Can L.A. Clippers Own Los Angeles After Kobe Bryant Retires?
Considered one of the most futile franchises in the history of professional sports, the Clippers were the laughingstock of the NBA until they nabbed Blake Griffin with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 draft, then landed Chris Paul in a blockbuster deal in 2011.
Life has been good in Lob City as of late.
The Clippers are clearly the premiere basketball team in Los Angeles, as L.A.’s other team is poised for its first 50-win season and Pacific Division title in franchise history. Until the Miami Heat went off in February, the Clippers enjoyed the longest winning streak in the league of 17 games.
The Clippers boast the deepest bench in the game and two of the most marketable athletes in the country in Paul and Griffin. Where the Clippers' co-tenants have faltered through much of the season, despite their Hall of Fame starting the lineup, the Clippers have calmly knocked off opponents and seem intent on locking up a top-three seed in the ultra-competitive Western Conference.
Even with all of the success and praise falling on Lob City, the Lakers still manage to grab the majority of local and national headlines. The Clippers are indeed an afterthought and likely will be until they can create the sort of basketball dynasty developed by the late Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss.
Since moving to Los Angeles in 1984, the Clippers have just three seasons in which they finished with a record above .500.
Their .373 winning percentage, dating back to the era of the Buffalo Braves, is among the worst in NBA history.
The same is not the case for the Lakers.
Since 1984, the Lakers have had just three losing seasons. Whereas the Clippers have had 14 seasons in which they have won less than 30 games, the Lakers have had 20 seasons in which they have lost less than 30 games.
While Jerry Buss has been the model for sustainable success, Clipper owner Donald Sterling has been the model for sustainable failure.
Year in and year out, the Lakers have battled deep into spring against the league's elite, while the Clippers battle for lottery position against other perennial bottom feeders.
One of Buss’ enduring legacies was his success in turning the Lakers into a brand associated with Los Angeles. When people think L.A., they think the Lakers.
Whether it was re-signing superstars like Magic Johnson, diffusing conflict and trade demands for Kobe Bryant, or shelling out the big bucks to land big men Shaquille O’Neal and Dwight Howard, Buss always did what it took to win.
It is no surprise, that the Lakers won 10 titles under the stewardship of Dr. Buss, all while making purple and gold the most desirable colors for free agents and basketball purists alike.
While things are looking up in Clipper Country, the history of a franchise cannot change overnight.
It will take far more than a few division crowns to even utter the Clippers in the same breath as the Lakers when it comes to ownership of Los Angeles.
The fate of both these teams might have boiled down to David Stern’s infamous veto of a Chris Paul trade that would have sent the All-NBA point guard to the Lakers for “basketball reasons.” Had Stern not exercised his discretion, Blake Griffin might still be playing with the likes of Chris Kaman, while Paul thrives in the most formidable backcourt in the game alongside Kobe Bryant.
Clipper games might be a show on the court, but Laker games are still an event, a celebration of a history of success.
If any Angeleno forgets the history on the way to Staples Center, the fan just has to look to the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar or Magic Johnson statues featured outside the arena, honorary Chick Hearn court or the seven Laker retired jerseys hanging from the rafters.
Chris Paul might be the most transcendent player in Clipper history, but even his future is uncertain, as he is set to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season.
Although there is confidence that Paul will re-sign long term, the Clippers are all too familiar with franchise instability and the slight chance that he will bolt.
There will indeed be a time when confetti falls from the rafters and Figueroa Street in Downtown Los Angeles is blocked off for a red, white and blue parade. Even then, the Clippers will have to hoist a lot more trophies until they can even come close to supplanting the Lakers to become kings of L.A.
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