Any one who knows me knows that I am a Clipper fan for life. Look, it hasn’t been easy. For years, being a Clipper fan in LA was basically like wearing a “Kick Me” sign on your back. The Lakers were consistently top contenders in the NBA, whereas the Clippers were essentially a laughing stock. Lakers home games at STAPLES Center were always packed with thousands of Kobe jerseys, but the Clippers games saw as many empty seats as occupied ones. Don’t even get me started on Laker v Clippers games.
And Laker fans were relentless. Their cockiness, while maybe deserved, showed itself in a constant mocking of their “joke” counterpart, conjuring up a hatred in the mercilessly teased Clipper fans.
But, we carried on. And because of it, I think we formed a stronger bond and a tighter knit community. I feel immediate solidarity with Clippers fans. Many of my close friends are Clippers fans or so-called “Laker Haters.” Some by coincidence and some entirely by design. Solidarity as fans and a minority in LA is literally the basis of some of my closest relationship.
All of a sudden things started to change. Starting with the draft of Blake Griffin in 2010 and continuing with the acquiring of Chris Paul and coach Doc Rivers in subsequent years, the Clippers began to become a serious force in the NBA. This all just as the Lakers seemed to be on a severe decline. Sure this ushered in a bunch of bandwagon fans, changing the landscape of our court side seats from the likes of Frankie Muniz and Billy Crystal to Rihanna and Justin Bieber. But us lifers know who the true fans are. Let’s just put it nicely and say Lakers fans do not seem too happy about the change in relationship between the teams and leave it at that.
The last few years things have been going better than ever. Sure we’ve had unfortunate injuries. We’ve suffered our share of disappointment and heartbreak, having lost in the early rounds of the playoffs. But it looked like this could be our year. After a rough season, it looked like we had a chance for a run at that sweet title. Then this past weekend everything changed.
TMZ released a tape of a racist rant by Clippers owner Donald Sterling, in which he tells his (half black) girlfriend not to promote association with African Americans and not to bring them to the games, singling out Lakers legend Magic Johnson specifically.
While Sterling has long had a reputation as a racist, the release of this tape could not have come at a worse time for the Clippers (not that there is ever a good time). In the midst of a first round playoff series against the Golden State Warriors, the players and coaches were faced with a dilemma as how to best proceed.
Their decision was to play. They made a statement against Sterling by hiding the team logo from all gear (even wearing jerseys that say Los Angeles as opposed to Clippers), and wearing black armbands and socks. It was extremely admirable to still play, effectively sending out the message “This is our team, not his.” But the drama clearly hung heavy over their heads as we played way off and ended up losing.
Today Adam Silver proved himself a great commissioner, announcing a commendable decision. This included a lifetime NBA ban for Sterling, as well as a $2.5 million fine. He also is encouraging the board of owners to vote to force Sterling to sell the team. Silver, nor I, have any doubt the vote will go through with at least the 3/4 majority needed.
Before we can think about the future of the team, however, we have to focus on tonight’s upcoming game and the rest of the post-season. It is my hope that Sterling’s ruling will put the players minds at ease. Doc Rivers has proven to be an extraordinary leader during this whole ordeal, and I pray he can lead the team out of the darkness. This scandal could very well cost us this series (if we lose I have no doubt it will be because we are distracted like last game), but we don’t have to let it.
Sterling has long been a terrible owner and especially in light of these revelations I couldn’t be happier at the prospect of new ownership. There are plenty of rumors flying around, but anyone will be better. “We Are One” and we will be stronger than ever.
Good luck to my boys and I will be supporting you from across the country!