Surprise, surprise. The Los Angeles Lakers had the summer blockbuster — a big big budget production unlike any other. The producer somehow tracked down all the available stars, corralled them all together on one team, and bingo! It’s already being heralded as a massive success. The director just has to show up and make sure there’s film in the camera.
And who are we kidding? We’ll all watch. We’ll want to see those stars together on one screen. We may curse under our breath about the quality low-budget films that don’t get nearly the amount of publicity they deserve because of massive productions like this, but we’ll watch.
The spotlight has been yanked away a bit, but the follow up from the Clippers’ critically acclaimed effort last year is highly anticipated in its own right. So if the Lakers are Oceans D-12 (the series that you think is over but just never freaking goes away), what does that make the Clippers?
The real Clippers just might be the fake Cleveland Indians.
I’ve always been one to stretch a bad analogy (I still think Eric Bledsoe should be nicknamed “blender” for his likeness to a blender; chopping stuff up all loud defensively and somehow coming out smooth) but this one actually works. I think.
The first and most notable connection between the Cleveland Indians and the Los Angeles Clippers is their generally sucky history. In the first Major League, great lengths are taken to show us just how bad the Cleveland Indians currently are and have been in the past.
It becomes clear early on that the only enjoyable thing about the Indians is their sarcastic announcer (Bob Uecker). He’s what makes the Indians tolerable — which is pretty much how every pre-2006 Clippers fan would describe their relationship with Ralph Lawler. Clippers fans would all be insane without Ralph. He provided the company misery required every night. He was the guy you would most want to share a bottle of whiskey with after (or in Uecker’s case, during) the game. You can almost picture Ralph calling an airballed DeAndre Jordan free-throw: “Oh me, oh my. Juuust a bit outside.”
Besides Ralph and a loveable, wacky fanbase (too high, that’s too high), the Clippers endeared themselves to fans much in the same way the fake Indians did to viewers: with kooky, imperfect characters. Pedro Cerrano, a masher who can only hit fastballs, is like Reggie Evans, a rebounding machine who you can just see praying to Jobu to hit a free throw. Jake Taylor, an aging catcher on his last legs, is Chauncey Billups all the way, getting by with some special concoction of pride and balls. Willie “Mays” Hayes, a player with incredible charisma and electrifying athletic ability (and equally electrifying dumb decision making) is the baffling and completely awesome Nick Young.
The Clippers and Indians, largely sparked by contributions from their bargain bin role players, ended up in similar places. After winning critical playoff games in fantastic fashion (no writer would dare try to pass off the Game 1 Memphis Miracle as believable) the Clippers and Indians bow out to superior teams, but we hardly care. We know the history — we remember how bad things were, how terrible the owner is, and how the team was cobbled together. It’s a huge accomplishment, and we’re happy about it.
Of course, things change in the sequel. Expectations change. The star player (Dorn/Paul) takes a role in the front office and makes all the player personnel decisions. The broken down veteran (Taylor/Billups) assumes the responsibilities of a coach. The athlete with the wow factor (Willie Mays Hayes/Young) is re-cast as someone relatively similar (Crawford). And just when things look safe and the team is ready to contend for a championship, the owner starts with the sabotaging bit again.
The dark clouds are looming, but there’s something that makes it all seem alright. Well, it’s not something.
It’s the Wild Thing. It’s Blake Griffin.
Lost in all the changes and the scramble to build off the success of last year was the fact that Blake Griffin just became a Clipper for the next five years. One of the most enticing personalities and talents in the league is going nowhere anytime soon.
It’s worth remembering that there would be nothing without Blake Griffin. No Chris Paul. No genuine announcer happiness. No wahoos. No spotlight.
It’s why that first name on the movie poster means so much, and regardless of the chaos around him — the win now direction, the coaching situation, the front office mess and anything else — Blake Griffin is in this flick, so you’re sure as hell gonna watch.
If anyone got a crash course on the impact of raised expectations last season, it was Griffin. Like Rick “Wild Thing” Vaughn, people wanted Blake’s fastball all the time. When he started messing around with jumpers to start the year, it was like Wild Thing throwing curveballs and acting all yuppie like. It wasn’t right. People wanted the heat. Oh sure — they clamored for Griffin to develop a jumper, the real missing piece to his offensive repertoire. Everyone accepted that, but they just wanted it to come as quickly as one of his dunks — nuts to the whole, “having to actually implement it in games” thing. When the jumpers didn’t land right away? Overrated stamp. There’s nothing America loves more than to build someone up and then tear them right back down.
Well, maybe there’s one thing America loves more than that: a real redemption story. Griffin’s “decline” is mostly imaginary, but it’s the narrative that matters most. He has holes in his game — the jumper, the free throws, the defense — but Griffin’s talent level is the ultimate trump card. He will hit behind-the-head, leaning, spinning shots in the post that you won’t understand. He will do things that no one can stop or possibly account for. I have no interest in “rating” Blake Griffin, because we honestly don’t know what he’s capable of. He doesn’t even know.
So when it becomes time for the “Wild Thing” to blow away an opponent, Griffin will have that heater ready. Chris Paul and Lamar Odom will factor into things heavily, but make no mistake about it — the Clippers trajectory is tied to Griffin, one of the few players in the league with the natural ability to make even the most improbable thing very real.
Blake will undoubtedly throw some curveballs at the rim this year. He’ll forget to cover his bases. He’ll probably bean Andre Miller in the head. But it’s that great unknown of his potential that makes him the first name on that poster. When the Clippers are inevitably staring down the big budget Lakers or the Oklahoma City Thunder and facing the fate that’s already been written for them, it’s only Griffin who can piss on the script and demand a rewrite.