What does it even mean to be a Los Angeles Clipper anymore? What is this unfamiliar world? Where are we? The team hasn’t gone anywhere, but the landscape has changed.
What does it mean to be a fan of this franchise now, in 2015? It means wins and higher expectations. It means a puncher’s chance at the title. Being a Clipper fan means more than it used to. Or maybe it means less. There are more fans these days, and there’s less sadness. It’s harder to get in the building and easier to ride the bandwagon.
That’s not a bad thing, though. Success is magnetic. Except, what success are we talking about?
Almost making the Conference Finals one time?
Having All-Star and All-NBA players that do fantastic basketball plays a lot?
Not having a weirdo bigot taking our money and lurking in the locker room?
Keeping a guy in the fold who’d accepted a new job in Dallas for less money?
Being “in the conversation?”
Knocking the Spurs out of the playoffs the year after they won it all, and the Warriors the year before they tasted champagne?
Being better than the Lakers, I guess. But really, who cares?
The merchandise is better these days. The crowd is louder. Steve Ballmer is a hollerin’ heartfelt maniac who would probably wrestle a bear if it meant making the Finals.
Things feel good. Remember how it used to feel? I got no complaints.
Except, all I remember from last season is Blake Griffin gliding through the paint, spinning past eight Houston Rockets, and flipping up a no-look layup that went in, because obviously. Everything was beams of sunshine and memes-a-plenty. All the narratives were dying. San Antonio in the rearview, Houston on the pavement, and Golden State in our sights. Victory at last.
And then you woke up, and everything had collapsed. Kind of like you knew it would. Because obviously. These are the Clippers, and we’ve been down this path before.
But at least this was a different kind of failure. These Clippers played so well, Kevin McHale benched the runner-up MVP, which allowed Josh Smith to become the Josh Smith of his own dreams, and the spacing evaporated, and then it was just inevitable.
Historic, terrible, and inevitable. And promising.
This team (with that bench) was right there. A couple favorable bounces in Game 6, and L.A. is in the Conference Finals, rested and waiting for the Warriors. Fresh off knocking out the champs and boat-racing the Rockets. The gigantic monkeys off everyone’s backs, Chris Paul seizing what belongs to him. If you squint and imagine, you can almost see it.
It didn’t happen. It almost did. There’s no real reason it didn’t. That’s life.
This year’s team has a new bench, though. A wacky, ball-dominant bench, but whatever. This team is more seasoned. More cohesive, maybe, having all sat together in DJ’s living room. The Truth is here now. And Born Ready. The Point God never left. Blake keeps on evolving. Everything is possible.
Everything is a little bit better. For these Clippers, things were already pretty good.