Officially, the folks who run North America’s major professional sports leagues just want good championship series between deserving teams. However, everybody knows they’ll get better TV ratings and more advertising revenue if championships series feature the big market teams. So everybody also knows that, regardless of sport, a New York-L.A. matchup is pretty much the holy grail of championship series.
That’s what the NHL gets this year. Starting tonight in Los Angeles, the New York Rangers and Los Angeles Kings will duke it out for the right to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup. And while it’s not the first time NHL teams from these greater metropolitan areas have faced off in the Stanley Cup Finals, it is the first time the marquee teams will do battle.
All in all, championship series between New York and Los Angeles are relatively rare, especially when you take into account the fact that teams in those cities usually have a lot more spending power than teams from, say, Cleveland. The Kings-Rangers matchup will be just the ninth time teams from New York and Los Angeles proper have battled for a championship. And if you expand the criteria to include teams from the greater New York and Los Angeles metropolitan areas, the total only comes to 12.
Today we’re going to take a look at them all, starting with the not-quite-L.A.-New York series and then moving chronologically through the rest.
Ready to get started? Good, then let’s go…
Let's get the kinda-New York vs. kinds-Los Angeles series out of the way first. First up: Lakers vs. Nets in the 2002 NBA Finals.
Back then the Nets weren't yet in Brooklyn, but they were playing at the Izod Center in East Rutherford. Technically that's in New Jersey, but it's closer to Madison Square Garden than either Citi Field or Yankee Stadium. And hell, the Giants and Jets both play in East Rutherford.
Anyway, this pseudo-New York vs. L.A. series was all Lakers. Shaq and Kobe swept Jason Kidd's nets to complete the three-peat.
11. Lakers vs. Nets – 2002 NBA Finals
Our next pseudo-New York vs. pseudo-L.A. series was the 2003 Stanley Cup Finals between the Anaheim Ducks and New Jersey Devils.
The Devils, like the Nets, were playing in East Rutherford, only 8.4 miles away from Madison Square Garden. The Ducks, meanwhile, were and still are playing at the Honda Center in Anaheim.
Now, yes, the Honda Center is 30 miles from the Staples Center, but Los Angeles is a huge city, and 30 miles there is like 6 miles in New York. Besides, the Angels play in Anaheim, and they say they're from Los Angeles.
In reality, though, this was a battle between suburban New York and suburban Los Angeles—close, but no cigar.
The suburban New Yorkers won, by the way.
10. Ducks vs. Devils – 2003 Stanley Cup Finals
When the Kings won their first Stanley Cup in 2012, they beat the New Jersey Devils to do it.
The Devils by that time were playing in Newark rather than East Rutherford, but as much as "real" New Yorkers don't want to admit it, Newark is part of the New York Metropolitan Area. Hell, Newark's airport is closer to Madison Square Garden than JFK.
However, the Devils are still a suburban New York team. Let's take a look at the real New York-L.A. championship series now...
9. Kings vs. Devils – 2012 Stanley Cup Finals
The first ever New York vs. Los Angeles championship series came in 1963, courtesy of the Dodgers and Yankees.
Of course, it was only made possible because the Dodgers move from New York (Brooklyn) to Los Angeles following the 1957 season. So needless to say, the first cross-country battle between these two cities must have felt pretty weird to New Yorkers—especially when the Dodgers beat the Bronx Bombers in four straight games.
8. Dodgers vs. Yankees – 1963 World Series
In 1970, the city of New York got its first ever NBA championship. Unfortunately, it came at the expense of Los Angeles getting its first.
The funny thing is that this was not the first time the Lakers and Knicks met in the Finals. They also squared off in 1952 and 1953, and the Lakers won both times. However, back then, while the Knicks were in New York, the Lakers were still playing in Minneapolis.
So this series was historic for a number of reasons. For starters, it was the first championship for the Knicks. However, it also denied the Lakers a championship again after they lost to the Celtics six times in the previous eight seasons.
Then there was the fact that the series went seven games, with New York winning after Willis Reed whipped the crowd at Madison Square Garden into a frenzy just by hobbling onto the court.
7. Knicks vs. Lakers – 1970 NBA Finals
In 1972, the Knicks and Lakers met again. However, Willis Reed's heroics couldn't save the New Yorkers this time around. That Lakers team, led by Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, and Gail Goodrich, was probably the greatest of all-time. During the regular season they set the North American pro sports record by winning 33 games in a row, then they went 12-3 in the playoffs to give Los Angeles its first ever NBA Championship.
6. Knicks vs. Lakers – 1972 NBA Finals
The Knicks got a rematch against the Lakers in 1973 and discovered that they were not the same juggernaut they were the year before. This time they were the ones winning four games to one.
The series MVP? Willis Reed. Who else.
5. Knicks vs. Lakers – 1973 NBA Finals
In 1977, the Dodgers and Yankees rekindled their World Series rivalry after a 14-year hiatus.
Did anything notable happen? Well, Mr. October, Reggie Jackson, hit three home runs in Game 6 to single-handedly finish off the Dodgers and give the Yankees their 21st World Series championship. So, yeah.
4. Dodgers vs. Yankees – 1977 World Series
The Dodgers got a chance to take revenge on Reggie Jackson and the Yankees in 1978, and things looked promising early on. After winning Game 1 in Los Angeles, rookie flame thrower Bob Welch came in with a one-run lead in the top of the 9th in Game 2 and won an epic, nine-pitch dual with Mr. October to save the day.
Unfortunately for the Dodgers, the Yankees came storming back and won the next four games. And in Game 6, Reggie Jackson got some serious revenge on Bob Welch:
3. Dodgers vs. Yankees – 1978 World Series
The Dodgers faced the Yankees in the World Series again in 1981. The Yankees still had Mr. October, but this time the Dodgers had Fernandomania going for them.
Rookie sensation and 1981 N.L. Cy Young winner Fernando Valenzuela only started one game, but the "Fernandomania" craze picked up the entire Dodgers team and propelled them past the Yankees in six games.
2. Dodgers vs. Yankees – 1981 World Series
Yep, that's right, the most recent championship matchup between teams that have "Los Angeles" and "New York" in their names was the 2002 WNBA Finals between the New York Liberty and Los Angeles Sparks—which was a best of three series won by the Sparks.
Amazingly, there has never been any football championship game (NFL, AFL, Super Bowl) played between teams from New York or Los Angeles. The Rams or Raiders both reached the Super Bowl while playing in Los Angeles, but neither of them played the Jets or Giants...who both play in New Jersey anyway.
And don't think for a minute that I counted this WNBA championship series but not other lesser leagues. There has never been a college football, college basketball, professional indoor lacrosse, indoor soccer, outdoor soccer, or arena football championship game. Believe me, I looked. The New York Sportimes beat the Newport Beach Breakers for the World Team Tennis championship in 2005, but while you can count Anaheim as part of the Los Angeles metropolitan area, extending it to Newport Beach would be a bit of a stretch.
So for now, the ones you see on this list are it.
1. Liberty vs. Sparks – 2002 WNBA Finals
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