Living in Southern California as a basketball fan is at best interesting and at worst . . . well, it’s still interesting. The interest comes from the dynamic between the two LA NBA franchises. And while the upstart Clippers believe that now is their time to assume the throne in Los Angeles, in the words of former college football coach (but better TV commentator) Lee Corso, “not so fast, my friend”.
Sorry Clipper fans, you’re still living in a Laker world.
There is no question that, for this year at least, the Clippers hold the advantage. They’re young, athletic, exciting, and finally have a coach worth his salt in Doc Rivers. They’ve got the best point guard in basketball in Chris Paul, the best human highlight dunk machine in Blake Griffin, and the ability to hang big numbers on any franchise on any night. After letting them put up 137 points, the Houston Rockets will testify.
The Lakers are old, running an offense that depends on speed while playing an aged Steve Nash and an aging Pau Gasol. They count the days when Kobe Bryant returns from his Achilles tear. They are a marginal playoff team this season at best. When your bench has to hoist up 53 points in the fourth quarter to beat the Clippers on opening night, that is usually not a real good barometer of the strength of your starting five. Nash and Gasol are all-time greats but they’re ancient in comparison to the youth of the Clippers.
But history is not the Clippers’ friend. The franchise made a huge deal out of covering the Laker banners hanging at the end of Staples Center, and covering those banners was something that should have been done a long time ago. Rivers also stated that they would not hang a banner honoring last year’s Pacific Division champs. So covering the only set of banners at Staples with banners of current Clipper stars makes sense when the Clips are the home team.
There’s just one small problem; one invisible banner, so to speak, is metaphorically akin to a second-grader fighting a heavyweight champion. It’s still 16-0, Lakers, in the Larry O’Brien Trophy department, with 31 conference championships and 16 division crowns for spice. If this were a sanctioned fight, it should have been stopped years ago.
Nothing like starting from the deep muck of the La Brea tar pits.
Still, the basketball momentum is clearly with the Clippers. But for the soul of Los Angeles, well . . . they should have stayed in San Diego or moved to Anaheim when they had a chance.
Only the Yankees and the Lakers have their own cable channels (soon to be joined by the Dodgers, for those keeping score). Only the Lakers usually lead the network sports coverage in LA, even in the off-season. They’re better than a soap opera (a fact that the local NBC affiliate emphasized last winter, when they opened every Laker segment during the Dwight Howard saga/Kobe injury/Phil Jackson is-he or isn’t-he replacing Mike D’Antoni drama with the well-known soap opera tick-tock theme music and altered picture showing “Days of Our Lakers” – hokey but on point). The Lakers are the champagne; the Clippers are just a pretty good Sonoma red.
Is there a chance that the Clippers can ascend the mountain? Sure, temporarily. The spectre of Laker domination is just sleeping, hibernating for a few years while they retool. There needs to be some massive personnel changes for the Forum Blue (purple to the rest of the planet) and Gold to come back – get younger, get faster, and, to be blasphemous to Laker fans, have Kobe retire or moved. They aren’t going to be able to move forward unless they lose him and focus on fresh talent – that’s what they tried to do last year with the under-30 Howard, and look how that worked out.
The Lakers have always eventually regenerated, and they will again. The Clippers are living on borrowed fan time. They’re Miley Cyrus to Paul McCartney – curiously interesting for now, but not the time-tested hit machine that Los Angeles fans know and come to expect. And while Southern California loves trendy, it really loves an established winner who it can trust to hold a parade every few years. The Lakers are that team; the Clippers are wannabes.
A great corollary is the Dodgers. No matter how much Arte Moreno wants the Angels to be Los Angeles’s team (and don’t get me started on the ridiculous “Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim” – that’s for another column), the town belongs to those who play at Chavez Ravine. You can bring the hate mail from Orange County, but I have yet to meet a true baseball Angeleno who wants to drive the 5 to Angel Stadium rather than Metro to Dodger Stadium. It’s just the way it is. The Dodger renaissance this year brought that back to the forefront.
So Clipper Nation, you’ve got all the talent, the energy, the drive, and are the better team. Normally that should translate to community endearment and undying support. Unfortunately one (or more) banners won’t erase years of ineptitude. You still can’t find much Clipper gear at Dick’s, Target or Wal-Mart.
It’s still the land of nine million Laker fans.
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