For the last three years, one team has sat atop the throne of the kingdom known as the Los Angeles sports landscape.
That team’s short, but successful reign came to end in 2020, as they were overthrown by a former ruler, and their new conqueror whose nickname has never been more apropos.
LeBron “King” James and the Los Angeles Lakers have succeeded the Dodgers as Angelinos favorite LA sports team.
According to an annual Loyola Marymount University study that conducts interviews with more than 2,000 living adults in Los Angeles County, the Lakers are once again LA’s favorite professional sports team followed by the Dodgers, Rams, Clippers and Galaxy.
The study also asked Angelinos who their favorite athlete is that plays for an LA based team, in addition to other personal economic, wellbeing, life and civic issues.
The self-anointed King, LeBron James, was overwhelmingly selected as LA’s favorite athlete, recording 46.2 percent of the vote. That was more than 35 percent more than 2019 National League MVP Cody Bellinger who finished second place with 10.7 percent of the vote, and the reigning MLS MVP Carlos Vela who finished third with 8.4 percent of the vote. Reigning American League MVP, Mike Trout, was the only other athlete over 5 percent with 6.7 percent of the vote.
If those numbers surprise you, believe it or not, they were not among the most revealing statistics in the study. More than the obvious choice of LeBron James being the most favorite athlete in Los Angeles, is the timing of the study itself, and how Lakers’ legend Kobe Bryant may have affected the final results.
For background, the study was first conducted in 2014, just over six months removed from the Lakers last playoff appearance. Bryant was still on the roster in 2014, but still recovering from a season-ending Achilles injury. By February of 2014, the Lakers were guaranteed their first losing season in a decade, but were still overwhelmingly LA’s favorite team with more than 42 percent of the total vote.
By the time Bryant retired in 2016, the Dodgers were reaching their apex. Under new ownership, the team was in the middle of their fourth consecutive NL West division title, and first of four consecutive NLCS appearances. Before the season began, the Dodgers and Lakers were neck-and-neck as LA’s favorite team with the Lakers holding a slight edge (37 percent to 35 percent) in Bryant’s final campaign.
After Bryant’s retirement, the Dodgers overtook the Lakers as LA’s favorite team. Holding the title for the next three years, including by over eight percent (38 to 30) in 2018, five months before LeBron James signed with the Lakers and turned the tide.
The Dodgers went to back-to-back World Series in 2017 and 2018, whereas the Lakers muddled in mediocrity. James’ groin injury on Christmas Day 2018 derailed the season, and likely their chances of taking back the mantle from the Boys in Blue as LA’s favorite team.
The Lakers reloaded in the offseason, adding perennial All-Star Anthony Davis to the starting lineup. The Lakers started the 2019-2020 season on-fire and never looked back. Meanwhile, the Dodgers cruised to a franchise record 106 wins, and their seventh consecutive NL West title before ultimately losing to the eventual World Series Champion Washington Nationals in five games in the NLDS.
Here’s where it gets interesting.
Loyola Marymount began conducting their annual six-week survey at the beginning of the 2020 calendar year. The timing of the survey, and what would transpire next, is what makes the results of the study all the more fascinating.
According to LMU’s research director Fernando Guerra, three weeks into the 2020 survey the Dodgers (33.7 percent) and Lakers (33.5 percent) were neck-and-neck in the race for LA’s favorite team. Then on January 26, the world was stunned by the tragic and horrific news that Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, and seven others had died in a helicopter crash in Calabasas.
Over the next three weeks, as the survey continued, Bryant, the Lakers, and the emotion of our heartbroken city, dominated the news. Over that timespan, the Lakers played some of their best basketball and increased their lead in the NBA Western Conference. The Dodgers meanwhile were still enjoying their offseason, and had yet to complete the trade for former AL MVP Mookie Betts.
“Timing is everything,” said Guerra of the final results. “This survey was done in January and February when the Lakers were playing. They are the best team in the Western division and doing extremely well.”
Thanks to Bryant, the Lakers dominated the final three weeks of the survey as LA’s favorite team. Unfortunately, Bryant was not a choice as LA’s favorite athlete in the LMU survey, despite many Angelinos stating in their interviews that he was. Most likely, those votes went to LeBron James.
“The death of Kobe Bryant was quite a bit in the news during the end of this survey,” said Guerra. “Several people mentioned Kobe [Bryant] as their favorite athlete, but he was not an option on our survey, so a lot of people who mentioned Kobe, they probably then chose LeBron [James].”
In the weeks and months following Bryant’s death, his love and popularity reached new heights. Even to this day, in the midst of a global pandemic that has stopped the sports world in its tracks, Bryant is still in a lot of people’s hearts and minds.
On Friday, during the 2020 WNBA Draft, Bryant and his daughter were honored with an award, and Gianna was selected as an honorary draft pick. There is no doubt in my mind, that if Kobe Bryant was available as a choice as LA’s favorite athlete in the 2020 LMU study, he would have been the winner.
Nonetheless, one thing is for certain: The City of Angels is a Lakers and Dodgers town, and their popularity has never been greater.
Among other interesting findings in the study, the Lakers were the favorite team by more men, younger adults under 40, and liberals. The Dodgers were the favorite team among women, Spanish speakers, older adults over 65, and conservatives.
LAFC was among the choices for favorite team for the first time in the survey and finished with 2.1 percent of the total vote, ahead of the Chargers (1.6 percent) and the Sparks (1.1 percent).
One final thing of note in the survey: after back-to-back abysmal seasons, the LA Kings hockey team fell nearly five percent in the study since their peak of eight percent in 2016 following two Stanley Cups titles in three years.
After the additions of All-Stars and Southern California natives Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, the Clippers made a 2.3 percent leap in the study from the previous year. Under the ownership of billionaire Steve Ballmer, the organization has invested heavily in the community, and the next generation of NBA fans. Clearly, their investment is making inroads and should be evident from the study’s results in the years to follow.