It took over a century for the western United States to be politically incorporated into the country. Initially a set of territories, portions of the West eventually achieved statehood, with the last two states in the continental western United States joining the country in 1912.
Integration of the region into the country’s sports landscape took a little longer.
Over thirty years after Arizona and New Mexico joined the union – and nearly a century after California joined – the so-called National Football League had no team west of Chicago, Illinois. As of 1945, the Rams were still in Cleveland, and even the Cardinals were still in Chicago. But the NFL moved with lightning speed compared to the other major sports.
Twelve years later, in 1957, the NFL had teams in Los Angeles and San Francisco. But in major league baseball, the Dodgers and Giants were still New York teams. But baseball was beginning to penetrate the West and the South – the Athletics had moved to Kansas City, and the Braves had moved to Milwaukee. The southern team in Major League Baseball was the Washington Senators. Of course, this would change over the coming years, as the Dodgers and Giants moved to California, the Athletics to Oakland, and the Braves to Atlanta.
A couple of years later, the 1969-60 National Basketball Association was miniscule compared to the NBA of today. The entire league consisted of eight teams, divided into Western and Eastern Divisions. Of the four Western Division teams, only the Detroit Pistons (now in the Eastern Division) have remained at their original location. The Minneapolis Lakers relocated to Los Angeles, the St. Louis Hawks to Atlanta (again penetrating the South), and the Cincinnati Royals underwent a slight name change – they are now the Sacramento Kings. (This week.)
Of the four traditional major sports leagues, it took hockey the longest to establish a western presence. As of 1966-67, this multinational league did not have a team west of Chicago. Of course, the National Hockey League only had six teams at the time. It wasn’t until the league doubled its size in the following year that you could see hockey out west.
It’s hard to conceive of a time in which there was no major league baseball, football, basketball, or hockey in my home state of California. But then again, Los Angeles has not had a football team since the mid-1990s. Now try to imagine Los Angeles without Angels, Dodgers, Lakers, Clippers, Kings, or Ducks, and you’ll have an idea what the city’s sports landscape was like in the 1940s.