The Los Angeles Kings prevailed in typically dramatic style Sunday night, beating the Chicago Blackhawks in overtime in Game 7 to end the Western Conference finals. With the New York Rangers having clinched a spot in the Stanley Cup Final last Thursday, the Kings’ victory sets up what is a surprisingly rare occurrence in professional sports: a championship matchup between the two biggest cities in the United States, LA and New York.
New York City, of course, has been home to major pro sports since the very beginning and hosted the first “World’s Series” in 1884. Los Angeles was a relative latecomer to the professional scene; it wasn’t until 1946 that the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams and the All-America Football Conference’s Los Angeles Dons became the first LA-based major pro sports teams. Since then, the two cities have faced each other with hardware on the line just 11 times, including the coming Rangers-Kings tilt: four times in MLB, four times in the NBA and three times in the NHL (these matchups have also provided a few “Where were you when … ?” moments).
The first came in 1963, five years after the Dodgers uprooted themselves from, coincidentally enough, Brooklyn and put down roots in Los Angeles. Facing the heavily favored two-time defending World Series champion New York Yankees, the Dodgers put together one of the more surprising routs in sports history, sweeping the Yankees in four games. The two franchises would go on to meet in three more World Series, all between 1977 and 1981; the Yankees won in 1977 and 1978, and the Dodgers won in 1981. Of course, the 1977 World Series gave us:
There have been a few close calls since. In 1986, the Anaheim-based California Angels would have faced the New York Mets in the World Series if not for a heartbreaking loss to the Boston Red Sox in the AL championship series. And in 2009, the Dodgers could have met the Yankees in the World Series again, but LA lost to the Philadelphia Phillies in a five-game NL championship series.
In the NBA, it seems like the Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks should have a marquee rivalry. But aside from a brief period in the early 1970s, things have been one-sided in favor of the Lakers. LA has won 10 NBA titles since 1974; New York has zero. What a rivalry it was during its halcyon days, though. Willis Reed hobbled onto the court against LA in 1970 NBA finals:
The Lakers showcased one of the most dominant teams ever in their 1972 championship victory over the Knicks. And New York successfully secured its revenge over LA in the 1973 title series. Unfortunately for the Knicks, they were unable to retool after losing the core of those great early-’70s teams, and soon Celtics-Lakers would supplant Knicks-Lakers as the league’s premier cross-coastal rivalry.
But if we count the New Jersey Nets as a “New York team” — at the time, they played at the Continental Airlines Arena in East Rutherford, New Jersey, 7 miles west of Midtown Manhattan — then the 2002 NBA Finals did feature a New York-Los Angeles battle. (Granted, it was something of a lopsided one; the powerhouse Lakers swept Jason Kidd’s Nets in four games.)
If we define “New York” and “Los Angeles” as their metropolitan statistical areas, then the NHL won’t be seeing its first N.Y.-LA championship battle this season. Although the Rangers and Kings have never faced each other for a Stanley Cup before, Los Angeles won its first hockey crown over the New Jersey Devils — who play in Newark, New Jersey (a part of the New York metropolitan area) — in 2012. And in 2003, the Devils beat the Anaheim Mighty Ducks for the Stanley Cup in seven games.
Unfortunately, no such technicalities can produce a New York-Los Angeles championship clash in football.
The Los Angeles Rams appeared in four pre-merger NFL Championship Games, but none were against New York teams (three came against Cleveland and one against Philadelphia). And by the time they left for St. Louis in 1995, the Rams had only one Super Bowl appearance to their credit – the same total as the New York Jets. The two cities’ more successful franchises never got on the same wavelength, either: Like the New York Giants, the Raiders have appeared in five Super Bowls, but only one as a Los Angeles-based squad (against the Washington Redskins in 1984).
The timing was off when both cities had teams, and Los Angeles hasn’t been home to an NFL franchise since the 1994 season. The dream of a New York-vs.-Los Angeles Super Bowl will continue to be on hold.
In the 10 championship matchups that have taken place between the two cities over the years, five have gone to Los Angeles and five to New York. The Rangers are hoping to break the tie in their favor over the next week or so, although the opening odds are about 3-to-2 against that happening. Then again, the Kings have kept things interesting throughout the playoffs, despite arguably being the league’s best team on paper. If that trend continues, look for a long, entertaining Stanley Cup Final.