Dear Los Angeles Clippers fans,
Let me be the first to congratulate you on the success that your beloved Clippers have enjoyed in this year of firsts—your first 50-win campaign, your first season sweep over the Los Angeles Lakers to clinch your first division title of any kind, your first season with any sort of bull's-eye on your back, etc.
As a native Angeleno who grew up alongside your team's futility, I never thought I'd see the day when the Clips owned the Staples Center, and I'm sure many of you never thought you'd be so privileged, either. As such, I implore all of you to enjoy it while you can.
Because, as any Clippers fan knows all too well, success of any sort on the court is all too fleeting.
Unless, of course, you're talking about the Lakers.
(Allow me, for a moment, to replace my "Semi-Objective Blogger" hat with my favorite purple and gold chapeau so as not to jeopardize my job...Better.)
Even in victory, there remains some measure of embarrassment among the Clippers about their not-so-distant past when compared to that of their co-tenants. For most teams, there would be little debate as to whether they should hang a banner for winning their division. Even the Chicago Bulls and the San Antonio Spurs, with their combined 10 championships, celebrate their regional dominance by dangling cloth from the rafters.
But the Lakers don't. The only purple and gold banners you'll find at the Staples Center are those commemorating each of the franchise's 16 titles, dating back to its days in Minneapolis.
It's understandable, then, that the Clips might be hesitant to fabricate a Pacific Division banner. Heck, if the Lakers decided to hang a banner for each of the 23 times they finished atop their division, there'd hardly be room for the Clippers to include one of their own.
If I were the Clips, I wouldn't try for a 50-win banner, either. Otherwise, they'd be talking about butting up against 32 such seasons in Lakers lore.
Not to mention how such celebrations of relatively minor achievements would be dwarfed by the retired numbers of Hall of Famers and NBA legends—belonging to Lakers all—that adorn the wall adjacent to those championship banners. Up there, you'll find the jerseys of some of the greatest players to ever set foot on the hardwood, from Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor (who went on to serve as general manager of the Clippers) and Jerry West to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson and Shaquille O'Neal.
And Jamaal Wilkes. And James Worthy. And all the great Minneapolis Lakers of old, including George Mikan, Clyde Lovellette, Jim Pollard, Vern Mikkelsen, Slater Martin and head coach John Kundla.
And, in due time, Kobe Bryant, who might wind up with two numbers on the honor roll, and Phil Jackson, who may or may not count his impending wedding ring from Lakers executive Jeanie Buss among his five derived from Lakers titles.
Let's not forget, either, about the late, great Chick Hearn, whose microphone has been retired on a jersey of its own. Perhaps Ralph Lawler, the long-time voice of the Clippers, will join Chick up there, and I, for one, believe he should. It's the least the team could do for subjecting Lawler to so much bad basketball over the course of more than 2,500 games during the last 35 years.
Lawler joined the Clippers back in 1978, when they ditched their chilly past as the Buffalo Braves to move to sunny San Diego. They posted just three winning seasons in eight tries while in upstate New York.
Things didn't exactly improve for the Clips on the West Coast, though. They finished with losing records during each of their last five seasons in San Diego. This, after a promising 43-39 mark in their first campaign out West, and despite the best efforts of World B. Free and, later, a banged-up Bill Walton, among others.
World B. Free had actually been the last Clipper voted into the All-Star Game before Blake Griffin broke the streak in 2011. All told, the Clippers have tallied 21 All-Star appearances in their 43-year history, including the two apiece for Griffin and Chris Paul, the team's first-ever All-Star Game MVP, over the last two years.
The Lakers, on the other hand, have racked up more All-Star appearances since the turn of the 21st century than the Clippers have in their entire history. Those 22 turn-of-the-century All-Star tickets constitute a small chunk of the 133 total trips to the NBA's midseason classic earned by the purple-and-gold-clad players. Naturally, then, the Lakers' 11 All-Star MVPs—from Mikan, West, Magic, O'Neal, and Bryant—would dwarf the one picked up by CP3 in 2013.
But at least the Clippers are on the board in this regard, as they are with Hall of Famers. The Clips have been privileged enough to employ six legends who are currently enshrined in McAdoo, Adrian Dantley, Moses Malone, Bill Walton, Jamaal Wilkes and Dominique Wilkins. Granted, only one of those six (McAdoo) is known primarily for his work with the Braves/Clippers, though even he cemented his legacy as a member of the "Showtime" Lakers long after winning his only MVP in Buffalo.: Bob
To be fair, Bob isn't all that closely identified with the Lakers, either. Nor are Connie Hawkins, Adrian Dantley, Dennis Rodman, Karl Malone or Gary Payton.
But those players constitute just six of the 21 Hall of Famers to have worn Lakers colors. The other 15 were most prolific in purple and gold.
Those great players contributed to a winning tradition that, in many ways, stands out as the most successful in NBA history. The Lakers remain the all-time leaders in regular-season wins (3,165), winning percentage (.618), playoff appearances (59) and conference titles (31). Of those victories, 2,240 have come since 1970-71, when the Braves made their NBA debut.
Which still blows the Clips' all-time total of 1,298 wins clear out of the water. The Lakers' little brothers would still own the league's worst winning percentage (.374) if not for the shambolic play of the Charlotte Bobcats. The Clips' nine playoff appearances gives them one more than the Minnesota Timberwolves, despite a head start of nearly two decades.
And, as you've probably gathered, the Clippers have never been to the NBA Finals, so any talk of conference crowns is irrelevant.
The head-to-head record between the Lakers and the Clippers is similarly lopsided. Even after sweeping their cross-hall rivals this season, the Clips still trail the Lakers by a hefty margin of 143-53. Here's the full breakdown of the Lakers-Clippers "rivalry" by location:
|Buffalo Braves||San Diego Clippers||L.A. Clippers|
|Lakers' record vs.||22-10||24-10||97-33|
Which is to say, the Clippers have plenty of catching up to do if they're ever to stand as worthy rivals to the Lakers. But you knew all of this, and likely have for as long as you've rooted for L.A.'s biggest underdog.
You guys drafted Danny Manning, Michael Olowokandi and Blake Griffin with No. 1 picks. We've parlayed such prime positioning into Elgin Baylor, Magic Johnson and James Worthy.
The Lakers dumped Norm Nixon on the Clippers after his services were no longer needed and got Byron Scott in return. They also helped to transform Lamar Odom, a former Clips draftee, from an underachieving talent into a two-time champion.
But the NBA is a "What have you done for me lately?" league, and lately, the Clippers have accomplished more than their neighbors. They've stolen a superstar (Chris Paul) from the Lakers' grasp, albeit with some timely help from Commissioner David Stern. They've won a playoff Game 7 on the road and have secured another postseason spot by way of that previously dismissed Pacific Division title.
The Lakers, on the other hand, were lucky to survive a grueling first-round series against the Denver Nuggets last spring and may well miss out on the fun this time around despite adding a sure-fire Hall of Famer (Steve Nash) and a bona fide superstar (Dwight Howard) over the summer. If anything, this year's Lakers squad may well go down as the most disappointing in the history of professional sports.
Which is still better than being the most disappointing franchise in the history of professional sports, and which is still more memorable in the annals of NBA history than anything the Clippers are likely to churn out before they're through.
But hey, every dog has its day, and today is yours, Lob City! Make the most of it. Strut your stuff. Wear your colors proudly. Maybe even win a playoff series or two.
You know as well as I do that the Lakers will bounce back soon enough. Perhaps the Big Four of Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard and Steve Nash will come back healthy, happy and hungry next season to fuel a return to title contention. Perhaps the Lakers will have to wait until the summer of 2014, when they'll try to lure members of a star-studded free-agent class onto their roster with nothing more than oodles of cap space, a rich history, a world-famous brand and a desirable locale—all of which worked quite well in nabbing Shaq from the Orlando Magic once upon a time.
Or, perhaps Lakers fans will have to wait for general manager Mitch Kupchak to swing another miraculous, franchise-changing trade.
Because—as Wilt, Kareem, Magic, Kobe and Pau (among others) can surely attest—the Lakers have had "lousy" luck on that front over the years.
For now (and for once), Lady Luck is on the Clippers' side, though, if history is any guide, she'll be back in purple and gold before long.
Those noisy, obnoxious fans who drown you out with cheers for the road team whenever the Clippers host the Lakers.
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