Replete with panoramic ocean-side views, year-round temperate weather, and inspirational rags-to-riches stories, L.A.’s victorious personality is a credit to its well-spring of sports teams.
From John Wooden’s UCLA Bruins dominating the college basketball world to Magic Johnson’s fast-breaking “showtime” Lakers to the perennial Rose Bowl contending USC Trojans, L.A. seems to breed and groom its champions in cycles.
UCLA made it to the NCAA Finals once again in 2006, much to the joy of Los Angelenos. While they lost, the men’s volleyball program won their 19th title.
The Lakers rebuilt themselves from mediocrity in the mid-1990s to win three straight championships with Shaq and Kobe at the forefront, leaving the entire city buzzing with Laker-fever.
USC won consecutive football titles-falling short of a third-to the cheers of a town thirsty for college glory.
Los Angeles is a winning town, a city where winners are praised, glorified and turned into instant celebrities, evident by the number of times the Trojans’ Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart have appeared on cable TV late-shows. Winning brings recognition, acclaim and love from those who live vicariously through athletes. The postseason is not the same without an L.A. team we demand and expect to win.
Which is why I’m perplexed by the current state of affairs.
An L.A. team is once again in the NBA playoffs, advancing to the second round, playing the league MVP to a stand-still, while displaying the type of athletic prowess and teamwork that basketball pundits marvel at. And yet there is some odd aura surrounding this winning team, a blanket dampening the gleeful cheers normally in full escalation by now. Where are the car-flags leading a procession of die-hard fans down the freeway? Where are the billboards proclaiming the city’s faith and loyalty in its team? Where are the endorsement deals for an entire national audience to behold?
Oh yes, did I mention that this L.A. team is the Clippers?
These are the same Clippers who share housing with the Lakers in Staples Center; the same Clippers whose celebrity-sightings include Penny Marshall and Billy Crystal and not Jack Nicholson. The same Clippers who last made the playoffs in the 1997 season; the same Clippers who charge $800 for courtside playoff seats to the Lakers’ $2,200.
These Clippers are not what they used to be-a flash in the pan. They have done what is necessary to win in today’s world, namely spending money and toiled through seasons of mediocrity (call it “seasoning”).
The Clippers were the very definition of wretched, the running joke of the NBA. They posed no threat of climbing out of their mired mess, especially in a town where the raising of championship banners is an annual event.
But then something changed, the mindset behind the organization shifted, and the origin of today’s team was born. They signed their players to long-term contracts and then paid even more for the right coach to come in and put all the pieces together.
Coach Mike Dunleavy brought toughness and a sense of desperate awareness to a team that had gone nearly two decades without a clear-cut leader. He got his players to play hard, regardless of the outcome, because that’s what winners do.
Yet part of the Clippers’ charm is that such success is fleeting, gone the minute it’s taken for granted, reduced to a memory of jump-shots and dunks all for naught. And still, with failure almost expected of them, these Clippers have battled not only against their on-court opposition, but the lack of support from its home as well. Where the Lakers bring glitz and glamour to the arena, the Clippers bring heart. People seem to be more interested in being seen at the Laker game than being at the game itself; those crowds are more self-absorbed than the Clipper crowd attuned to the game on the hardwood. Such simplicity is often overlooked by the media, replacing team effort and dedication with selfishness masked as leadership.
The Clippers may never match the glory of its Los Angeles counterparts, but in one vital way it already has: they have won. And in a town that loves its winners, I wonder why there’s so very little given to them?
Talin Maghakian can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.