Today, it is a recognized fact that Los Angeles was the Sports Capitol of America... at least on one day, May20th. On that day, one might say it was the perfect storm. In a concentrated area of perhaps 300 yards, three professional major sports events took place.
America's Greatest Bicycle Race, The Amgen Tour of California, finished at noon. The Kings' Stanley Cup playoff game started at noon. The NBA Playoff Game with The Clippers then followed at 7:30.
It was a mammoth undertaking when one had to realize it all took place in and around 1111 South Figueroa Street, home of the magnificent Sports Palace known as Staples Center. It required massive traffic logistics, blocking of Downtown LA streets and re-routing motor traffic for 48 hours. In addition, the arena had to be changed from an Ice Skating Configuration to a Basketball Floor. Not an easy job ... done without a hitch.
This brought back a great many memories of my days at the Forum in Inglewood, the then home of the Lakers and the Kings. The days when there was more than one event were the most exciting. I used to enjoy going into the empty arena and picture what the blank canvas, (that actually was what the concrete floor) would become when the artists know as the "Crew" made it come to life in many forms.
One Sunday, I was sitting there with Pat Riley and Bill Bertka before a Lakers evening game. I had to be there! Pat was always the earliest Laker to arrive and Bill, the unknown man who for years was behind the scenes being instrumental in building the Laker powerhouses. Bill was also student of Sports Business and Arena operations. He eventually headed up Invest West Sports embodying all he learned.
The night before, we had all been there for a night of Championship Boxing. In the morning, a local Baptist Church held its services. In the afternoon, there was a Kings hockey game and that night it was the Lakers.
I only mention this because what AEG, owners and producers of all three events on May 20th, plus Staples Center had to do and achieve was magnificent. It was a feat I could understand. They performed perfectly and the public took it all for granted going away happy. AEG had to get ready for the next event, perhaps a Concert, or a Fight.
Getting back to today. The Kings are in the Stanley Cup Finals and no one could be prouder then the AEG's President and CEO, Tim Leiwicke. I talked briefly with Tim at a dinner, held on the roof of the Grammy Museum, which is also located in the Staples Complex, known as "LA Live", the night before America's Greatest Race, May 19th.
Tim, is the visionary who has been able to revitalize Downtown LA with the blessing and backing of Phil Anschutz, Chairman and Owner of AEG.
In the years that Tim has been in LA, he has brought many innovations and events to the city. However, if the truth be known, no one achievement will thrill him more than the Kings winning the Stanley Cup.
From day one, this visionary has fought tooth and nail as well worked hard for the success of the Kings against all odds. This year, based on how the Kings have been playing especially in the Playoffs, his endurance should be rewarded. Note: at this writing the Kings are leading New Jersey Devils 2-0 in the Finals.
Which reminds me of the early days when the Kings joined the NHL as an expansion team bought in by my boss at the time, Jack Kent Cooke. I was working at the Forum, which he built in Inglewood, California. The Forum, often called the "House that Jack built," like Staples Center today housed both the Lakers and the Kings, which he owned.
In the 70's, the Kings averaged slightly over 3000 fans. Anyone with a season ticket could sit wherever they wished. In fact, I would go into the Arena looking for my friend Neil Carrey and although I knew where his season seats were, it was always a surprise to see him sitting on many occasions in different seats always looking for better location.
Mr. Cooke, a Canadian by birth, lost money every year he owned the team. In fact, in one of his most famous interviews, he told the reporter and I quote fairly accurately, "There are 800,000 Canadians living in Greater Los Angeles and it's obvious they left Canada because they hated Hockey."
This appeared to be true! We tried everything. I would twice a week go with goalie Rogie Vachon, defenseman Gilles Marott, Trainer Peter Demers and then Hockey Analyst, my good friend the late Dan Avey , to Middle schools and High Schools in a packaged show to introduce Hockey to potential young fans. I gave away countless free tickets as an inducement... nothing worked.
Hockey was practically unknown in Southern California at that time. I come from a Hockey playing State, Massachusetts. There, I was used to my friends who played hockey, going to practice a 2 and 3 in the morning in order to get practice time. In L.A. at that time there may have been only four Social Ice Rinks in the entire area.
With all of our hard work nothing would fill arenas, until Bruce McNall later the owner of the Kings, brought in Hockey's greatest player as well as Ambassador of the game, Wayne Gretzky... L.A. loves a winner and Wayne has always been that.
I first saw Wayne in action in 1971. My friend Mike O'Hara and the late Dennis Murphy brought about the World Hockey Association. This upstart league had persuaded many of the NHL's tope players to join them . Two of those joining the fledgling WHA were two of the games best. Hall of Famers, Gordie Howe of the Detroit Red Wings and Bobby Hull of the Chicago Blackhawks joined the new league.
This move gave immediate credibility to the WHA. Just as in L.A. the league was floundering until a teen-ager from Brantford, Ontario joined the Indianapolis Races later traded to the Edmonton Oilers. Even with his charisma, "The Great One", as he has been called could not prevent the league from failing. The Oilers were merged into the NHL when after 7 years, the league folded in 1975
I first heard of Wayne when I was involved in an ABC TV show during the 70's called "Superstars". He was the talk of the competition, beating many more lustrous stars of the day in a grueling decathlon of sports skills. Years later, for a brief time while he was still at Edmonton, I was involved with Wayne's Management Team and was his guest at his first Stanley Cup Final in Long Island.
As a sidebar, while still working for Jack Kent Cooke, along with the late Stanley Ralph Ross, I was co-host on KFI of L.A.s first pure Sportstalk show, "Art and Stan", the Average Fan. We were going great guns, until Mr. Cooke called me into his office and gave me an ultimatum.
"Young man I have a tape here of a show called "Art and Stan" the average fan. It seems this fellow Art Sheldon who sounds strangely like you is constantly praising The WHA at the Sports Arena. I suggest if you know him, tell him to quit immediately". Ah well! That was the end of Sportstalk for me. (I loved the wide-open play of the WHA).
Curses, foiled again.
This time in the Hockey crazy environs known as Los Angeles built on the legacy of Gretzky and the determination as well as grit of Leiwicke will realize the dream of finally hoisting in victory at 11th and Figueroa,
...The Stanley Cup.