broadcast.
Are you kidding me? A city the size of L.A. is about to win their first Stanley Cup in 46 years and they don't think there would be enough people that would want to tune in??
I make the hour-long drive through rush-hour traffic from the beach to my home freeway exit in Burbank before I finally hit a station that has the game. It's a top 40 station that is breaking into coverage — just giving enough time to listen in on the last few minutes of play. The last few minutes L.A. will have to endure their own sports curse.
I hear the score as I listen intently. LA 4 — NJ 1. I feel good.
Just seconds later and in desperation mode, the Devils leave an empty net and fail their improvisational power play attempt. Trevor Lewis scores his second goal of the game. LA 5 — NJ 1. They're actually going to do this.
Just :15 later. Matt Greene scores an unassisted goal! At this point the commentators are silent, leaving the sound of the jubilant arena to unfold over the airwaves.
It's over. Game, set, match. Check mate. The Kings are seconds away from their first championship. LA 6 — NJ 1.
I pull into my driveway, beat from the sun, sand and volleyball. Just as a grin sneaks across my face — the kind you see after a proud parent witnesses their child accomplish something great — I suddenly realize that I'm all-in. I'm officially a bandwagoner, but I'm all-in. This town may bleed purple, but right now during this second week of June 2012, it's not a Lakers purple for once. It's the Kings'.
And when the Lakers win championships, downtown gets destroyed. Congratulations Kings fans; you're classier than that. Your team managed to become the first in the history of professional sports to win the championship as an eight seed and you acted like you've been there before. That's something I wouldn't mind being a part of.
Call them 'bandwagoners.' Call them whatever you want. A city that used to be full of casual, apathetic or ignorant fans are now enthralled in a love affair with a new shade of purple that's not the Lakers'.
Congratulations Los Angeles Kings. Right now you are just that: the new Kings of L.A.
I'm well aware of who you are now, and Crystal is too.
Photo Credit: AP