L.A.'s Basketball rivalry is a real thing now: My trip to the Laker/Clipper showdown

 

And it’s about time we had something even remotely resembling a pro sports rivalry in this town.

28 years after the Clippers moved here from San Diego, it’s actually on. After years of mocking the bums, smacking them around, holding them at arms length by placing your palm on their forehead while they flail wildly (like you would do to your little brother), this has turned into an actual fair fight.

Better late than never though, right?

If you’ve been to a Laker/Clipper game before, and I’ve been to my share of ’em, then you’ve been privy to the type of humiliation that the fans of most crappy teams have to endure when the rock star-type teams pay them a visit. You know, like having to watch your own crowd chant “MVP” at Kobe while he dissects your team like a frog in an 8th grade anatomy lab.

Over the years, having a significantly louder pro-Laker presence at these games was the norm, sometimes to an embarrassing degree. It’s the price you pay for being the second-class citizen in a town that accepts winning and winning only. Every once in a blue moon, the Clips have actually been un-shitty enough to lure some fans into actually coming out to support them, like in 2007 when they came within one Raja Bell 3 pointer of the Western Conference Finals.

Your author, dwarfed by the immensity of Chick Hearn

Of course, that was their one and only playoff appearance in the 21st century, but unlike Laker fans, the Clipper crowds don’t disappear just because the wins do. Call it loyalty or co-dependence or whatever else you want to, but if being the league laughing-stock for the last 20 years hasn’t dissuaded the fans from coming to see them, I’m not sure it can be done.

Now, shit really done changed. Now, they have a good enough team to actually, gasp, challenge the Lakers for city supremacy. Now the Laker fans, long secure in their superiority, suddenly acted and talked like they are under siege, only the tone is more dismissive than defensive.

Until this year, that is.

I was at the second pre-season game between the two, and not only did it have a legitimate playoff feel to it, there was also a palpable sense of bitterness in the air. At that game, you could literally feel the Laker fans’ sense of entitlement turn to hostility and utter contempt as the Clippers beat them decisively.

Now for someone like me who, while a Laker fan for over twenty years, still managed to root for the Donald Sterling’s team the way you root for the nerd in the teen movie, the emergence of a real LA rivarly is nothing but good times. For the other 99.9% of the Laker fan base however, this shit stopped being funny as soon as the weakling little brother had the temerity to fight back.

Now, it’s on like Flan, or whatever.

So, having had the good fortune to score 12th row seats to Wednesday’s LA vs LA showdown, I was just as excited by what the crowd dynamic would be like as the actual result of the game. On both counts, I got everything I could have wished for, plus a complete soul stealing to boot, courtesy of Blake Griffin.

Ok, so there’s getting dunked on, then there’s getting completely fucking emasculated, and then there’s whatever this was, which I’m struggling categorize, to be honest. I mean, that was some straight-up prison shit. And wouldn’t you know it, the crowd reaction was fascinating. It went from wildly jubilant to rather hostile in a 10 second span. For every person who was excited to see the latest Blake Griffin posterization, you had a Laker fan screaming in rebuttal, completely confident in the notion that Griffin had not only steamrolled Gasol in an illegal manner, but given him an elbow in the mush to boot.

That play was a microcosm of the entire game, at least as the crowd was concerned. The reactions were more or less 50/50, which meant that it was about as loud as you’ll ever here a Staples season crowd in a non-playoff game.  By my count there were still more Kobe jerseys than Griffin ones, but not by much, and where the cheers of the Clip fans embodied hope, the Laker fans sounded angry and defiant, as if “we told you, this is our town” was the message they wanted to send.

On this night it was, and for all intents and purposes this win has locked up yet another Pacific division title for the incumbent superpower, those fabulous Lakers of Los Angeles. That said, it took 36 points (and about a dozen stare-downs of the opposing bench) from Andrew Bynum, and Kobe’s most restrained, efficient game in months (31 points on 13-19 shooting) to get it done after the Laker bench squandered yet another big lead in the 4th quarter.

Still, I can’t help but feel like who won or lost this game is beside the point. What matters for now is that this city has an actual basketball rivalry, after years of Laker dominance. Hell, if the beleaguered front office can find a way to hold onto Blake Griffin and Chris Paul beyond next year and find a coach who can get the best out of this roster (paging Mike D’Antoni!) we could just be getting started with the battle of Los Angeles stuff. Even if the Lakers have bigger fish to fry as of right now, it might not be that case if the underdogs’ ascension continues.

Bring it on, I say. Inter-city rivalries are a good thing, so long as you are on the right side.

The winning side, of course.

-John Hathwell

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