The Los Angeles sports market is the type of place where a clich like “one is never enough” fits.
Two professional baseball teams, two professional hockey teams, two professional soccer teams, four professional basketball teams and a bevy of college sports.
Amongst this feast of sport is a unique dynamic involving basketball’s Lakers and Clippers. Both teams play in the same league, in the same city and in the same arena. Of course, such a relationship is not new. However, this particular rapport is worthy of study.
Simply put, Los Angeles is doused in a sea of purple and gold. The Lakers have a profound importance in LA. They’re a hot trend that shows no signs of fading. They’ve built a legacy with many championships and mythical characters like Jerry West, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson and Kobe Bryant.
The Lakers are the A-List. They’re sexy. They’re hot. They’re the team the stars cheer for; complete with red carpets and hundreds of paparazzi.
And then, there are the Clippers.
There’s nothing sexy about the Clippers. No legacy. No championships. No attention. A team with more losing seasons than winning ones. If the National Basketball Association was a metaphor for high school, then the Lakers would be the popular jock; excelling in every feat of strength and loved by the ladies. The Clippers, on the other hand, would be the outcast; always shunned and ignored.
A few years ago, I posed the following question to Doug Smith of the Toronto Star on his Raptors blog:
“So the Lakers and Clippers share the Staples Center. Are there any significant differences between a Lakers game and a Clippers game (besides the obvious ones); or, do the LA teams amalgamate certain aspects of in-game entertainment?”
“They do nothing the same. From the court to the seating to the noise and distractions that go with a typical NBA outing, everything is different. The Lakers are much more showy, the Clips under-stated. The Laker Girls are omnipresent, the Clipper Spirit Crew shows up every now and then. The Jack Nicholson seats don’t exist at Clipper games; they are behind the scorer’s table. It really is like being in another arena.”
Life is not easy for Clipper fans. The team is off to another horrid start to the season; 1-9 as of Nov. 14. But being a Clippers fan is not necessarily the worst occupation.
Steve Perrin is the founder and editor of ClipsNation.com, a blog which declares the Clippers as “the second best basketball team in LA – definitely better than the [WNBA] Sparks.” He describes Clipper fans as contrarian; a group of people who choose to go against the mainstream way of thinking.
“Some citizens of Clips Nation grew up Laker fans, but became disenchanted at one point or another,” says Perrin, who experienced his own disenchantment with the Lakers during the well-documented era of Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal. “Some are transplants who didn’t like the Lakers or couldn’t afford the tickets and adopted the Clippers as their NBA team. The common thread is probably a desire, maybe even a need, to root for the underdog. Who wants to root for Goliath against David? There’s a sense of entitlement with the Lakers and their fans – the long-suffering Clipper fans are anything but entitled and wouldn’t want to be.”
Despite a good quality fan base, it would be easy to assume that the immense popularity of the Lakers would put a financial strain on the Clippers. However, Perrin notes the opposite is true.
“The Clippers also do a brisk business selling tickets to fans of their opponents,” explain Perrin. “For the typical Detroit transplant, it’s a lot cheaper to see the Pistons against the Clippers than the Lakers. Ever since the Clippers moved into the Staples Center, they’ve made money every season, despite the fact that they’ve only had a single playoff appearance during that time. So maintaining a presence in LA is a no-brainer from a business standpoint.”
Then there are the Clipper players. Imagine playing in the shadow of the Lakers. According to Perrin, the Clippers roster is more concerned with the legacy of their franchise – the aptly titled “Clippers Curse” – than dealing with the Lakers.
“The legacy is bad, whether you contrast it with the Lakers or not,” says Perrin. “All of these players want to succeed, they’ve succeeded at every level of basketball all their lives and they don’t believe in curses. They just want to help the Clippers succeed. So when they are the butt of a joke, that’s what gets to them. And there’s plenty of pressure that goes with that.”
It’s hard to tell if the Clippers will ever have a significant playoff run, let alone win a championship. However, the club will continue to operate in Laker-heavy LA. It definitely won’t be easy. But fans of the organization will never quiet their support and the players, regardless of their record, will never accept any imposed curse or second-fiddle status.
The Clippers are not going anywhere.