Living legend Yannaedo Balloo is back again to talk hoops with the TehBen faithful, and this go ’round he’s got a doozy for us.
Last time I was here, I waxed poetic about different ways of engaging with and following the NBA through means other than team fandom. For the majority of people watching the sport however, allegiance to a team and banner is the only way to go. The ebb and flow of that dedication is comparable to the flashes and bangs that make and unmake galaxies, sometimes reaching our eyes long after the event has transpired across a darkness.
What I’m saying is: people hop on bandwagons pretty predictably.
Let’s clear the air, and say something at the outset: I’m in no way attacking people who jump on board when “their team”starts performing, or that choose a winning team to be “their team.” You’re there to be entertained, and a dynamic winner is more entertaining than a loser with heart.
So, this brings me to the Los Angeles Clippers. I mentioned them passing last time, but the Clippers really deserve a long form discussion. As of the time of this writing, the Clippers are sitting #1 in the Western conference with the same number of wins as the Golden State Warriors (15) and two fewer losses. (The oddity of this ranking is that one of those Warriors losses was sustained by the Clippers themselves).
This season I’m eating crow in the best of ways, because I openly thought the Clippers were in for a tank season. But holy hell, are they better than the sum of their parts! There are better analysts out there, waxing on the present state of the team’s top shelf chemistry and performance, and how they’re as difficult to play against. Counter that with the Houston Rockets, that have suddenly become easy to strangle (ref: the Rockets are currently ranked at #14 out of the 15 teams in the Western conference). What I find more interesting however, is a thought experiment about what would happen if the Clippers were to somehow win an NBA championship. I said in my last piece here that nothing is settled until All Star Weekend, and this is still the flash bang of the season’s newborn universe cooling after conception. But LA is such a weird town for its fandom, and the NBA operates not unlike so many twists in Game of Thrones. With that said, I want to run the hypothetical results of the LA Clippers winning their first championship in this 2018-19 season. Imagine with me, if you will:
Playoffs to Victory: Sales of Clippers jerseys skyrocket the moment they qualify for Western Conference Finals for the first time ever, breaking the curse. A lot of Lakers fans who were ready the moment the Clippers lost in the Semis to say “I told ya so” (despite not actually having said anything), start to murmur, cautiously, that this might be the year. Lakers fans are an entitled and cold lot. I moved out to LA ten years ago, already a Clippers fan and was astonished to find that I got more hate from LA natives for this than I’d ever experienced back East. (I’m a born Knicks fan, but once they started the long slow journey of decades long mismanagement, I picked a Western team to follow).
The excitement around the Clippers making it to the WCF and then the Finals themselves would probably be more hyped by non-LA fans than Angelenos themselves. Most Angelenos will buy tickets to the games and attend while muttering under their breaths,“about time.”
I don’t know if you picked up on the polarizing responses and follow up to LeBron signing with the Lakers, but they are indicative of an entitlement this city has with regards to its teams. The Lakers have won the second most titles in NBA history (Boston has them by one), so if the next number one draft pick, or mega star fee agent signing doesn’t bring them a championship, half of the city quotes Ariana Grande and hits them with a “thank u, next.” This is why there’s such palpable and vocal faith that LeBron HAS to bring home a championship, especially since the team is showing any kind of chemistry at all. It’s the Lakers. It’s THEIR Lakers.
Meanwhile the Clippers? There’s a deep seated resentment to the team that these fans seem to think validates the Lakers even further. Steve Ballmer has done everything in his power to make the people here love them. I have a FREE pair of Chuck Taylors thanks to Ballmer. He gave out free shoes to an entire arena, and this city still hates his team. Jesus had an easier time with the Pharisees.
So yeah, there’d be some bandwagon support through the playoffs, but…
Free Agency: Those local fans would take ANYTHING that happens in free agency as an excuse to jump right back into their comfort zone of hating the Clippers. Sign Kawhi or Durant or any other all star? They’d get accused of having a win go to their heads, and thinking they can buy another championship. However, I don’t see this calculus happening. I actually think the more likely option of them signing marquee talent like one of the aforementioned is if they make it to the Conference Finals and lose there. Usually, the superstars on the market are the ones who want to prove that they are the “secret sauce” to a championship win, and try not to sign with one until later in their careers. But if the Clippers win? They’re just another Kevin Durant joining the winning team to inflate their legacy. So the Clippers winning a ‘chip this season makes it less likely in my opinion they’ll sign a really monster talent. In which case, they work on their bench depth, do some work on draft picks, and continue bringing up young talent. Draft picks are the easiest thing in the world to hate, so at least there’ll be that.
Every narrative needs a villain, but it doesn’t really need a Biff. The Clippers are a helluva Biff though. Take into account that they’re one of only 3 teams to never make it to the Playoffs Finals. So, much like in Parks and Rec when Jerry/Gary/Larry left briefly and Tom turned into the new butt of the office jokes, if the Clippers win…who’s the NBA punching bag? We have a villain in the Warriors thanks to their recent success, but this season is putting a lot of that into question regarding its sustainability. The Warriors finally look human, and it sounds like Yoko Ono is latched onto Durant’s Lennon.
Whatever happens this season, it feels like we’re on the verge of a nova, doesn’t it? It very likely won’t have as dramatic and bang & flash as the Clippers winning a chip (if they do, I promise here to buy a red and blue suit to wear to every playoffs game like Clipper Darrell), but there’s definitely a fusion occurring. For now though, the universe is in the flow opposite to the usual ebb of entropy. The league is the most entertaining and intriguing that it’s been in some time.