Tim Leiweke was named the 2012 sports executive of the year, according to… (Victor Decolongon / Getty…)
Tim Leiweke spent his last evening as president and chief executive of AEG watching the Galaxy defeat Costa Rica's Herediano at the Home Depot Center. Had the Kings been home Leiweke might have been at Staples Center, cheering from the corner season seats he bought so he could vent his passion more freely than he could in a remote suite.
Leiweke, whose departure "by mutual agreement" was announced Thursday when the Anschutz Co. took AEG off the market, gladly became the face of the Kings and Galaxy and not only because owner Phil Anschutz stayed out of daily operations. Leiweke was a fan at heart and the day the Kings received their Stanley Cup rings he walked around the concourse at Staples Center and let other fans try on his ring, posing for pictures to document the moment.
Unlike most fans, Leiweke controlled multimillion-dollar payrolls. AEG at one point owned six MLS teams, but its jewel was the Galaxy, and Leiweke used the company's checkbook to lure David Beckham and Robbie Keane to Los Angeles. He also pursued elite free agents for the Kings such as Ilya Kovalchuk and Brad Richards, though with less success.
Sometimes Leiweke's passion pushed him too far. He barged into the Kings' locker room to lecture them at least once last season before they began their Stanley Cup run, and he wasn't always patient. Where General Manager Dean Lombardi valued quiet, gradual progress, Leiweke often wanted flash-and-dash.
But in the end, he allowed Lombardi to take on payroll and gave him the resources to end the franchise's 45-year championship drought — and to keep the Stanley Cup team intact. He also ensured front-office stability in January by giving contract extensions to Lombardi, Coach Darryl Sutter and Luc Robitaille, the Kings' president of business operations.
Leiweke mentored Robitaille, the logical successor to Leiweke as the Kings' governor and lead representative in NHL matters. Robitaille said that although many issues remain unsettled following Thursday's surprise events, business will proceed as usual under Leiweke's replacement, Dan Beckerman, who began his AEG career in 1997 as the Kings' chief financial officer.
In an interview with The Times, Anschutz said he didn't anticipate any changes with the Galaxy or the Kings.
"Dan was very involved with us, with me and Dean," Robitaille said. "I don't see too many things that will change from our standpoint.
"Tim has been unbelievable in letting us build the culture of the L.A. Kings and I don't see anything changing."
Chris Klein, a former Galaxy player and now the team's president, said Leiweke's departure won't affect the Galaxy's title-defense efforts.
"We're all going to miss Tim, everyone loved Tim, but the Galaxy will continue forward," Klein told The Times' Jim Peltz. "Our commitment to this team is still there, the commitment from Phil is still there."
But it was Leiweke's commitment that Kings captain Dustin Brown will remember.
Brown figured prominently in trade rumors when the team was struggling early last season, causing him and his wife a lot of anxiety. Leiweke stepped in and assured the Browns he wouldn't be traded.
"I knew him really well off the ice," Brown told The Times' Lisa Dillman. "We've been through a lot. ... He was very adamant and very passionate about the Kings and everything that was what this organization was about."
That bond added a special element to the bearhug they shared on the ice after the Kings won the Stanley Cup last June.
"If you look at the team we had last year, I was the one guy from the start of it all, that one team," said Brown, who made his debut in the 2003-04 season. "I think he understood how special it was for me to do what we did as a team last year, to go through all the growing pains, and he was there for all of that and understood what I kind of had to go through.
"He's always had my back."
Leiweke's job was done, in a sense. The Kings had reached their Holy Grail, and the Galaxy and MLS have found their footing. It wasn't always easy, but with Leiweke in charge it was never dull.