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The top 10 Los Angeles sports stories of 2009

Angels pitcher Nick Adenhart's death and the Lakers' NBA championship top the list of the year's most compelling stories.

December 29, 2009|By John Weyler
  • The tragic death of Angels rookie pitcher Nick Adenhart and the Lakers' 15th NBA championship conquest topped Southern California's sports news in 2009.
The tragic death of Angels rookie pitcher Nick Adenhart and the Lakers'… (Los Angeles Times )

It happens every day: A young life is snuffed out in an automobile accident. It's always an incomprehensible tragedy. How could someone so strong and vibrant -- so alive -- be gone in an instant? And sometimes the story of a life and death touches us almost as if the victim had been a neighbor, a friend, even a relative.

Most of the people who contributed to the memorial in front of Angel Stadium for 22-year-old pitcher Nick Adenhart had never spoken to him. But they felt they somehow knew him, and their sense of loss was real. Many had cheered him on in April as he threw six shutout innings hours before an allegedly drunk driver killed him and friends Henry Pearson and Courtney Stewart.

The team kept his jersey in his locker the rest of the season and included it in the celebration after their victory over the Texas Rangers that clinched the American League West title. They jogged en masse to the center-field wall, where a picture of Adenhart throwing a pitch was placed after the crash, and poured beer over his head. It was Southern California's most compelling sports story in 2009.

Another inspiring athlete lost his life this year, and while just as heartbreaking, his death wasn't quite as shocking. When you perform flips on flying motorcycles for a living, you're always one under-rotation away from disaster. Jeremy Lusk of Temecula was coming off his best season as a pro freestyle motocross rider, having won a gold medal in the 2008 X Games, when he crashed during an event in Costa Rica. He died two days later. He was 24.

This year started last year for Kobe Bryant on a parquet floor in Boston. The Celtics were celebrating winning the 2008 NBA title after a 39-point Game 6 demolition of the Lakers. He was already plotting a course, steering his infamous stubborn streak toward a dedication to defense and making the players around him better. Bryant had almost 400 assists last season, but still knew when to turn on the faucet and pour in the points: He averaged 33 a game in the NBA Finals as the Lakers rebounded from the disappointment of 2008, cruising past the Orlando Magic in five games. Bryant picked up his fourth ring -- two shy of Michael Jordan -- and was named Finals MVP.

Next year started this year for the Dodgers, who were playing the Phillies in the National League Championship Series in October. The weather in Philadelphia was unseasonably warm; the boys in blue weren't, losing in five games (again), as news filtered out of the pending breakup of Frank and Jamie McCourt. . . .

A year ago, Manny being Manny meant home runs and ground balls hit so hard they skipped by startled infielders before they could react. In 53 games with the Dodgers in '08, Ramirez hit 17 homers, drove in 53 runs and batted .396. He almost maintained that RBI-per-game pace in the first 27 games this year . . . and then came the 50-game suspension for violating baseball's drug policy. When he returned, Manny being Manny meant wild swings, weak rollers and a .269 batting average, leaving Dodgers fans to ponder whether he'll be any match for the Phillies' new acquisition Roy Halladay . . . or 47-year-old left-hander Jamie Moyer for that matter.

The top 10 Southland stories of 2009:

Fallen Angel: Nick Adenhart called his father, Jim, a retired Secret Service agent, and told him to come to Anaheim because "something special" was going to happen. Proud papa watched his son scatter seven hits over six innings in his first start of the season April 8. Nick left the game and told agent Scott Boras he finally "felt like a major leaguer." Then he was gone. Jim Adenhart spent several moments alone on the pitcher's mound at Angel Stadium the next day and then spoke to players and team officials. "He just wanted to say thank you" for giving his son the opportunity, outfielder Torii Hunter said.

Kobe time: The Lakers' dismantling of Orlando -- Bryant's first title without the help of Shaquille O'Neal -- brought instant relief from the self-described "Chinese water torture" he endured every time it was mentioned that he had no Shaq-less rings. "I don't have to hear that idiotic criticism anymore," he said, dripping champagne. It also provided Coach Phil Jackson with a 10th championship, one more than Boston legend Red Auerbach, which made him officially peerless. A nice accomplishment, but Jackson, never passing up a chance to be Philosophical, reminded us: "The journey is important."

Breaking up is . . . No one knows yet how the breakup of the McCourts will affect the Dodgers, whether Frank will remain the sole owner, whether Jamie may end up buying the team or whether the club may have to eventually be sold. Team officials say it's business as usual; time will tell.

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