Three years ago, a survey by Loyola Marymount University showed a disturbing trend for one of the flagship franchises in the NBA: That Lakers had lost popularity and had slipped behind baseball’s Dodgers as Los Angeles’ favorite sports team.
For three straight years since the start of the poll in 2014, the Lakers were the city’s best-loved team. But the retirement of Kobe Bryant and the success of the Dodgers pushed them ahead of the Lakers but a margin of one point, 36% to 35%.
Ah, but the Lakers have rebounded, according to the latest edition of the study, which polls hundreds of adults in L.A. County each winter with the question, “What is your favorite professional sports team in Los Angeles?”
According to the study, the Lakers were picked by 35% of respondents. The Dodgers were a close second, at 31%.
Especially remarkable was the performance of James in the survey. With the Lakers having risen to the top of the NBA this season, he came in as the city’s favorite athlete with 46% of the vote. The second-place finisher was the Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger, who was last year’s National League MVP with 47 home runs and 115 RBIs but registered just 10.7% of the vote. Soccer player Carlos Vela, of the LAFC, was third at 8.3%.
A Quick Turnaround for Lakers, LeBron
James arrived in Los Angeles just two summers ago and has played only one full season—and that season did not go well. His 2018-19 was marred by a persistent groin injury and incessant trade rumors that sunk team chemistry. The Lakers finished 37-45 and James missed the postseason for the first time in 14 years.
At the end of the year, popular team president Magic Johnson was ousted, coach Luke Walton was fired, and the team conducted a bungled coaching search that finally brought in Frank Vogel.
Still, last summer, the Lakers finally made the trade for Anthony Davis and set up the roster for this year’s success. James has averaged 25.7 points, 10.6 assists and 7.9 rebounds, inserted himself into the MVP race and saw his popularity soared.
It has been a decidedly quick turnaround.
“That guy only being here one year and he’s already L.A.’s favorite sports star?” Fernando Guerra, director of LMU’s Leavey Center for the Study of Los Angeles, told the Times. “That’s pretty amazing.”
Some Encouraging News for Clippers
While the news was not as robust, there were some positives to be taken from the survey for the Clippers. The team brought in Southern California stars Paul George and Kawhi Leonard last summer and is among the favorites to win a championship. It also has made major investments in popularizing its brand with kids and young fans and there has been some payoff—in the city, at least.
In L.A. County and city combined, the Clippers were the favorite of just 6.4% of adults, fewer than the Rams (7.5%) and just ahead of MLS’s L.A. Galaxy (6.2%).
But in the city, the Clippers were the favorite of 11.7%, third among L.A.’s teams. It’s a long way from the Lakers but it’s a start.