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The Los Angeles Lakers, and specifically Kobe Bryant, dominated the Los Angeles market for parts of three decades. Starting in 1996, Bryant was The Guy in Los Angeles for a span that stretched into the middle of the 2010s.
Bryant’s retirement, coincidentally, has coincided with the rise of the Los Angeles Dodgers, who currently are battling in the World Series. One of the stars of the team this postseason has been Yasiel Puig, a polarizing figure for the Dodgers.
Puig has experienced his ups and downs with the Dodgers, first bursting onto the scene as a rookie before an eventual demotion to the minor leagues last season before a return this year. Through it all, Puig has remained a fan favorite thanks to his wild antics and lovable personality.
In a new feature by ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne, Los Angeles Lakers owner Jeanie Buss once suggested to Puig during one of those rough patches that he could be the next star of Los Angeles.
One day in particular stands out as a low point. Reports had been flying that the Dodgers were talking to the Cincinnati Reds about a deal involving Puig. It wasn’t the first time he’d heard his name in trade rumors, but the first time that it felt like it really could happen.
As he walked through the buffet line at a concert to benefit the foundation, Puig was trying to process what it meant. Did they not want him anymore? Had they lost faith in him?
He ran into Lakers co-owner Jeanie Buss, who had invited him to basketball games over the years and always made him feel welcomed and special when he attended. (“She’s my love,” Puig says.)
So when she asked how he was, Puig opened up. He told her about the trade rumors and how it was weighing on him. She told him this was a normal part of the sports business and that everyone knew he still had the talent to be the star in L.A., now that Bryant had retired. They snapped a selfie together, and for one night at least, he felt like the old Puig.
What has separated Puig from his counterparts on the Dodgers and across the Los Angeles sports landscape is his personality and off-field persona. While he may not be the best player on the Dodgers, he’s become the face of the team in many ways thanks to his play style.
In order to take the mantle as THE star in Los Angeles, though, Puig would have to maintain a level of play something similar to what he’s done this postseason.
Regardless of whether he becomes a superstar, always remember #PuigYourFriend.