Our representation in golf ( Tiger Woods, Mickey Wright) and tennis ( Billie Jean King, Jack Kramer, Helen Wills Moody, Pete Sampras, the Williams sisters) may not surprise you, but how about our success in figure skating ( Peggy Fleming, Michelle Kwan, Kristi Yamaguchi), NASCAR ( Jeff Gordon) and the decathlon ( Rafer Johnson, Bob Mathias)? We have far more pools than any other state—961,184 at the end of 2002, according to one study—which partially explains our long list of swimming champions, from Mark Spitz to Janet Evans to Natalie Coughlin, whose all-American smile will likely light up Athens in August.
What we boast most of all, though, is originality. Each year we reveal our untraditional takes on sport: the Bay to Breakers road race in San Francisco, with its nudists and Elvis impersonators, for instance, and the Calaveras County Fair & Jumping Frog Jubilee. You can also thank us for mountain biking and Frisbee dogs.
The only thing we lack is humility. We're so secure in our dominance that we turn inward for our rivalries: Giants versus Dodgers, UCLA versus USC, Kobe versus Shaq. When no one rains on your Tournament of Roses Parade—more to the point, there have been only five wet Rose Bowls in Pasadena—you can be forgiven for regarding your state's sporting scene as golden.
"I thank my parents every day for raising me in California," Walton says. "It's probably better to be in prison here than governor anywhere else." To which one of our former chief executives might have replied, There you go again.