Chris Paul wasn’t used to seconds. It had never happened.
He was the bright star of New Orleans, the fourth pick in the draft. From 38 wins to 56 wins to a playoff upset of the Mavericks. Chris Paul was treated like family. After Hurricane Katrina forced his move to Oklahoma, he was loved there too. When the Hornets returned to NOLA, Chris Paul was hailed for his work in the devastated lower 9th ward area. Chris Paul never turned his back on his people.
And then Chris Paul came to Los Angeles and a cold bucket of water was dumped on his head. Outside of Staples home games, he is booed by the locals. He can’t attend a Dodger game without Lakers fans rising up against him with disgust because a) he plays for the Clippers, and b) he was a Laker that the Clippers stole from under their nose.
It’s not unique to Chris Paul. Blake Griffin and every other Clipper who gets love at Clippers sanctioned events receive the Laker city treatment. A Kobe centered Los Angeles means you have loyalties. You hate the Celtics. You hate LeBron. You hate everyone on the Clippers. But now that Bryant has retired and the Lakers are out of the playoffs for a good while as they try to rebuild, the Clippers have an opportunity to make inroads. No one expects them to convert all Lakers fans but a lot of the fair weathered fake fans who only care about a winner, the Clippers can bring to their side. But they have to win like a champion and prove they can both entertain and dominate without brain freezes like what happened with Houston last year.
The Clippers have a pretty glaring problem in trying to pull the city on their side. They have not been out of the second round of the playoffs in their history. Their team in 2015-16 was good but not great. They still had a major weakness in that they were one of the worst rebounding teams in the league (ranked 25th, worse than the Lakers) during the regular season. Their guards were terrible at pulling down boards. They didn’t play hard all the time and Wesley Johnson is on their roster, so is Austin Rivers. Johnson and Rivers wouldn’t crack the other top contenders rotation. The Clippers are a mix of excellent and average.
Los Angeles loves a winner and it loves theater. The Lakers have been that for much of their history, even these miserable few years. The script has changed, from great to rebuilding. In the draft, Brandon Ingram was a pick that may return the team to the top by year 2020. Or, not. Regardless, the Lakers have decades of excellence on their side and the ability to spin almost any disaster so it looks like it was planned that way. This year the script is, we’re young, we’re learning.
It’s hard to take down a behemoth. Even with a miserable year, the Lakers television ratings still outperformed the Clippers even though the Clippers are closing the gap. But the gap was still there for a team in the lottery. Lakers merchandise still moves in stores at a rapid rate despite their misery. Go to certain parts of the city and you will see Lakers flags and bumper stickers and license plate holders and not a Clipper anything for miles. On the year, the Clippers had 8,000 more fans at their games which averages into 195 more people per game. Perhaps you can attribute that small disparity in fan attendance to Kobe’s farewell, but in 2014-15 the Clippers had 19,000 more fans at their games, a 463 fan advantage which is not overwhelming considering the state of the two franchises, one in heaven and the other in hell.
Making inroads in L.A. is even tougher because the Lakers are a family business and have been run by the Buss’ folk since 1979. The theme of family keeps Lakers fans attached to the organization. Jeanie Buss does an expert job at making fans believe they are part of the Buss extended clan, something the Clippers have never embraced as a strategy to win fan loyalty. On multiple levels, the Clippers are comfortable as the second child in the city.
Even if the Clippers make it to the Finals in 2017, it will be hard for Chris Paul and Blake Griffin to eclipse what Kobe Bryant managed in his twenty years. He was a 17 year old the city saw grow up and along the way he won 5 titles. Chris Paul was a great get for the Clips but he was first offered to the Lakers so there is a lot of bitterness that will never allow him unconditional love.
The Clippers were the only L.A. team playing in April these past three years. When they lost to Houston last year by choking away a 3-1 lead, Lakers fans laughed. When Chris Paul broke his hand and Blake Griffin re-injured the quad this year, Lakers fans were bored. They had the lottery to worry about, and keeping their pick.
Paul and Griffin in the last year of their deals have Clipper fans anxious and Lakers fans not paying attention. The Lakers are talented and very young. The Clippers are talented and old and the same losing in the first or second round thing. Losing with talent doesn’t sell in L.A.
And so the takeover is on pause for now.
photo via llananba