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BILL PLASCHKE

Statue takes liberty

Oscar's an L.A. icon, but does he really merit this honor at Staples?

December 02, 2008|BILL PLASCHKE
  • Legendary Los Angeles boxer Oscar De La Hoya strikes a pose next to the statue of himself that was unveiled at Staples Center on Monday.
Legendary Los Angeles boxer Oscar De La Hoya strikes a pose next to the statue… (Jewel Samad / AFP / Getty…)

A third statue was unveiled outside Staples Center on Monday, joining the likenesses of Magic Johnson and Wayne Gretzky, and you'll never guess who.

Jerry West? Kareem Abdul-Jabbar? Chick Hearn?

Think again.

Think of an athlete who is not affiliated with any Staples Center team.

Think of an athlete who competed in the building just once, where he was punched 284 times in a loss.

Think of an athlete who is preparing for a Saturday night competition in which he will probably get pounded again.

The Golden Boy has gone bronze and, no, I can't figure it out either.

Oscar De La Hoya is a Los Angeles hero, certainly, but does he really need to be immortalized so soon, in a place that should be treated with far more reverence, reflecting a history that should be so much richer?

Looking at his statue after Monday's ceremony, at least one Oscar fan asked the obvious question.

"Who gets the next statue?" wondered Javier Razo. "Todd Marinovich of the Avengers?"

Razo loves Oscar. I love Oscar. He has been a strong and proud representative of East L.A., a guy who gives back to the community, a guy who has fought through rocky times to keep his face smooth and his reputation steady.

But to have him raising his arms forever next to Magic's dribble and Gretzky's wave? When there are far more legendary Los Angeles sports stars who have yet to be immortalized? When the guy is still fighting?

Is this the first time in history that someone erected a statue of a guy who, five days later, could be knocked flat on his back?

"The timing is not great," said Tim Leiweke, chairman of AEG, which owns and operates Staples Center. "But when the decision was made, we didn't know he would still be fighting."

Like De La Hoya, Leiweke has done much for this city. Staples Center is a gem, the accompanying L.A. Live complex looks cool, downtown L.A. is getting its groove back. As long as you're not a Kings fan, you could easily endorse Leiweke's one day erecting a statue of himself.

But this one looks like a whiff. This one smells like a sellout.

Last spring, the statue's creation was announced. A week later, it was announced that AEG had bought a minority interest in De La Hoya's Golden Boy Promotions.

If you believe the two announcements were not related, then I've got 50 youth baseball fields I'll trade you for CC Sabathia.

"There is no relation whatsoever," Leiweke said Monday. "Absolutely no. No way."

When I asked Golden Boy boss Richard Schaefer the same question, I received the same answer, only with an amazed laugh.

"The statue was never discussed in the deal, it had nothing to do with it," Schaefer said.

Then I suppose it is also a coincidence that the statue was unveiled at the start of the final promotion for Saturday's lagging pay-per-view fight in Las Vegas against Manny Pacquiao?

"They picked this date a long time ago," Leiweke said. "It was important to them, so we did it for them."

So this isn't really a tribute to De La Hoya, but a promotional trinket? Like a boxing-glove key chain or a Mexican-flag coffee mug?

If that's the case, did it have to be giant and bronze? I'm sorry, but the first 7-footer to stand outside Staples Center should have been Kareem.

The entire ceremony, held in front of a couple of dozen media members and about 100 fans, felt more like a sales job than a sentimental journey.

Beside master of ceremonies Jim Hill, the stage contained only Leiweke and Schaefer and De La Hoya.

There were references to De La Hoya's old neighborhood, but nobody from East L.A. was given a microphone. There was talk of his boxing greatness, but nobody from the boxing world spoke.

From the pressed suits to the careful speeches, it felt like the completion of a business deal, the fulfillment of a monetary promise, and that's too bad, because the Magic Johnson and Wayne Gretzky statues had given fans such hope.

Finally, in a city where sports history usually equals the life span of Kobe Bryant's socks, and where everything has a price, there was going to be an easily accessed downtown venue where such history was life-size and couldn't be bought.

The Dodgers and Angels could, and should, honor their own with statues outside their ballparks, but everyone else could be honored here, from past Lakers to future Clippers to collegiate stars to De La Hoya, all in the proper time.

Finally, L.A. sports could have its own Hollywood Walk of Fame, only these honors would be real.

Oh well.

Here's hoping Leiweke will appoint an independent commission to oversee future statues, turning the Staples Center front porch into something that is truly L.A., and truly alive.

In the meantime, in a bit of sad karma, the Oscar De La Hoya statue doesn't look much like him. The hair is wrong. The face doesn't fit. It's someone else.

Maybe Todd Marinovich.

--

bill.plaschke@latimes.com

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