The Clippers are a legitimately good team.
They went 40-26 last season, one game back of the Pacific Division winning Los Angeles Lakers. Then this summer they went out and added Lamar Odom, Grant Hill and Jamal Crawford. They have the best point guard in the game in Chris Paul — a guy you can argue even today is the single best player in Los Angeles. They have a dynamic and athletic front line with Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. They are fun to watch and may well be the third best team in the Western Conference right now.
And in Los Angeles, it’s like they barely exist.
Same as it ever was. Same as it ever was.
Ever since the Lakers moves to trade for Steve Nash and Dwight Howard, the Clippers have felt invisible in Los Angeles (where I am from). You don’t read much about them in the sports pages, you don’t hear about them on sports talk radio, they don’t get much play anywhere. The Clippers may have turned a corner, they are a quality playoff team, but the dynamic in Los Angeles now with the Clippers has not changed. The only time they get mentioned is when we are reminded the Lakers are still better.
Los Angeles is a Lakers town. The NFL moved on from Los Angeles a generation ago (and kind of lost said generation to the X-Games sports). The Los Angeles Dodgers couldn’t seem to get on track, going from an owner where you didn’t think things could get worse — FOX — to an owner who actually was worse. (The new ownership group is working to change all of that.)
Through it all, the Lakers kept on winning. They did it with Shaq and Kobe Bryant. Shaq went away and they eventually did it with Pau Gasol. You can trace a lineage of winning back to George Mikan. The Lakers maintained a standard of excellence that no NBA team has matched over the past couple decades.
In a Los Angeles that can be transient (a lot of people move here due to the entertainment industry… and the weather), the Lakers are the one generational team right now. The Dodgers are trying to recover that, but it is the Lakers where your grandfather watched Jerry West, your father watched Magic Johnson and you watched Kobe. It is the one constant, the one sporting bond that can be passed down the way Green Bay Packers or Chicago Bears fans pass down season tickets generation to generation
And when the Lakers are the story they can drown out everything in L.A.. USC football will get its spotlight this year. But that will not ignite the passions of most Angelenos like the Lakers (half of L.A is still UCLA fans).
The Clippers, for all the changes and for all the excitement around the franchise right now, for all the hope they can generate going into the playoffs next year, they are still the other team. The little brother. Lakers fans don’t look on the Clippers as rivals so much as an annoying roommate.
That roommate is going to be a very good team this year. There are questions — Can DeAndre Jordan step up? Can Vinny Del Negro really lead them far? — but the Clips should be talking about 55 wins or more and getting out of the first round of the playoffs again. They should be talking about taking the next step or steps forward.
They are. It’s just hard to hear them in Los Angeles over the Lakers.