The line went around the block. It was weaving back and forth, almost set up like a queue at an amusement park, and filled with fans waiting for an opportunity to watch the new hottest team in basketball – the Los Angeles Clippers.
Walking into the Galen Center, with the downtown LA skyline serving as the backdrop, there was a vibe spreading around the arena that was infectious. Anticipation to see the new-look Clippers was insanely high, despite the fact that it was only a scrimmage.
That’s right, all this excitement was about practice, the same thing that was deemed unworthy to even talk about by Allen Iverson.
Surprisingly enough, the buzz wasn’t all about Chris Paul, the All-Star point guard that the Clippers partially gutted their roster for in order to jump into the upper echelon of the NBA. Sure, Clippers fans were thrilled to witness the best pure point guard in the game donning the red, white and blue, but they seemed just as excited to welcome back or get acquainted with the entire roster. The enthusiasm didn’t center around any of the players specifically, but the completely new identity of the franchise that had grown used to playing second fiddle to the big brother Lakers in the City of Angels.
“It’s a new feeling around here in Clipper land,” said Chauncey Billups, who was added to the Clippers roster this off-season after being amnestied by the New York Knicks. “We’re not just trying to make the playoffs, we’re trying to advance and do the whole thing.”
Clipper Darrell was in his usual high spirits. On this day, however, the rest of the fans in the stadium matched his intensity. People in Clippers jerseys were on their feet to usher in the new class of LA ballers. The wave, led by none other then Clipper Darrell, broke out during the 2nd half of play.
The cheers were loud as the entire team was introduced, but the loudest chant of all came after regulation when both teams were tied. The fans wanted overtime, A.K.A. another chance to watch Paul and Blake Griffin turn LA into Lob City.
The starters struggled throughout the game, but that’s to be expected given how little time they’ve had to gel due to the new acquisitions and shortened training camp. The truth of the matter is there are going to be a number of growing pains this season as they learn to play with one another. What was apparent, however, is that having successful veterans surrounding Griffin will pay long-term dividends.
“Those two [Billups and Paul] are going to make it easier on me,” said Griffin. “Not only on the court but off the court, teaching me the little things that they’ve learned over the past 800 years or however long they’ve played.”
The future remains bright for the Clippers, but for the first time in a long time the culture has shifted for a franchise that has consistently sold its fans on potential. There’s a new urgency to win now.
“Expectations are different,” said Billups. “And as Chris [Paul] and I would always tell you, that’s the only reason why you play.”