The road from league laughingstock to legitimate contender is supposed to be one that inspires hope.
It's supposed to be an underdog story and a celebration of a team altering its course and heading in the right direction. Fans hop on the bandwagon. Opponents slowly begin to show respect. This is how it all typically works.
But for a myriad reasons, the Los Angeles Clippers have largely inspired hatred instead of hope. What was very briefly considered a fun, up-and-coming team is no longer viewed through that same lens.
If you ask someone why they hate the Clippers, you'll get about a 100 different answers. You've probably already ran through a few in your head right now.
At least in that sense, the vitriol the Clippers receive is somewhat unique. The Miami Heat were hated because of "The Decision" and everything it represented. Even if there were deeper reasons lying under the surface, that was the lightning-rod moment that polarized fan opinion.
But what was the lightning-rod moment for the Clippers?
Was it David Stern's decision to veto the deal sending Chris Paul to the Los Angeles Lakers, a team that just so happens to boast the league's biggest fanbase? Was it the moment Blake Griffin started popping up in commercials and being someone drastically different to his on-court persona? Or did it simply become intolerable that the hype and the accolades far exceeded the actual accomplishments?
Maybe it was a reaction to the over-glorification of the dunk, the play that represented the Clippers more than anything else. They were appealing simply because of those aesthetics and not because of character. You were rooting for raw talent when you sided with the Clippers, not strategy or execution, and Vinny Del Negro's presence on the sidelines never let you forget that.
All of that deviated the Clippers from the typical underdog path. Chris Paul made them too good, too quickly, and when the wins piled up, it was because the Clippers were simply better, not because they played smarter or with more heart.
The Clippers became more Cobra-Kai than Daniel-san. They were already bigger and faster, and now they were bending the rules by flopping at a moment's notice, too. They whined. They had no banners or titles, but they played as though they were entitled to something.
And in the process, the Clippers were showing up opponents. There were between-the-legs alley-oops in blowouts, technical fouls aplenty and goons stepping in for Griffin constantly. Respect wasn't being given or earned; it was being taken.
That didn't sit right around the league. Rivalries usually take years to brew, but the Clippers seem to pick up a new one every other week. Ask a Golden State Warriors fan or Memphis Grizzlies fan which team they hate most, and the answer is almost always the Clippers or something slightly more insulting, like the Los Angeles Floppers.
Ask DeMarcus Cousins his feelings about the Clips, and get the earmuffs ready for any children in the vicinity.
This was all unthinkable as short as five years ago. No one cared about the Clippers, not opponents, not even people living in Los Angeles. Finding Clippers gear in a sports apparel store was nearly impossible.
Always the little brother that would get his head tussled whenever he tried to enter the conversation, the Clippers now have the attention of everyone.
Now when the Clippers show up in visiting arenas, they get sincere "Beat L.A." chants that were once reserved solely for the Lakers.
Really, the Clippers could never slowly emerge out of the Lakers' shadow and into the spotlight. It wouldn't have worked. Uprisings are rarely peaceful.
And that's sort of the point. Hate is closely intertwined with fear, and so perhaps nothing speaks more to the legitimacy of the Clippers' ascension than the emotion that they now most strongly evoke.
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