The excitement was palpable inside the International Ballroom at the historic Beverly Hilton Hotel on Thursday night in Los Angeles for the 15th annual L.A. Sports Awards.
The annual event is produced by the Los Angeles Sports Council and recognizes the best athletes, coaches, and executives within the LA sports landscape. Located within the same space as the Golden Globes, the awards honor the accomplishments and achievements of these individuals both on the field and off.
Fresh off their Southern California sweep of Major League Baseball's most prestigious award, Most Valuable Player winners Cody Bellinger and Mike Trout were each honored as the 2019 recipient of the Co-Sportsmen of the Year Award.
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Just a few months after she was named to the United States Women's Softball 2020 Summer Olympics team, 22-year-old pitcher, and reigning Collegiate Player of the Year, Rachel Garcia, was awarded the Sportswoman of the year for leading the UCLA Bruins to the 2019 Women's College World Series Championship where she was named the Most Outstanding Player.
"It's not easy," said Garcia of leading her team to the World Series championship. "But when you have a whole team behind you, it makes the journey a whole lot more fun."
LAFC manager Bob Bradley was named the 2019 Coach of the Year award recipient after shattering nearly every Major League Soccer record in the club's sophomore season. After making the playoffs in their inaugural campaign of 2018, Bradley led LAFC to a record 72 points, 85 total goals, and league-best goal differential of plus 48.
LAFC cruised to their first Supporter's Shield trophy in franchise history, and advanced to the MLS Cup semifinals where they lost to eventual champion, the Seattle Sounders. Bradley told the throng of sports fans in attendance that the goal in his third season is to continue to build the franchise and lift the MLS Cup at the end of the year.
"The goal is to improve every year," said Bradley while accepting his award on the stage. "We reached the semifinals of the MLS Cup playoffs this year and lost to the Sounders. The goal this year is to win it all and bring more trophies back to LAFC."
Bradley joins an impressive list of previous winners of the Coach of the Year Award, including Phil Jackson, Doc Rivers, Dave Roberts, and Sean McVay.
"That's awesome," Bradley said when told of the fellow company he joined. "Los Angeles sports over the years, so many winners, so many great managers, so to be recognized with that group is amazing and I appreciate the honor."
The Los Angeles Clippers are the current favorites to win the NBA Finals at the half-way point of the season, and President of Basketball Operations Lawrence Frank was named the Sports Executive(s) of the Year alongside President of Business Operations Gillian Zucker.
NBA Hall of Famer and current Clippers advisor, Jerry West, accepted the award on their behalf and made sure to thank the team's newest superstars, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George before exiting the stage.
"Those guys make our job easier," said West of Leonard and Paul. "We've got a team that's very representative of one of the best teams in the NBA, and we're very hopeful that it will be a great end to our season this year."
The sudden and tragic death of NBA legend Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and seven others, who all perished in a horrific helicopter crash on January 26, 2020, loomed over the event as a whole.
Bryant was honored with a heartwarming video tribute during the event, and his former teammates Robert Horry and Derek Fisher, who Bryant played 20 seasons combined with, took the stage to tell their favorite stories and memories of their friend. Bryant was named the L.A. Sports Awards Sportsman of the Year recipient in 2008.
"It's always sad to me that we don't recognize people when they're living," said Horry of Bryant. "For us to sit back and talk about someone as great as Kobe is an honor, but you wish you could have done it when they were there so they can see how much they are loved.
"It's always an honor to honor someone as great as he was, the things he was doing for women's basketball, for the city of Los Angeles. The humanitarian part of him has been missed. The things you get to know about him; how he was helping the homeless, how he was trying to create a better world and a better Los Angeles, those are things I hope we all understand what he was doing and try and jump on the bandwagon and continue it."
"Both Robert and I enjoyed our years with Kobe, as his teammates, but also his brothers, supporters, mentors, and he also taught us a lot, so it was very special to be on stage to honor him and reflect a little bit," said Fisher.
Horry and Fisher remained on the stage to receive the award for the top sports moment of the year, which was decided by online votes, and a 10-person media panel of judges.
The June 15, 2019 announcement that forward Anthony Davis had been acquired by the Los Angeles Lakers in a trade with the New Orleans Pelicans was named the top sports moment of 2019.
In retrospect, it's hard to argue that the acquisition was not one of the top LA sports moments of the year, as it reinvigorated a Lakers franchise that had missed the playoffs in each of the last six seasons.
Now, armed with arguably the best duo in the NBA in Davis and LeBron James, the Lakers currently hold the best record in the Western Conference and are the frontrunners to win the 17th NBA title in franchise history.
"His [Davis] biggest impact is on the defensive end," said Horry. "You can see how he's just elevated everyone defensively. He's going help bring the championship back to Los Angeles, and by that I mean the Lakers, sorry Jerry [West]."
The Awards show was presented by the Los Angeles Sports Council and was taped live. Fox Sports sideline reporter Kristina Pink served as the master of ceremonies. The event will be televised on Fox Sports Prime Ticket starting on Wednesday, February 26, following the completion of the Phoenix Suns vs. L.A. Clippers NBA Game scheduled for 6:00 PM PT.
The full list of award winners and top 10 best moments rankings are below:
Sportswoman of the Year: Rachel Garcia (UCLA Women's Softball Pitcher)
Co-Sportsmen of the Year: Cody Bellinger (Dodgers outfielder) and Mike Trout (Angels outfielder)
Coach of the Year: Bob Bradley (LAFC)
Sports Executives of the Year: Lawrence Frank and Gillian Zucker (L.A. Clippers)
Mayor's Community Athlete Award: Uchenna Nwosu (Chargers linebacker)
2019 “Greatest Moment” of the Year (decided by online voters and a 10-person media panel)
1. Lakers acquire NBA superstar Anthony Davis in blockbuster trade
2. Rams win NFC title over Saints and advance to Super Bowl XLIII
3. Clippers sign superstars Kawhi Leonard and trade for Paul George
4. Cody Bellinger and Mike Trout win MLB's MVP Awards
5. LAFC's Carlos Vela sets MLS single-season scoring record
6. UCLA turns 49-17 deficit into miracle 67-63 win at Washington State
7. UCLA gymnast Katelyn Ohashi's floor routine goes viral
8. Dodgers win 7th straight NL West title with franchise record 106 wins
9. Dodger rookies end back-to-back-to-back games with walk-off home runs
10. USC alum Dalilah Muhammad sets 400m hurdles world record twice