If LA Tanks, Will Laker Nation Fall in Love with Clippers?
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The tides are starting to turn in Tinseltown.
For decades, the Los Angeles Lakers have held the city in the palm of their hands—16 NBA titles have certainly helped the team's cause. But lately, the Los Angeles Clippers have had success of their own, threatening the possibility of an assault on the throne.
Is Staples Center really big enough for both of them?
Last year was a campaign to remember for the Clippers. It was arguably the best season in team history.
For starters, the Clippers put together a franchise-best 56-26 record in the regular season. The team also added its first-ever Pacific Division title.
Among the franchise firsts is one that haunts Lakers fans the most from last year: The Clippers' season-series sweep (4-0) of their crosstown rivals.
Could this be the beginning of the changing of the guard in Los Angeles?
Over the past two seasons, the Clippers have actually outdrew the Lakers at home. In fact, they were just one of six teams in the NBA that sold out every regular-season game in 2012-13—a list that does not include the Lakers.
Then there's Las Vegas, which has the Clippers at 12-to-1 to win the title versus 100-to-1 for the Lakers.
Clippers small forward Matt Barnes said it best in an interview with ESPN's Rick Reilly:
When I was a Clipper the first time [nine years ago], we were just the JV team. Our home games against the Lakers were really just Lakers home games. We were nowhere. But now, anywhere we go in the country, I see Clippers stuff. I mean, Oklahoma City, Miami, everywhere.
It only begs the question: If the Lakers continue to plummet this year, will the majority of Los Angeles fans turn their support toward the Clippers?
Longevity Is Key
Sure, the Clippers recorded accomplishment after accomplishment during the regular season last year. However, all that success couldn't prevent the team from suffering a disappointing showing in the postseason.
On the other hand, the Lakers had one of their worst years in recent history. The team's 45 wins and No. 7 seed in the playoffs were its lowest marks since 2006-07.
Yet at the end of the day, ironically enough, the team finished in exactly the same fashion as the surging, upstart Clippers—a first-round exit.
The Clippers need to prove they can win something before they can be categorized among the NBA's elite. Having a catchy nickname and winning division titles are simply not enough.
Just take a look at one of the Lakers' former rivals, the Sacramento Kings.
During the early 2000s, the Kings and Lakers had one of the most heated rivalries in all of sports. Both teams and fanbases literally despised each other. So much so, that a Sacramento hotel was reportedly accused of food poisoning the room service of Kobe Bryant before a playoff game between the two teams, per Steve Springer of the Los Angeles Times.
The Kings' success led them to rank among the top five in attendance from 2001-07. In 2001-02, the team even finished with the best record in the league at 61-21.
However, all that success only resulted in one trip to the Western Conference Finals, nothing more.
So where is Sacramento now?
Since its last playoff appearance in 2006, the team has gone through six different head coaches and hasn't had a winning season since. The Kings are a combined 187-371.
Does that mean the Clippers are doomed to a similar fate? Not necessarily.
But until the team can distinguish itself from being just another pretender—such as Sacramento—the Clippers shouldn't expect respect.
The Numbers Don't Lie
Win or lose, the Lakers still know how to draw a crowd.
Sure, on down years, the team loses many of its so-called fans only to see them magically reappear as soon as the wins do. But then again, which sports team—basketball or not—can say it doesn't go through the same thing?
If you recall, "MVP" chants for Bryant once rang out inside the confines of the TD Garden, home of the longtime rival Boston Celtics. The following year, those same "diehards" were booing Bryant and the Lakers as the Celtics went on to capture the 2008 NBA title.
Simply put: Most fans would rather watch at home than dole out money to come see a losing team.
Even so, that doesn't stop the media and critics alike from bashing the Los Angeles fanbase. Some of the labels include "bandwagon" and "fair-weather" fans.
OK, the Lakers do have their share of clueless baboons who try and pose as knowledgeable NBA fans. But they're not the only ones.
If anything, the team's fans have proven that they will still support the cause even when the odds are completely against them.
For instance, Game 1 of the Lakers' first-round series with the San Antonio Spurs drew an overnight Nielsen rating of 4.6 for ABC, per SportsBusiness Daily. It was the largest mark for an opening-weekend playoff game since 2003—also a game that featured the Lakers (against the Minnesota Timberwolves).
Mind you, that was a 91-79 loss in a game the team played without Bryant.
Although they were swept, the Lakers still managed to draw 16.2 million viewers over the four-game series. In comparison, the Clippers drew 16.6 million in six contests.
Then there's the fact that the Lakers have the fourth-most games on national television in 2013-14 with 29. That's higher than the back-to-back champion Miami Heat have (27).
The Clippers have just 21.
No matter what, fans will come to see the Lakers. What more proof do you need?
Summing It All Up
The Lakers face a difficult road ahead this season. It's one that is filled with several questions.
Will Bryant return at 100 percent? Can Pau Gasol rebound from a disappointing 2012-13 campaign? Does Steve Nash still have enough left in the tank at 39?
Who will run L.A. in 2014?
Regardless of those answers, one thing is for sure: The Clippers will have a more successful season this year.
However, until the Clippers make a significant push for the NBA title, don't expect fans to jump ship just yet. There has to be some consistency.
While Barnes was busy yapping at Lakers fans on Instagram, he did manage to get one thing right, via Lakers Nation:
LA will always be a Laker town.
It will take years, maybe even decades, to change that fact.
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