At some point this year, you’ve probably noticed that people are treating you a little differently. Fear not, Clipper fan! Dylan Rice-Leary is here to tell you why and what it all means.
The Los Angeles Clipper acquisitions of Blake Griffin, and then Chris Paul, altered the geography of the Southern Californian sports-landscape. Seismic shifts have occurred. Territories have needed to be recharted. Legends are under flux and redistricting may be in order- a new census taken. Never before has being a Clipper fan had as much impact as it does right now. Wearing Clipper gear has never meant so much. (I mean, there is Clipper gear out there!) They’ve never been this good in Los Angeles- they’ve never before had a roster of this caliber. The Clippers have never been taken this seriously.
Time to update our maps.
There has always been a perverse pride of being a Clipper fan in Lakerdom- a celebration of the underdog; a grim, resigned pride of the downtrodden; a self-flagellation of hope in a legendarily crappy ball club. There’d been a transience to the Clippers very existence, having somewhat to do with the franchise moving twice since its inception as the Buffalo Braves, but more so an atmosphere of second-class citizenship. For these, afterall, are Laker towns. Lakers owned. Clippers rented.
The Lakers were the California Dream. The Lakers were Hollywood. They were Showtime. For the past thirty years, the Lakers were the byproduct of a visionary real-estate mogul and legendary playboy, and they played like it.
The Clippers were nobody’s dream. Just as out of place in one part of Los Angeles as any other. They were first round draft-pick busts and horrific knee injuries. For the past thirty years, the Clippers were the byproduct of a former divorce attorney and ambulance-chaser turned slumlord magnate, and they, too, played like it.
The Lakers were Porches, the Clippers a single Ford Pinto. The Lakers were champagne, the Clippers a warm Schlitz. Tapas to Top-Ramen. Sashimi to fishsticks. In this instance at least, I’m speaking less to a class issue than one of substance. With few exceptions, as long as both teams have played in Los Angeles, the product the Lakers have put upon the floor has been an undeniably superior one.
The Clippers having finally arrived at basketball respectability has been a boon. That the Clippers and Lakers are finally in a meaningful rivalry has been a revelation. The actual Hallway Games are engrossing enough; however, the most interesting battles have been off the court – they’re in our places of work, they’re on blogs and message boards, they’re in our everyday lives as fans of NBA basketball in Southern California.
Until recently, Clippering in Lakerdom has almost always been an insular experience; suddenly it is a dialogue. I have never owned articles of clothing that have generated as much a response as have my Clipper t-shirt and hoodie. Strangers give thumbs up from across the street. Convenience store clerks have pointed vigorously to partnered-marketing Laker displays and only part jokingly told me to leave their store. Customers at the bookstore I work at will either wax-poetic on CP3 or raise sour-graped So-How-Many-Banners-Has-YOUR-
Laker fans are not excited about this development; this is understandable. Some deal with this rivalry better than others. Fan stems from the work fanatic. Laker fans have tended to be elbows and footwork- battling for position and bitter at the Clippers’ success- yet it isn’t as if one of them doesn’t belong. The two teams actually play in the same building. Territorialism is to be expected. It began with the arrival of Blake. It became something else when Stern vetoed the Chris Paul trade and then Paul suddenly became a Clipper. Laker fans had a right to be miffed by the Clippers new-found success. Laker fans had a claim to Paul, albeit ever so briefly. Laker fans have a legitimate beef with Stern disrupting the trade on behalf of the then League-owned New Orleans Hornets. To make things even more interesting, the Clippers and Paul recruited four ex-Lakers, one last year in Butler, and this past summer with Barnes, Odom and Turiaf. Los Angeles has rooted for these men before. Lines are being crossed. Delineations ill-defined. This isn’t American League vs. National. This isn’t Manhattan vs. Brooklyn (though perhaps it is a bit of Yankees and Mets). There are no clear lines in the separation of these landscapes. Is it too dramatic to suppose that this rivalry is, at least in part, a battle for the schizophrenic heart of Southern California?
(Probably, but I enjoy the question nonetheless.)
Don’t let any recitation of past Laker accolades or past Clipper failures dissuade you from enjoying this moment, Clipperdom. The Los Angeles Clippers are a virtual lock to become the Pacific Division Champions for the first time ever. It is, admittedly, a minor change- a blip on the radar, historically. A Division Title is not a Conference Title, let alone a Championship. This year’s LAC success will be but a lone deposit in the geologic strata of NBA data. But that mere atom of datum will read as “Los Angeles Clippers: Pacific Division Winners 2012-2013.”
And although it doesn’t seem quite necessary for one luminary’s luster to fade so that another’s star may rise, it is at least both apt and apropos. Both jerseys say Los Angeles on them, after all. Someone has to be the best basketball team in L.A.
A captivating aspect of basketball and professional sportsdom is that through all the rivalries, regionalisms, and popular opinions, sports are still ultimately a meritocracy. You are what your record is. You are who you are this year. Books may be written about dynasties, lore is celebrated and retold, but no one wins awards for yesteryear’s performances. This year, as far as Los Angeles NBA basketball is concerned, belongs to the L.A. Clippers. 2012-2013: the year Clipper Nation finally recognized, and was finally recognized in, its sovereignty.