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Pomp and circumstances of Kings' title is unmatched in L.A. history

In his 25 years of covering sports here, he has never seen a more unlikely march, a more deafening drumbeat, and a more chilling route. And the Cup awarding was perfect finishing touch of pageantry.

June 13, 2012|Bill Plaschke
  • Kings center Mike Richards holds the Stanley Cup following the Kings' Game 6 victory over the New Jersey Devils on Monday at Staples Center. The Kings managed to defy expectations and win the franchise's first title despite finishing eighth in the Western Conference during the regular season.
Kings center Mike Richards holds the Stanley Cup following the Kings'… (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles…)

When I was a young boy, my father took me into the city, to see a marching band. He said, "Son, when you grow up, would you be the savior of the broken, the beaten and the damned?"

Without apology, I am stealing the first lines of this column from the first lines of the song that rocked Staples Center just before the Kings took the ice to begin the games of the 2012 Stanley Cup Final. As it blared from the giant video board, the song was accompanied by photos and videos of the Kings as children, transformed into adults, then transformed into black-shirted hockey players.

Like everything else the Kings did this spring, the effect was pretty perfect.

He said, "Will you defeat them, your demons and all the non-believers, the plans that they have made? Because one day, I'll leave you a phantom to lead you in the summer to join the Black Parade"

The song, by My Chemical Romance, is called "Welcome to the Black Parade," which is exactly what the Kings did to all of Los Angeles during an unlikely Stanley Cup run that ended in the first championship in the team's 45-year history.

In my 25 years covering sports in this town, I have never seen a more unlikely march, a more deafening drumbeat, and a more chilling route, all of it finishing in a display of pageantry unmatched on his city's sports landscape.

They win less than half of their regular-season games, they make the playoffs only in the season's final week, and they wind up winning 16 of 20 Stanley Cup playoff battles? Yeah, they welcomed our city to their parade, all right, and the bandwagon soon roared like a jumbo jet.

"What you're seeing and hearing is the end of a lot of frustration," said the Kings' Dustin Penner as he stood on the Staples Center ice below thousands of fans who stuck around long after the Kings had clinched the Cup with a 6-1 victory over the New Jersey Devils in Game 6 of the Final.

What we were seeing and hearing was history. I have been fortunate enough to witness many dramatic Los Angeles sports championships, from the Dodgers' 1988 upset of the Oakland Athletics, to the Lakers five titles in the last 13 years, to compelling crowns won by USC football and the Angels and the Galaxy. Yet none of them were felt as deeply, and celebrated as emotionally, as that moment the city of Angels became a community of Kings.

It hit me in the final seconds of the final game, as the fans counted down the final ticks of the clock as if they were 16-year-olds watching a high school basketball game. It hit when the thunder hit me, a rolling, rollicking thunder, the sort of noise that reached levels previously unheard in Staples Center's dozen years of existence.

It wasn't this loud when Kobe Bryant threw his ally-oop pass to Shaquille O'Neal to cap a comeback against the Portland Trail Blazers that essentially began the new Lakers era. It wasn't this loud when Robert Horry helped keep that era alive with a last-second shot to beat the Sacramento Kings.

The noise was so enormous, all of the loudmouths in the press box fell silent because we couldn't hear each other speak. The roar was so strong, I actually felt the building move. I've never heard such sincere screaming, such joyous celebrating. And as officials wheeled the 35-pound Stanley Cup across a red carpet unfurled on the ice, the noise continued unabated.

Have you ever seen the actual awarding of the Cup before? Did you have any idea it would be so powerful in its simplicity? Many in my business agree the Stanley Cup ceremony is the greatest trophy presentation in sports and it's not even close. Now I know they are right.

When captain Dustin Brown was handed the Cup, it was as if he was handed his first child. He gently picked it up, gently kissed it, then triumphantly raised it above his head while phone cameras clicked and goose bumps popped. That was compelling enough, but then Brown began passing to his teammates not in order of team seniority or skill, but simply based on grit.

The second guy to touch it was Willie Mitchell, a 35-year-old who had waited longer than any King for this moment. The third man to touch it was Simon Gagne, who played in the Final after spending much of the year battling concussions. And on it went, one heartfelt story after another, until every player had touched it, at which point the ceremony became even richer when the team was joined on the ice by their families. Ever seen a giant man in skates crying and hugging a little boy in tennis shoes? It happened countless times during that championship celebration, which was witnessed by media members who were also allowed on the ice.

I changed from my leather loafers into tennis shoes before venturing on to the slippery surface. I was feeling wobbly enough, and I didn't want to take a dive.

Of course, it didn't matter. By then, like much of a city that had barely paid attention to pucks before now, I had already fallen hard for this team, this moment, and the wondrous cacophony of the Black Parade.

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