The Angels were flailing and the afternoon was hot, so a few weeks ago we abandoned sports for the movies—and there was Magic Johnson in the popcorn line.
This was just up the road from Laguna Woods Village, so the crowd that instantly gathered was mostly grandparents and grandkids. Everyone looked short. I suppose that’s how it is when you’re standing next to a legendary, 6-foot-9-inch retired Laker—and “retired Laker” was what he was until someone remembered the baseball team he now co-owns.
“How ’bout them Dodgers!”
There should have been an awkward silence. Orange County is supposed to be that other “Los Angeles” baseball team’s territory. But if that had happened, this wouldn’t be Southern California. Instead, Magic laughed his great Magic laugh and the popcorn line laughed with him. “It’s good to be winnin’,” he said, heading toward the theater playing the Denzel Washington movie. As he passed, the crowd stood on tiptoe and gave the Dodgers’ big frontman a big Orange County high-five.
Now, sports fans, can you think of another metropolis in which the owner of a major league franchise could walk onto a rival team’s home turf and expect a greeting that welcoming?
Yes, Magic is Magic. And yes, he does have a beach house in Dana Point, so he’s not entirely a tourist. But if the Steinbrenner brothers strolled into a cineplex in Mets territory, how do you suppose they’d be welcomed? If the White Sox owners showed up among the Wrigley Field folk, would the Cubs fans whip out their cellphones and ask them to pose with their grandsons?
Only in Southern California is there so much love between crosstown rivals. And it’s not just in O.C. I know Angelinos who think Angel Stadium food is a banquet, and love it that Arte Moreno renamed his team the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
Rust Belt sports towns deride us as faithless and feckless, so dazed by the sun that we’ll cheer for anyone as long as we can leave the game in time to beat traffic. They think we don’t get the essential nature of what it means to be sports fans.
But when I think of Southern California sports, I think of this rich guy I once knew in the Sun Belt. He had this tic about never having fewer than two of anything important. Two right-hand men, two personal bankers, two mistresses, two airplanes—there were periods when he had two entirely separate entourages. As awkward as it occasionally could be, the people around him got it: He had an intolerance for disappointment, and he could afford to indulge it.
Southern California is like that. The sports scene here is an embarrassment of riches, and that wealth, like all wealth, amplifies and underscores certain things in our essential nature. And one of those underscored things is: We prefer to be winnin’. If we didn’t, we might not have ended up here, where a retiree can go to a matinee and end up next to Magic Johnson.
Give us Kings and Ducks, Clippers and Lakers, Chivas and Galaxy, Yasiel Puig and (if that foot ever heals) Albert Pujols, and we won’t choose a favorite. We’ll hedge our bets and indulge our intolerance for disappointment. It’s just who we are.
So as summer turns to postseason, let us root, root, root for as many home teams as our sprawling hearts can manage. Peanuts and Cracker Jacks both, please—not one or the other. We can afford it. Play ball.
Illustration by Brett Affrunti
This article originally appeared in the October 2013 issue.