For the second entry of the CLS series, we will review the renewed rivalry between the two Los Angeles NBA teams, and its significance in the grand history of both teams histories.
Recent history aside, the National Basketball Association’s presence in Los Angeles has been a classic case of “big brother, little brother,” with the Clippers getting the short end of the stick. This is not to say that the Clippers do not have a dedicated fanbase, they most certainly do, nor that they do not get the inherent support of Lakers haters across the United States, which they also do, but rather that the Lakers orgy of championship success casts a huge shadow.
The Lakers recent history begins in 1979, when they were acquired by Dr. Jerry Buss as part of a $67 million deal for the Lakers, Kings, and Los Angeles Forum; the Lakers constituted $16 million for the deal at the time, and were recently evaluated as being worth around $1 billion. The Lakers have 10 championships since, played in 16 NBA finals, and have sustained excellence, with the exception of a few notable bumps in the road, for that period. They were “show time,” a massive display of entertainment for the fans, led by great basketball minds, such as Jerry West, and given support from Jerry Buss, who would pay a lot for the right people.
Buss, who supported David Stern’s more moderate approach during the 2011 NBA lockout, also actively supported Magic Johnson when Johnson made his HIV announcement; he stood by Kobe Bryant as Bryant dealt with legal proceedings related to an alleged sexual assault; he made player and personnel changes which didn’t make sense. However, his leadership and decisions have worked out, for the most part.
By contrast, the Clippers seemingly could not get anything going for themselves. It was not until the recent acquisitions of Chris Paul and Blake Griffin that the Clippers made themselves relevant outside of their own fan base. It seems like their history is full of moments where they looked good, then fell, and then rebuilt, and the cycle went on and on. They just could not get the right pieces assembled at the right time; many of their players worked out, just not when on the Clippers, or they didn’t have enough pieces around them to make it work.
However, CP3 and Griffin have changed the dynamic. With the Lakers nearly $20 million into the luxury tax, the Lakers will be cash strapped in the near future, and limited by their potential options. The Clippers, who are harnessing the power of their two superstars, are on a good road; while not the best team in the NBA, they are, at the moment at least, better than the Lakers, and poised to make a playoff run. You can see them making a serious charge into the conference semi-finals.
So, what once was a dull fight has escalated into a full-fledged battle, right? Maybe not. The Lakers are under a new regime which has not been as successful as they would have liked, and perhaps the Clippers’ ownership is telling the organization that now is the time to strike; don’t let up, no mercy, just lay it on ’em that the Clippers are the better team right now. However, again, this is a bit much; the Clippers’ history suggests that they are doomed to meltdown at some point pretty soon.
I hope not, though. Having lived in New York when both the Yankees and Mets were doing well, I can tell you that nothing invigorates a city’s sport culture quite like having both teams do well. Los Angeles, which currently lacks an NFL franchise, is deserving of having two contenders in the NBA, even if a lot of people outside LA don’t like the Lakers and want to see the Clippers smash them up.
I would love to see, one day, a Western conference finals between the two Los Angeles NBA teams; then it wouldn’t be a battle, it would be a war, and one great show.