Will excitement pick up as Lakers, Dodgers close in on championships?

Just imagine, in the next three weeks, both the Lakers and the Dodgers might both be champions of their respective sports worlds. If both teams accomplish their goals, it would be the first time they’ve accomplished this feat since June and October of 1988 when Magic Johnson and James Worthy led the Lakers over the Pistons and Kirk Gibson summoned just enough magic to lift the Dodgers over the Athletics.

This proximity of Lakers’ and Dodgers’ greatness is a rare event in Southern California sports history, a once-in-32-years event. (Note: Both the Angels and the Lakers won world championships in 2002, when the Angels were merely a team from Anaheim).

And yet, where are the car flags? Remember those yellow Lakers flags wedged into car windows, prompting honks and fist pumps among the people sitting in traffic. Those are hard to find these days.

Are people sporting their purple and gold or their Dodger blue jerseys on your Zoom calls? Is there some sub-Reddit thread that everyone is flocking to?

Will there be parades? Socially distanced car caravans with lots of honking?

The hardcore fans, the ones whose bedtime stories were told by Chick Hearn and Vin Scully, certainly haven’t lost any enthusiasm. But what about the casual fans who usually love the thrill of a championship run?

Obviously, the coronavirus has laid waste to sports fandom … for good reason. The idea of sitting shoulder to shoulder in a stadium or sports bar or even a neighborhood gathering and screaming and high-fiving for your favorite team seems so much less of a priority now, if not downright dangerous.

Jeff Marifian of Downey said there is too much going on in the world for sports to be as important as they once were.

“I think that since people can’t go to the games physically, they aren’t as invested,” Marifian said. “I also think people are realizing that sports aren’t quite as important since COVID-19 broke.”

That’s reflected in television ratings. With a largely captive audience, the NBA ratings are historically low. MLB TV ratings are also down compared to previous postseasons.

Is it just too weird that the NBA playoffs were happening in the summer and early fall? Was it the delayed, short MLB season that failed to drum up much interest? Was it the political stands taken by the players? Could it be that all sports are happening at the same time and eating into their regular audiences?

“People are out of the habit of watching sports,” said Danny Kuykendall, who has owned the popular sports bar Danny K’s in Orange for 27 years. “People are creatures of habit. Usually there are 162 baseball games. This year, they had 60. I don’t think they’re into it like they would normally be.”

Sports bars in Los Angeles County are only opened for outdoor seating. Some, like General Admission in Universal City, rolled big screen TVs outside and decorated with purple and gold balloons. In Orange County, restaurants that draw the sports viewing crowd are allowed 25 percent capacity, which cuts down on the throng experience.

“We’re doing OK, but the whole thing has been difficult,” Kuykendall said.

Kuykendall said politics have hurt the popularity of the games, especially for the Lakers.

“The Lakers and LeBron (James) are putting racism ahead of the sport,” Kuykendall said. “That’s cooling off people a little.”

At Sports Addict, where you can buy shirts, hats and other gear in Fountain Valley, sales for Lakers stuff is good. But there’s a story.

Sports Addict owner Mike Gaspar (he’s owned the place for 17 years) said Lakers throwback jerseys are moving. Anything with Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal or Jerry West on it is a hot item.

LeBron James and Anthony Davis … not so much.

“It’s definitely not a normal year for Lakers in terms of enthusiasm,” Gaspar said. “I hear comments from people who come in about politics. It’s reflected in the sales. You’ve got things LeBron is saying in the press. That is a big turnoff.”

Gaspar said he doesn’t carry James’ jerseys for adults because they stopped being made when the Lakers’ star said he would change his number next year. He didn’t get a new shipment in before the bubble games began in Orlando.

He said his store has a massive amount of championship hats and shirts on the way.

As for the Dodgers, he said he doesn’t expect much excitement until the Dodgers advance to the World Series, if they make it that far.

“They’ve won the division eight times in a row,” Gaspar said. “There’s a feeling of been there, done that.”

Don’t try to mention this lack of enthusiasm to Daniel Telles of West Covina. He’s not buying any of the arguments about social causes or shortened seasons.

“This is not about politics,” Telles said. “This is about a thirst to represent our two L.A. powerhouses. Win or lose. L.A. loves these two teams. You can also throw in the Rams. We have flags all over the San Gabriel Valley. It is in our DNA.

“I am the most enthusiastic Rams/Lakers/Dodger fan you will find. I have an ulcer to prove it. I was born with these teams in my blood. My four kids and six grandkids are following with me. I have every Dodger bobblehead they have given away. My blood is blue.”

Terrell Hammond of Compton said social distancing is to blame. But he feels an uptick.

“With the pandemic situation going on, the thrill is not there like those years when we L.A. fans were able to go to sports bars, restaurants and hang out and cheer our home teams on,” Hammond said. “This year the morale is picking up, but it’s a lot of phone calls or text messages and social media cheering.

“And most of all, we miss the home game atmosphere for the Lakers and Dodgers being able to be present and push our perspective teams … Go Lakers. Go Dodgers. It would be crazy to have two championship teams in the same year. If that happens, you will see the joy of the fans as they celebrate a great accomplishment.”

Shawn Gordon of Rancho Santa Margarita said kneeling during the National Anthem was the beginning of the end.

“I was a Lakers, Angels, Dodgers, Rams, Raiders and Chargers fan, but now I just don’t care about any of it anymore,” Gordon said. “I was getting iffy last year with all the kneeling and politicization of it. I need my escapism, sports, movies, TV shows, things that are disconnected with the (expletive). I don’t want the (expletive) brought into it.

“This year was the final straw. The virus shutdowns got me out of the habit, and then all the posturing turned me off so much that I just didn’t pick it up again.”

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