Los Angeles Clippers: a Series of Articles Written in the Past Three Years
Note to reader: I wrote the first portion of this at the end of the 06 season. I will inform you when the time period changes. Thank you.
Part One: "Hard Times as a Clips Fan"
They were the laughingstock of the league with a moribund and listless approach to the game of basketball. Players selfishly cared about their own stats rather than the good of the team. It didn’t help the cause that they played in a garbage dump of place, the Sports Arena.
After suffering through a 9-41 record for the 1998 season, and Lamond Murray looking like their best player, things were looking as bleak as ever for the Clippers. I remember as a six-year-old going to a Clippers-Spurs game in ‘98 and getting courtside seats, but the highlight for me was high-fiving the SPURS lineup.
Before the game I was enthusiastically getting Bill Walton’s autograph as I listened to him telling me of his days of stardom with the Clippers and Celtics, I couldn’t help thinking to myself, when are the Clips ever going to get a guy like Bill again? Obviously, they lost the game to an overpowering Spurs lineup—which went on to win the championship that year—which came as no surprise to me.
After leaving the game, I had a different perspective of the Clippers, even tthough I was only six years old. I figured that if the Clippers were unwilling to assemble and play as a winning team, I might as well get used to seeing them lose.
Through 1993 to 2003, the Clippers compiled an awful record of 275-552, averaging out to 27 wins and 55 losses per season making them a disgrace to the league. They were known as the should-have, could-have, would-have team that had been playing second fiddle to the Lakers ever since they had moved to LA in 2002 when they had been primed for a breakout season with the likes of Andre Miller, Lamar Odom, Corey Maggette, and Elton Brand.
But in typical Clipper fashion, they fell apart and stumbled to their 10th losing season in a row. Meanwhile, The Lakers had established themselves as a dynasty winning three titles in a row from 2000-03 with Kobe and Shaq leading the way. Everyone in LA, except the die-hard Clips fans, thought "who needs the Clippers when you can watch the Lakers kick butt?" The Clippers were the forgotten team of LA and were ridiculed throughout the league
Through all these trials and hardships as a Clipper fan, I endured. I applauded the Lakers for their success, but I was as eager as ever to see the Clippers win. My friends scoffed and mocked me, but I kept telling them, “One of these years the Clippers will be better than the Lakers, just wait and see.
By the 2004-2005 season I could tell the Clippers were on their way up with a lineup of Chris Kaman, Elton Brand, Bobby Simmons, Corey Maggette, and Marko Jaric. I was expecting big things from the Clippers, but although it would not come just yet in 2004, my patience and faith in the Clippers was about to pay off in the coming years.
Part Two: "Rise through the Ranks"
In the 2004-2005 season the Clippers finished with 37 wins: 3 BETTER than the Lakers that year! I was looking forward to the next season with high hopes but I knew the Clippers would have to sign a scorer and a playmaker to support Brand and Co.
After Bobby Simmons signed with the Bucks, the Clippers made their blockbuster moves that changed the face of the franchise. They traded Marko Jaric and Lionel Chalmers for a great veteran and team player who had playoff experience: Sam Cassell.
On top of that, they inked sharpshooter Cuttino Mobley to a multi-year deal. Add promising second-year player Shaun Livingston, the ever vigilant Corey Maggette, and Elton Brand "the superstar" into the mix and you have the likes of a winning team. The 2005-2006 season was about to begin.
After watching the Clippers win their first game, I knew I'd be in for a special year. I don't know what it was, but it seemed that the whole team had all the intagibles to win. Behind the playmaking and leadership of Cassell and the scoring from Brand, the Clippers were finally in the playoffs snapping there 9-year absence. After a 45-win season campaign, Brand was up there with talks for MVP. After sealing the sixth seed, the Clippers were ready to take on the No. 3 Nuggets.
Part Three: "Playoff Time"
My heart was pounding. The Clippers were up by two with five seconds left and the Nuggets had the ball. Carmelo Anthony drove left, then right against Quinton Ross and shot a three pointer. I held my breath.
Clank! It rattled off the rim and the Clippers were victorious is Game One of the first round. They went on to outmatch and outplay the Nuggets much to the credit of EB and Sam Cassell.
So after a 4-1 first series win you would think the number of Clippers supporters would grow. Nope, people were just saying it was a fluke win against a weak Denver team.
Well to me it was a Clipper milestone, having won their first playoff series since 1976. After watching the Clips lose for so long, it was a surreal and heartwarming moment. I had finally experienced my Clippers winning.
But it couldn't stop there. I was excitedly anticipating a Lakers-Clippers Conference semi-final showdown. With the Lakers up 3-1, victory for them was evident. What could be a better way to prove who's better in LA than to have the crosstown rivals square off against each other in the playoffs? Unfortunately, my hopes were dashed as the Suns mounted a stirring comeback led by Steve Nash to edge the Lakers, 4-3.
With the absence of Amare Stoudemire, I thought with all my heart that the Suns were vulnerable enough to be dismantled by the Clippers. It was a dogfight from the start because although the Suns couldn't stop Brand from scoring, the Clips didn't have an answer for the Suns high flying offense.
The series was a see-saw going back and forth. In Game Five with 1.1 seconds to go in overtime, Raja Bell stepped up and hit a three to tie the game and force it to go to a second overtime. The Suns took advantage of the momentum and went on to win 125-118.
With their backs against the wall the Clippers kept their season alive in Game Six with a win 118-106 with a masterful performance by Brand. The stage was set for Game Seven. Neither team had won two games in a row in the series. So the Suns definitely had the advantage ,being that only about 37% of away teams win Game Seven.
I thought in my mind, if the Clippers could knock off the Suns and make the Conference Finals, it would make a huge statement to a large number of Clippers doubters out there. Besides, they had done too much to get to this point just to let it all slip away.
It stayed close till the end of the third when the Suns used their momentum and put the game away for good. The final score: Suns 127, Clippers 107.
In a losing effort, Brand put up 36 points and hauled down nine rebounds. Now the first thing that went through my mind was man, what a waste of a year. But then it dawned on me that this had once been one of the mediocre franchises in the NBA and they had stunned everyone by finishing in the top eight in the league.
For the LA Clippers, that type of season was smashing success. But to me, it was just a warm-up year. I believe the Clippers have the talent and potential to take themselves into uncharted waters where they have never been before. I have undertaken a new perspective of the Clippers: Championship or Bust
Part Four: "Just the Beginning"
I look forward to this season with a renewed vigor, hoping that the Clippers are hungry for more success. With the signing of Tim Thomas—who killed them in playoffs—it provides veteran stability off the bench. Shaun Livingston and Chris Kaman are a year better, EB is in the prime of his career, Cat can still drain those threes, and Q. Ross is a shutdown defender.
The Clippers have the players to take the team to a title, but they MUST utilize their talent first. Their major weakness is playing on the road (1-5 in playoffs). If they adjust from playing away from the friendly confines of Staples Center, this team will be a force in the West.
Their 20-21 record on the road was much improved from the previous year. But if they can transform their team into Road Warriors, 26 to 30 wins on the road, they can clinch a high seed (No. 2) and seal that much needed homecourt advantage for playoffs.
In doing this they will enable themselves to enjoy success past the second round.
You may view these expectations of mine to be quite lofty for the Clippers, but they can be fulfilled nevertheless.
Now do I believe that because the Clippers had one great season means that they're the best team ever? May it never be! If the Clips want the success they had 2005 for a long time, they're going to have to build off of last year's success.
Each and every day they must be out to prove themselves worthy of the NBA's elite. To me, it doesn't matter how bad they were in the past, or how well they did last year—though it provided good memories—what matter's is how they continue to play, because if they want the respect they deserve, they need to play like they're on a mission.
The Lakers are one of the great dynasties in basketball folklore and if the Clips want their name to be up there with them, they must turn the tide and start their own string of titles. They’ve started well, but it has only begun for them. The time is now, the future is bright for the Clippers, and success is evident.
(Note to reader: What you have just read was written in the summer of 06, the following is excerpts written in 2007 and 2008.)
The time is now September 2007. Injuries have decimated the Clippers roster, claiming Shaun Livingston and Elton Brand. Things don’t look too great for next season.
I find it funny how much my predictions have changed since last year, but it’s the down-to-earth truth. The stats don’t lie. Without a proven leader to guide the Clips through the storm, don’t expect any miracles for '08.
Well, fast forward to June 2008. You’d have to be crazy to not root for the Lakers now in LA as they battle the Celtics in an epic Finals match up. Don’t get me wrong, I’m rooting for them too!
Ever since I wrote those articles after the Clippers successful 2006 season in which they went 47-35 with a trip to the second round of the playoffs, things have taken a downward spiral as the Clippers have reverted back to their lousy old ways.
In the 2008 season without Elton Brand, the laughing-stock of the league remerged as their overall record stood at 23-59. I went to a game this year as the Clips played the Knicks. Even though the Clippers won, as I was sitting in my seat a bad taste came into my mouth.
There was no hustle, and seeing Dan Dickau step onto the court made me think, man, this team has fallen hard from 2 years ago. The Clippers barely defeated the Knicks by three points but I was simply despondent.
The team that I had rooted for had abandoned me. All those late nights staying up and watching their games, not doing homework, crying through losses, cheering through victories and finally seeing some success in '06 was put to waste.
The Clippers have marked themselves as one of the most futile franchises in the NBA. Why shouldn’t I root for the Lakers instead? They are the true superior team in LA, don’t I deserve to enjoy that?
I could easily put the innocent face on right now and say I am a die-hard Clipper fan and always will be, no matter how good the Lakers are. But I’m not. Ask anyone in LA right now and they’ll say that the Lakers are the best ticket in town and the team to watch. They deserve it.
When you have the best player in the league with the right supporting cast battling their old rivals in the championship, how could you not root for them in LA?
The bottom line is this: I am not betraying the Clippers. The Clippers have betrayed me.
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