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He's the big man on campus

It's been quite a year for AEG's Leiweke, who oversees the title-winning Galaxy and Kings, and more.

December 05, 2012|BILL PLASCHKE
  • The Galaxy's David Beckham hugs Tim Leiweke, president and CEO of AEG, after the Galaxy defeat the Houston Dynamo 3-1 to win the 2012 MLS Cup on Saturday.
The Galaxy's David Beckham hugs Tim Leiweke, president and CEO of… (Victor Decolongon / Getty…)

In the year of his greatest triumphs, the most powerful man in Los Angeles sports was perhaps never stronger than when he took the hand of a child.

It was Saturday afternoon at the Home Depot Center, shortly before his Galaxy would defend its MLS championship against the Houston Dynamo. After a pregame ceremony involving local children, Tim Leiweke was leading David Beckham's kids off the field and up to his suite when another kid, age 4, fell in line and followed the group.

When the child realized he was lost, he stood in the door of the suite, hysterically crying and refusing any stranger's offer to help. At this point, Leiweke leaned down and spoke to him with the same calm reason that has helped him deal with Staples Center red coats, NFL stadium opponents and nutty Kings fans.

"Look, we own this building, I can find anything in here," Leiweke said. "Trust me, take my hand, we'll find your parents."

So, as the game began with guys like Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard waiting for him upstairs, Leiweke was down in the concourse reuniting a family.

"It was sort of tough to explain to everyone why I was late to the party," Leiweke said with a smile. "I guess it still is."

What's sort of tough to explain is how a guy who never spent a day in college now spends every day directing the future of sports in this city as president of the Anschutz Entertainment Group.

He is essentially Hollywood's athletic director, yet there is little glitz on his rolled-up sleeves, and no glitter in his homespun touch. He is the greatest asset of a company on the verge of being sold for several billion dollars in the biggest sports transaction in Los Angeles history. Yet on the day this company opened an arena in London several years ago, he and his fellow executives personally vacuumed and polished each suite.

Leiweke, 55, wears his hair gray and his suits plain, and is unafraid to unleash an infectious Midwestern belly laugh, which has resounded plenty in 2012 as he has enjoyed perhaps the greatest year ever for a Los Angeles sports executive.

He is the first boss in this city's history to oversee two league championships in the same calendar year, as he runs both the Galaxy and the Kings. Yet neither trophy can be found in an office that, instead, features a hanging photo of himself and his mother, Helen, who died of cancer when he was 12. He didn't attend college because his father spent his life's savings trying to keep his mother alive. He remains grounded in memories of her perseverance.

"I didn't need to go to college," Leiweke said. "I went to Mom school."

He runs the glamorous Staples Center and L.A. Live complex -- essentially is the director of downtown's real-life movie set. But he refers to the area as "a campus" and can sometimes be found talking sports with folks at the Starbucks, bowling a horrific 120 at Lucky Strike Lanes or simply walking around picking up trash.

"You can say you care about your customers," he said. "But you are ultimately judged by people seeing you show it."

Not only is he responsible for the Kings and Galaxy, but he also is the curator of AEG's 30% share of the Lakers, which means he could one day run the team. Considering there are few power brokers in this town with a better understanding of entertainment in sports, it would be a match made in Showtime.

"The Lakers are kind of like a reality TV series; they're always going to have drama," Leiweke said. "But I have such great respect for Doc [Jerry Buss], and I've always told the family, if they ever needed us to step in, we would."

Leiweke has such influence, he has even contributed to the success of a team in which he has zero ownership. It was not a coincidence that the Clippers' rebirth coincided with their move from the Sports Arena to Staples Center. During early discussions with Donald Sterling about that move, Leiweke made one demand.

"I told Donald, 'I don't want to waste these dates -- if you're not going to be a good team, I can find something else to do with the building," Leiweke said. "I'm proud of how he stepped up.''

Then there is football, perhaps Leiweke's greatest challenge yet. He has taken plenty of grief for his attempts to bring the NFL back to Los Angeles at AEG's proposed downtown Farmers Field. But the paperwork has been completed, and the bulldozers are prepared to roll as soon as a team agrees to come here, which could happen as soon as this spring.

"I want to finish football. There's a lot of people betting on us, and I want to get it done," Leiweke said. "Maybe we're even talking two teams."

From zero teams to two teams? That's typical Leiweke, whether he's walking or dreaming, going from zero to 60 in the blink of a hope. He has been ripped for working the system through AEG's political contributions. He has been ripped for pushing through projects that have placed tax money at risk. For the longest time, he was ripped for being an awful sports executive with teams more concerned with making a profit than winning a championship.

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