There’s a show in Los Angeles that everybody is talking about. People everywhere are buzzing about it, making plans to try and catch a glimpse of something they’ve never seen before. They all rush to their seats in anticipation, not quite knowing what to expect but knowing that what they are about to see is the greatest display of athleticism and skill basketball has ever known. And I’m not talking about the Lakers.
I am talking about the Clippers. Yes, that other team in Los Angeles. The same team that has had only two winning seasons in the last 25 years. The same team whose owner is notorious for heckling his own players. The same team that’s considered the worst franchise in all of professional sports. And yet, I can’t get enough of them.
Born and raised in the suburbs of Los Angeles, I grew up as a Lakers fan. I lived through the glory and drama of the three straight championships from 1999-’02. The Lakers were always what everybody talked about at school. Everybody who lived in Los Angeles at one point in their lives owned a Lakers flag that used to adorn their car windows. I was so in love with the team that I did projects on Kobe and used to brag about having Shaquille O’Neal bed sheets. The Lakers have always been the “sheriff” in town, and they still are, especially coming off of back-to-back championship seasons.
But ever since the start of this season, the Clippers have become the team to see in Los Angeles, especially with the lackluster and uninspired play the Lakers have presented to its fans. It was only one year ago that you only went to see Clipper games because you either wanted an inexpensive way to watch the other team, you got free tickets from a charity raffle, or you sold the most magazines in your class. Nobody wanted to go to a Clippers game, especially in contrast to the glitz and glamour of Hollywood’s team in the Lakers.
Now, people are actually starting to get excited to watch the Clippers play. Last year, the Clippers were 20th in average attendance among the 30 teams in the National Basketball Association. Now, halfway through this season, their average attendance has jumped up to 15th in the league. Everybody wants to watch the Clippers, and it’s all because of one man: Blake Griffin.
Blake Griffin is a human highlight reel and has become a regular on SportsCenter’s top 10 throughout this season. The 21-year-old rookie phenom has done something everybody thought was impossible in making the Clippers relevant again. He’s got NBA players saying things like “I wish he dunks on me” (Ron Artest) and “He’ll take your breath away with one move” (Lamar Odom). Ironically, they’re both Lakers. Watching him play is a must for any basketball fan. Don’t believe me? All you need to do is YouTube his name and click on any of the clips.
Over winter break, I was lucky enough to go to both a Lakers game and a Clippers game, and without a doubt, watching the Clippers play has become more fun than watching the Lakers for more than a few reasons. Firstly, the atmosphere is completely different. Lakers games are more of a Hollywood event than a basketball game. Prices are so high that most of the real fans can’t afford to go to the games. Most of the people there are rich old men and their young blonde girlfriends. The types of people who go aren’t there to see basketball but are more concerned with having themselves seen. They do not arrive until the middle of the second quarter and disappear in the middle of the third quarter to go to a small lounge to watch the game on a TV while they drink cocktails and talk loudly on their cell phones. Going to a Lakers game has almost become something undesirable, mostly because of the pseudo-fans that litter the crowd like an infestation at every weekend game. Don’t get me wrong, I still love going to Lakers games. There will always be the true fans in the stands, and there really is nothing like watching Kobe and Pau Gasol live in person. But at the same time, you will never see these types of obnoxious, disruptive pseudo-fans at a Clippers game.
Moreover, thanks to a new core of young players, Clippers games have become more engaging than Lakers games. Griffin, Eric Gordon, DeAndre Jordan and Eric Bledsoe are creating an electric atmosphere with their energy, and you can definitely feel it. As much as I love the Lakers, I’ll be the first to admit that it looks like the team has not been showing up at times, especially during big games. In six games against teams that have the best records in the NBA (Heat, Celtics, Spurs, Mavericks and Bulls), the Lakers are a meager 1–5. Yes, of course going to the finals three straight years has been great, but there seems to be a lack of energy, and you can definitely sense it in the crowd. On the other hand, at a Clippers game, you don’t even want to leave your seat, mostly for fear that you’ll miss a Blake Griffin highlight that could very well be the best play of the year. You never want to get food, go to the bathroom, or even look at your phone.
And it’s not like the Clippers are playing awful basketball, as they have in the past. Sure, they aren’t the Lakers, but in their last 21 games, the Clippers have gone 14–7, a very promising sign for what is to come. It’s hard to even imagine, but I believe the Clippers are only a couple of years and a player away from becoming a force to be reckoned with. The Clippers are already a team to watch, mostly because of Blake Griffin, but it’s only a matter of time until people are watching them because they play great basketball.
Raahil Kajani is a sophomore in Branford College.