When you think of basketball in Los Angeles, you think of the purple and gold. The championships. Kareem and Magic. Kobe and Shaq. The glitz and the glamour. Jack Nicholson sitting courtside. Conventional wisdom indicates that there is just one basketball team that dominates the headlines in L.A. If you asked most natives, UCLA would probably be the second-most popular answer if you were playing Family Feud. However, for the first time since, well, ever, L.A. has two sheriffs in town now, with the rise of the L.A. Clippers.
The Los Angeles Clippers have been the laughing stock of the NBA for years, epitomizing how not to run a franchise. Conversely, the Lakers have been a model of excellence. No matter the year the motto is “championship or bust.” However, this year, it has become more and more evident that the tides are turning in Tinseltown.
Let’s first focus on each team’s players. The Lakers have superstars, but all are arguably past their prime. Kobe is still Kobe, but he has racked up more minutes than Andy Rooney with his fantastic career nearing its end. Dwight Howard has brought nothing but drama in his first year with the Lakers and his back injury raises major question marks for the future. Pau Gasol recently suffered a foot injury, which does not bode well for any 7-footer’s career, even if he is well connected to Dr. Scholls. Steve Nash missed the first part of the year with a leg injury, and seems to be a shell of himself in a Laker uniform. The only thing Nash can do to play defense these days is hope that his awful haircut will distract the league’s top point guards. Even with the former Ron Artest on the team, the Lakers season and future can be called anything but peaceful.
As for the Clippers, they have arguably the best point guard in the league in Chris Paul. He not only walks the walk on the court, but off the court he talks the talk. He is a leader, and he makes the players around him better. Blake Griffin is the co-star for the Clips and he is the most exciting player in basketball. His dunks even make cops jealous. Jamal Crawford is easily the sixth man of the year, a bona-fide stud who brings an element of street ball to the court when he is in the game. Veterans such as Grant Hill, Lamar Odom and Chauncey Billups have chosen to play for this team because they thought it as their best opportunity to win a title. In years past, it would be like someone wanting to move to Seattle to get a better tan. Now the Clippers represent a team on the rise, full of promise for the future and a threat to take over as the new basketball team of Los Angeles.
In years past, the Clippers organization had to call businesses and fans for sponsorship and attendance. They practically had to rely on the league’s best opponents to help put butts in the seats for Clipper home games. These days, fans and sponsors are flocking to the Staples Center to be a part of the Clipper Magic. The Clipper stock is rising and everybody wants to buy a share. The Clippers have a better record, better team chemistry, and a better shot to win the title than the Lakers. However, it remains to be seen if they can win over the fans who look at L.A. as Laker Land.
The Lakers and Clippers play their home games in the same arena similar to two brothers who grow up living together in the same house. The Clippers have always been that younger brother who never gets any attention, while the Lakers have been the pride and joy of the Los Angeles family. The Lakers have all the awards, historic teams and players, and accolades to boot. The Clippers on the other hand don’t really have much to show in their trophy case. However, it looks like the little brother is finally growing up.
The Lakers beat the Mavericks on Sunday and acted as if they had advanced to the NBA Finals. The Mavericks are under .500 and are in danger of not making the playoffs, much like the Lakers. Sad, but times are changing as well as the standards. The Lakers never used to celebrate moral victories. The Lakers never used to make news when they went on a three-game winning streak. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are making the Clippers a force to be reckoned with and they are not going away anytime soon. Lob City has arrived and they are the closest thing to Showtime since Magic Johnson ran the point. They are a better team and a more viable contender for a championship. Is this a sign for things to come? We will have to see. Whether this becomes true, it still will take a huge effort surpass the Lakers as the pulse of Los Angeles. The fact that this is even a discussion now represents a new era in and of itself.
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