Beaten Red & Blue: Why I Became a Clippers Fan
In no other building in professional sports is there a dichotomy of franchises quite like that in Staples Center. One franchise is the icon of success in professional basketball. It's a team where rising stars go to skyrocket to unfathomable heights. Banners and retired jerseys adorn the rafters of the building as constant reminders of greatness.
The other is relative to The Lion King's elephant graveyard; where once magnificent players roamed is now the lifeless field of broken psyches and torn knee ligaments. A perennial top-ten lottery team, an above .500 team is a rarity; a playoff team is unthinkable.
To say that the Los Angeles Lakers and the Los Angeles Clippers have taken different paths in their histories is an understatement. To say that the Clippers held their inaugural franchise meeting on an Indian burial ground would be a lie, but if it did happen, it would at least help to explain the run of bad luck the franchise has incurred in the last 25 years.
This piece isn't so much a comparison of the two franchises; the comparisons are unfair and have been made countless times: the Lakers are still polishing the Larry O'Brien trophy after winning their 16th NBA championship this past June, whereas the Clippers won the annual "Battle of Futility" in landing prized rookie Blake Griffin in last summer's NBA draft.
The point of this piece is to answer a question that, since my baptism as a Clippers fan one season ago, has confused me to no end. The question is this: why is it that Clippers fans are viewed with such universal disdain?
My Clippers fandom began with the trade of Baron Davis in 2008. After viewing his frantic, fast-paced playing style with the Golden State Warriors in the 2007 playoffs, his move to the "other" Los Angeles franchise stemmed my interest in the team. With a lifelong Clipper fan as a friend, the adjustment of becoming a Clippers fan (coupled with cheap seats) was an easy one.
I had been a Lakers fan since my birth. My first basketball memories began with an innate hatred of the Utah Jazz after an 18-year-old Kobe Bryant missed a game-winning three to send the Utah Jazz to the NBA Finals.
My key developmental basketball memories include standing on my bed as a 10-year-old jumping up and down after the ‘99-00 Lakers made their improbable comeback against the Portland Trailblazers to start the Shaq-Kobe dynasty for the next three years, and the Robert Horry three-pointer to even the Lakers-Kings series in ‘01-02.
Perhaps back then, in my self-absorbed childhood, I expected nothing; I was ignorant to "Showtime", I had no memories of West and Chamberlain, only books. The reason for my shift in preference with the Lakers stemmed from the realization that people expected Lakers teams to win every year.
When you watch a Lakers game this season, comprised of a starting lineup from an all-star game, the idea that the team might lose that night is angering. After all, how can such a stellar roster not win? The crowds at Lakers games I've been at in the last year, including playoff games, were almost irritated that games were close, believing that every game should be a blowout.
Myself included, Lakers fans live a life of privilege. The most recent "hardships" of the franchise had Kobe and company missing the playoffs in ‘04-'05, yet still posting 40 wins. I challenge Lakers fans to recall a roster in which there were no future hall-of-famers (answer: anyone remember the 1994 Cedric Ceballos-led Lakers? Didn't think so.)
By contrast, the Clippers are the supposed "loveable losers" that no one loves. The Clippers have retired no jerseys, have had more busts than a Greco-roman museum, and have reached the playoffs once(!) in the last 17 years.
So then why the hate? You can't compare the two teams fairly; one clearly has the superior history. Why is it, then, when I mention that I own a Steve Novak Clippers jersey, that people berate and dismiss me?
Perhaps it's the fact that it being a Clippers fan is a slap in the face to privilege and opportunity I have to be a Lakers fan. This is an argument I could understand; there are very few franchises like the Lakers, and to turn your back on opportunity often angers those who have never had it.
However, when actually arguing with Lakers fans, I have yet to actually have an enriching discussion as to why I should not be a Clippers fan. The majority of Lakers fans throw out the initial "Clippers suck" jab, peppered with some "Well, what do you expect, they're the Clippers"-like comments which are then book-ended by the adept "Lakers rule". Why would I ever want to be a part of a fan base whose skills of persuasion and communication rival a brick wall?
So here it is. I got tired of only being 12 games into the season and getting so much crap from Lakers fans that I could fill a purple-and-gold wheelbarrow. Thus, I compiled all of the main arguments I could think of for being a Clippers fan.
One fact you can't argue against being a Clippers fan is cheaper seats.
To go to a Lakers game and sit in the nosebleed seats would cost 50-60 dollars; at a Clippers game, those seats are 15 dollars. Season tickets for this year could have been purchased in the preseason for $410.00. That's less than ten dollars per game!
If you look at the product that you are paying for at a basketball game, you are paying for the arena, the seats, the opponents, and the home team. The first three of these are identical for both the Clippers and the Lakers. The final factor explains the difference in price, but for what? Compare the two current rotations of starters for the rosters of both teams:
Lakers: Kobe Bryant, Paul Gasol, Ron Artest, Lamar Odom, Derek Fisher, Andrew Bynum
Clippers: Baron Davis, Chris Kaman, Marcus Camby, Al Thorton, Eric Gordon, Blake Griffin
While 60 dollars may be proper pricing for the Lakers, 15 dollars a game for the Clippers roster is a steal. The monetary plus of the Clippers coincides with a more innate one: no expectations.
Like mentioned before, Lakers fans often become restless with the performance of their team when they fail to decimate lesser teams. The annual expectation for the Lakers is "championship-or-bust". The catharsis comes from winning the title, but for the other 47 years of Lakers history where they did not win the title, there was failure.
With the Clippers, I return to the times when I was 11-years old. I had no expectations and no frame of reference for the Lakers, which made the championships that much more satisfying. Never knowing if the current game was their last, these games gave me my finest basketball memories. Watching the Clippers, I feel the same way.
When I watched the Clippers beat the Boston Celtics on television last year (from the second quarter when I turned it on until the end of the game), the game was the most suspenseful rewarding basketball game I had watched in years, even more rewarding than the Lakers winning their 16th championship on my birthday this past summer (and I'm not being flippant here; while Kobe winning a ring on his own was a nice story, this past year's NBA Finals paled in comparison to past Lakers championships).
The level of reward when the Clippers win is worth enough for me to stay a Clippers fan, but it's fellow Clippers fans that make me proud to say I am one. Steadfast in their loyalty, Clippers fans face the annual bullying from their cross-town rivals, deal with the losses, and tolerate the stigma that they are the lesser of two groups. Where they succeed against their cross-town rivals, however, is in the character of their fans exhibit. I have yet to personally meet a Clippers fan I wouldn't want to have as a close friend (and that includes Clipper Darrell).
For an educational observation, I sat in on a freshman English class. Seeing my laptop with the Baron Davis "Fear the Beard" background, a boy walked up to me, asked me if I had seen the game, chatted me up, and left for his desk only after the first bell and second bells had rung and his teacher had yelled at him for not getting back. He was wearing a bright red Clippers sweatshirt.
On the flip side, the throngs of annoying Lakers fans are countless. While I blame some people for just adapting a sports team to their already annoying personality, normal people I know become sucked into this "vacuum of annoyance" whenever their team comes up in conversation. By comparison, Clippers fans share a humble bond in their experience and suffering; while Clippers and Lakers fans may become fans, Clippers fans never leave. The Clippers have never heard the term "fair-weather".
Lastly, Clippers fans have a glimmer of hope in Blake Griffin. The words to describe Griffin's college and summer league careers would be both "frightening" and "dominant". With Griffin, the franchise has the opportunity to turn the page. The camaraderie that Lakers fans have is suspect; if you live in Los Angeles, you're a Lakers fan. Being a Clippers fan, you have the chance to be a part of something unique. When the Clippers broke through in 2006, how amazing do you think it felt to be a long-time Clippers fan and finally reach the playoffs? How incredible do you think it was when they won a series and then took the semifinals series to seven games?
Being a part of that fan base must have been unbelievable, and it's something I want to be a part of. Being a witness to the development of Blake Griffin is something I want to be a part of. Watching and cheering for the Baron Davis-led offense is something I want to be a part of. Seeing a team go from 19-63 to a playoff team is something that I want to be a part of. The Clippers are a team that I want to be a part of. This piece isn't saying that I'm no longer a Lakers fan; the childhood memories of staying up late to watch conference finals games can't be replaced. What I am saying though is that I am a Clippers fan, and that's something not a lot of people in Los Angeles can say truthfully.