L.A. Feature_Sports

83 World Class Sports Distinguish Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES a If 1996 were a baseball game, the pitches would be coming fast and furious for L.A.'s sports scene, with more than a few curve balls thrown in to keep everyoneOs attention.

Basketball star Earvin OMagicO Johnson returned from retirement to lead the Lakers to the NBA playoffs. Then, in a heartbeat, he was gone once more, retiring again after the Lakers were eliminated from the playoffs.

Japanese pitching sensation Hideo NomoOs wicked forkball rocked Dodger Stadium, sparking another season of ONomo-mania.O

HockeyOs OGreat One,O Wayne Gretzky, left town in a trade to St. Louis, but a new Major League Soccer team, the Galaxy, debuted at the Rose Bowl, drawing record crowds and international headlines.

All this, and the year is not even into the seventh-

inning stretch yet.

OIt is an exciting year for Los Angeles-area sports,O

said Dan Acosta, a spokesman for the Galaxy, Oalthough traditionally the region is already well-known for its worldclass events.O

World class and world host, Los Angeles has more than

once been the focus of international sports enthusiasts, most notably during the 1984 Summer Olympics and the 1994 World Cup soccer finals.

Los Angeles is also home to the Clippers basketball team, the L.A. Kings hockey team and the perennial Pacific 10 Conference powerhouse, the UCLA Bruins, as well as the USC Trojans. The annual L.A. Marathon, one of the nation's largest, attracts thousands of participants and spectators, and PGA golf as well as professional tennis tournaments are also held here each year.

Has the lack of professional football teams left Los

Angeles sports fans with nothing to cheer about? Hardly.

In the NBA, it was another season in the limelight for stand-out guard/forward OMagicO Johnson. After four years on the sidelines, Johnson returned in January to help the Lakers make a run for the NBA title. Although the Lakers were eliminated this year in a first-round series with the Houston Rockets, the team is a bona fide basketball dynasty. It has qualified for the playoffs 19 times in 20 years, made nine appearances in the NBA finals and won five world championships. Johnson is one of only seven players in the history of the sport to capture an NCAA championship, an NBA championship and an Olympic Gold Medal. He was also named the NBA FinalsO Most Valuable Player three times.

In Major League Baseball, the National LeagueOs Rookie of the Year, a soft-spoken pitching phenomenon from Osaka, is still drawing fans to Dodger Stadium in droves.

OThe fans have really responded well to Hideo Nomo,O said Barry Stockhamer, vice president of marketing for the Dodgers. OThe best way to characterize them when Nomo pitches is that it feels like a World Series crowd. The level of energy and the enthusiasm out there is electrifying.O

Opening day at the stadium marked the teamOs 3,000th

regular-season game in Los Angeles and its 35th season in Dodger Stadium. The Dodgers recently unveiled a new, stateof-the-art grass field and a new site on the World Wide Web (http://www.dodgers.com). Sales of Dodger merchandise are brisk, thanks in part to ONomo-maniaO and a variety of personalized merchandise, including T-shirts inscribed ONomo Mr. Nice Guy.O

Nomo is the fourth Dodger in four consecutive years to be named Rookie of the Year, joining teammates Raul Mondesi, Mike Piazza and Eric Karros. Drawing an enormous amount of interest from fans in Japan and American, Nomo is also known by his nickname, OThe Tornado,O for his twisting style of delivery. In 1995, he broke Sandy KoufaxOs long-standing record of pitching 49 strikeouts in four games, sending 50 batters back to the dugout. He also led the league with 236 strikeouts.

OI just want to pitch better than last year,O he was quoted as saying. His other goal? OI think weOll be going to the World Series.O

Soccer, the worldOs most popular sport, drew 69,255 fans to the Rose Bowl in April to watch the GalaxyOs Major League Soccer debut against the New York/New Jersey MetroStars. The Galaxy is one of 10 teams in the new league, established as a legacy of the 1994 World Cup.

Fans can watch Galaxy players who are international

stars: Jorge Campos of Mexico, Mauricio Cienfuegos of El Salvador, U.S. native Dan Calichman and Ecuadorian Eduardo OEl TanqueO Hurtado (the Tank).

OOne of the reasons the sport is so popular with fans is because it is usually a very low-scoring game, with lots of near-goal misses,O said the GalaxyOs Acosta. OBecause this creates so much excitement and drama, fans donOt want to leave their seats for a moment because they are afraid they will miss that one spectacular goal.O

Acosta said that Los Angeles is particularly receptive to the sport because the cultural diversity of the athletes also reflects the makeup of the areaOs population. OIt is a sport that has easily crossed international boundaries,O he said

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