By Don Wanlass
In early April 1988, Wayne Gretzky played at the Forum in Inglewood for the last time as a member of Edmonton Oilers.
The Kings and the Oilers skated to a 5-5 tie that night, the last night of the 1987-88 regular season. Luc Robitaille scored a hat trick for the Kings. Gretzky, who was booed or jeered at every time he touched the puck, was held to an assist.
That’s how Gretzky was treated in those days at the Forum. He may have been the best player in hockey, but Kings fans didn’t like the way he hung out at the blue line while his teammates played defense, hoping for a quick outlet pass that could lead to another goal.
They also didn’t like that Gretzky had his own bodyguard every time he took the ice, in defenseman Marty McSorley.
The Oilers went on to win their fourth Stanley Cup title in five years in the playoffs establishing themselves as a bonafide dynasty. And the Gretzky asked to be traded.
Six months later, Gretzky was opening the season at the Forum with the Kings. He was greeted with a standing ovation from the same fans who mercilessly booed him the last time they laid eyes on him.
Such is the fickleness of sports fans everywhere — not just Los Angeles.
Gretzky was a transcendent talent at the time. L.A. fans normally like growing their own transcendent talents, but if it will bring home a championship, they will take anyone.
Which brings us to LeBron James. James is the best player in basketball at the present time, Like Gretzky was for hockey in his day.
And there is a chance — a chance that seemingly grows better by the week — that James could be bringing his talents to Southern California for the 2018-19 basketball season.
The latest rumor that puts James in Los Angeles next season was an announcement that LeBron “Bronny” James was planning to enroll at Sierra Canyon High School in Chatsworth, which operates seventh through 12th grade, in the fall as an eighth grader.
Sierra Canyon, a private school, has become an athletic power in recent years. Its basketball team last year featured the sons of former NBA all-stars Scottie Pippen and Kenyon Martin.
Marvin Bagley III, who is expected to be a top 10 selection in the NBA Draft later this month after spending a season at Duke, played their the year before.
LeBron James is big on family. He would not be thinking of sending his son to school in the San Fernando Valley if he wasn’t going to be close at hand.
James can opt out of his contract July 1 and become a free agent again. He desperately wants to win another championship and his chances of doing that in Cleveland grow slimmer by the year.
Whether the young Lakers are good enough that James can lead them to the next level is a matter of opinion. It would require Kyle Kuzma and Brandon Ingram reaching the level Julius Randle did last year, while Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart and Ivica Zubac continuing to make good progress on their way up the NBA ladder.
Even then, the Lakers are still probably a couple of years away because a young team has to learn how to win and the Lakers still play in the same division and conference as the Golden State Warriors, who don’t appear to be going away anytime soon.
I don’t think the Clippers are good enough to have a chance for James. When Austin Rivers is your third or fourth best player, your roster is kind of thin.
James might have a better chance of winning a title by packing up to Houston, Philadelphia or Boston.
An aging, but still talented Wilt Chamberlain joined the Lakers late in his career and, with the help of Jerry West, Gail Goodrich and Happy Hairston, he managed to lead them to the 1971-72 title and two near misses.
That wouldn’t be a bad legacy for James’ career. And it sure would help his popularity in Los Angeles, where he would never be booed again.
WORLD CUP BLUES: The World Cup soccer tournament is one of the great sporting events in the world. The 24 best soccer-playing nations gathering every four years to see which team is the best.
But as the cup gets underway this week in Russia, I am not as interested as a should be, mainly because the United States men’s national team failed to qualify for the tournament last year.
I don’t expect the U.S. to be a world power (yet) in soccer, but I do expect this country to qualify for the tournament and everyone at USA Soccer should have quit in disgrace last year.
Maybe I’ll become a fan of Mexico. The sports bar closest to my home is opening an hour and a half early Sunday for Mexico’s game with Germany. Or maybe I will just enjoy the games whenever I find time to watch one.
The World Cup is a sporting spectacle like the grand slam events in golf and tennis and the Triple Crown races in horse racing. The compelling stories and the drama that surrounds great competition combine for great theater if you are into watching competitors compete.
Perhaps in four more years, led by young players like Christian Pulisic and Pico Rivera’s own Christian Roldan, the U.S. will back in the World Cup, where it belongs.
SUMMER INTERN: Marisa Hernandez of Montebello figures to have the summer of a lifetime. Hernandez, a graduate student at USC, has an internship for the summer. But it isn’t an ordinary internship.
She is one of 19 college students selected for a 10-week internship at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, New York.
“For me this is a childhood dream come true,” Hernandez said. “I started off playing softball, and to walk through the doors as an intern now is just a dream come true. Being able to see and be amongst all the cool artifacts, working in the library and digging through the archives, it’s just amazing.”
Hernandez will work in the Hall of Fame’s library research department during or 10 weeks as part of the Frank and Peggy Steele Internship Program for Youth Leadership Development.
In addition to completing 40 hours of work each week, interns will participate in a number of career seminars during the program on topics such as networking, public speaking, community leadership, business etiquette and creating an innovative leadership style. In addition, every intern will host artifact spotlights — brief public presentations with in-depth stories about items in the museum’s collections —throughout the summer.
That’s an internship I would have thoroughly enjoyed.
BASKETBALL COURTS: The National Basketball Players Association Foundation and the LA84 Foundation are issuing a request for proposals to refurbish local basketball courts in underserved communities in Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino counties.
The NBPA Foundation said the $150,000 of grants are part of the legacy of the 2018 NBA All-Star Game in Los Angeles.
“We are excited to be working with the LA84 Foundation and local partners across the city to create amazing places to play for the children of Los Angeles,” said Sherrie Deans, executive director of the NBPA Foundation.
Los Angeles Laker Kyle Kuzma is featured in a video that promotes the launch of the request for proposals. That video can be viewed at www.la84.org/ball.
“I am happy to be a part of this announcement and to let people know about the opportunity to improve their local basketball courts with the help of the NBPA Foundation and the LA84 Foundation,” Kuzma said.
The organizations said that opportunities to play basketball are often based on family income and zip code, or a “pay equity” gap that the grants are aimed to help narrow.
Proposals must be submitted online and can be accessed at www.la84.org/ball.