A minority owner, Johnson won't be the final voice in personnel or financial decisions, but he has moved into the office used by McCourt, who drove the team into bankruptcy. It is one of the most lopsided swaps in baseball history. At this time a year ago the Dodgers were in fourth place in the NL West. With the same nucleus, they now lead the division by seven games, and Kemp (page 46) is off to another MVP-caliber start despite a strained hamstring.
"The energy is totally different in here and in the stadium," says Dodgers outfielder Tony Gwynn Jr. "It's hard to pin it on anything but Magic. Nothing has changed except his name on the ownership group. Just his face has changed the perspective of the whole organization." Gwynn, who keeps a Lakers towel in his locker and SHOWTIME scrawled under his nameplate, will ask a clubhouse attendant to keep him updated on the Thunder-Lakers game while the Dodgers play the Cardinals.
Before the game Kings highlights play on the scoreboard and their mascot throws out the first pitch. "After we moved here [in 1958], I remember broadcasters used to call this the sports capital of the world, whatever that meant," says Vin Scully, the Dodgers' iconic play-by-play man. "In all the years the closest they've ever come to being a sports capital is this weekend. Maybe, for one brief shining moment, it's not Camelot, it's the sports capital."
After two innings, the Dodgers lead 3--0, and I take Figueroa Street three miles south to Staples Center. I walk into the lower bowl in the second quarter, as Snoop Dogg walks out. Kings defenseman Drew Doughty and center Mike Richards sit on the baseline, adjacent to Denzel Washington. Johnson, still an NBA analyst with ESPN, is at the studio across the street, monitoring the Dodgers while studying the Lakers. The Dodgers blow their lead but win in the bottom of the ninth on a bases-loaded walk.
The Lakers win too, and center Andrew Bynum sinks into his locker room chair afterward, four water bottles in his lap. His knees are wrapped in two bags of ice apiece, feet submerged in a Gatorade cooler on wheels. NBA teams normally do not play back-to-back games in the playoffs, but the Lakers are due at Staples in another 18 hours. They have to take the court when they can.
SATURDAY, MAY 19: THE PATRON
Sharon Hernandez started working downtown when she was 17, at a produce market on Central Avenue, and one night a boy who worked there invited her to a Kings game at the Forum. They married and in 1983 started their own fruit-and-vegetable company, World Variety Produce. Over the next few years, they bought season tickets for the Lakers and the Kings at the Forum and for the newly arrived Clippers at the L.A. Sports Arena. All they could afford was the upper deck. Today, Sharon and Joe Hernandez sell produce to approximately 20 major arenas, and their seating arrangements have improved dramatically. They sit behind the on-deck circle for the Dodgers, behind the glass for the Kings, on the baseline for the Lakers and on the sideline for the Clippers. They estimate that they attend about 325 sporting events in Southern California every year and eat dinner at home once a month, max. "The best way to keep track of my parents is to turn on the TV," says their daughter, Melissa Marsh. Sharon, 55, is hard to miss with her platinum-blonde hair and purple purse.
Sharon's itinerary includes all six games at Staples Center, dinner at Wolfgang Puck's WP24 and four nights in the family's two-bedroom condo at the Ritz, across the street from the arena. "I'd go to the Dodger games too," she says, "but I can't be in two places at once." As Blake Griffin runs out for the second half during Saturday afternoon's Game 3 of Spurs-Clippers, he gives Sharon and Joe a fist bump. "It doesn't get any better," Sharon says. Except the Clippers squander a 24-point lead and fall behind 3--0 in the series.
Sharon and Joe retreat to their condo across the street, and through floor-to-ceiling windows Sharon cranes her neck to make out Dodger Stadium up the 110. She then peers down at the Staples Center roof and the convention center next door. "There's the football stadium," she coos. Ten members of the Hernandez family gather in the living room, watching three side-by-side flat-screen televisions. She insists she is no more a fan of the Kings than the Lakers than the Clippers than the Dodgers. "I root for L.A.," she says.
Back at ground level, scalpers work every corner, reporting more business than at the NBA All-Star Game and Game 7 of the Finals combined. Once the evening's game starts, Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook torches his hometown team with a series of 15-foot pull-up jumpers. Westbrook, who went to Leuzinger High School in nearby Lawndale and college at UCLA, scores 37 points but also slips twice on the court. Thunder players speculate that condensation from the ice below the floor is to blame.