I cannot believe the cost of shipping to Hades over the Holidays!
This past Boxing Day, following the Los Angeles Clippers' back-to-back intra-city preseason wins against the Lakers and easy victory over the Golden State Warriors in their season opener, I picked up a few extra winter garments at discounted prices to donate to Lucifer and his unfortunate souls below. I had seen the signs of things to come and recognized that Hell must surely have frozen over. How else could the Clippers' new-found success be explained?
The simple answer is the addition of all-world point guard Chris Paul, acquired via trade from the New Orleans Hornets a few short days before the preseason began. According to multiple news sources, the addition of Paul moved the Clippers from an outside-looking-in potential playoff team to contenders for the NBA Championship. While there is no denying Chris Paul's talent, nor his ability to make those around him better with his court vision and playmaking skills, this writer has yet to crown the Clippers as the best NBA team in the city of LA, let alone the Western Conference.
As a long-time Clipper fan, and I believe I speak for all four of us, I have experienced the disappointment of false hope before. I have learned to manage my emotions and temper my expectations over the course of a tempestuous twenty-year love affair with the "worst franchise in sports." After all, if more than two decades of lottery draft picks can result in...well...nothing but more lottery picks, how much can one player really change?
The truth is, though, there is more than one player involved. Also suggestive of Hell's freezing over, much hated and tightfisted Clippers owner, Donald Sterling, actually spent some money on free agents this off-season. First, the front office was able to talk two-time All-Star Caron Butler into leaving the reigning NBA Champion Dallas Mavericks for a starting role with the City of Angels' oft-ignored NBA laughing stock. Then, when the New York Knicks dropped five-time All-Star Chauncey Billups from their roster as part of the new collective bargaining agreement's amnesty clause, the Clippers were able to pick him up at the bargain-basement price of $2-million for the season (the Knicks will pay the other $12.2-million still contractually owed to Billups). Even more shocking perhaps was the re-signing of DeAndre Jordan. Not because the Clippers didn't need a center with Jordan's skill-set, but because they had barely played him since drafting him in the second round in 2008 and the Golden State Warriors had seemingly overbid for his services for the upcoming season. The Clippers choosing to match the Warriors' offer sheet and pay Jordan $43-million over four years is yet another warning of a cold front approaching Abaddon.
All this has resulted in the Clippers suddenly news-worthy roster. The team now boasts a starting lineup featuring four All-Stars in Paul, Billups, Butler, and last year's Rookie of the Year, Blake Griffin. Not to mention another coming off the bench in Mo Williams. Add to that the exciting dunking and shot-blocking of DeAndre Jordan, some first- and second-year players with star-potential, and a bevy of savvy role-playing vets, and one can see why the media has jumped onto the Clipper bandwagon so early in this young, lockout-shortened NBA season.
For me, this upswing in Clipper fortune all dates back to May 19th of 2009 when the Clippers unexpectedly won the NBA Draft Lottery, ensuring them the first overall pick in that year's draft. I can still recall hearing the news and immediately letting everyone within earshot know that "we" had just won the Blake Griffin Sweepstakes and that everything was about to change for Clippers fans the world-over. Again, I felt I was shouting for all four of us.
We desperate citizens of Clipper Nation were not home free yet. We still had to wait for the announcement of the number one pick. If the Clippers' previously-incomprehensible powers-that-be had chosen the young Spanish homebody Ricky Rubio or, worse, the eternal project that is Hasheem Thabeet, I would have had to renounce my fandom and join the rest of the world in jeering Clipper Nation for the rest of my days. To my heart's content, though, NBA Commissioner David Stern took the podium at the WaMu Theatre at Madison Square Garden in New York on the night of June 25th, 2009 and exclaimed the following:
"With the first pick in the 2009 NBA Draft, the Los Angeles Clippers select Blake Griffin!"
Blake's arrival in Clipperville was like my dream come true. I had been avidly following his Sophomore season with the Oklahoma Sooners and had declared him my favourite player to watch long before his name was called by Mr. Stern. His freakish athleticism, stoic demeanour, and tireless work ethic assured me that he would star for the Clips from the get-go. When my girlfriend called me from the NBA store in NYC I knew she was hunting for a surprise souvenir.
"Who's your favourite NBA team, again?" she asked.
"The Clippers," I replied.
"Right," she continued, "and who's your favourite player?"
"Well," I explained, "he hasn't actually played a game yet, but his name is Blake Griffin."
A week later I was proudly wearing the jersey on the courts near our apartment in Victoria, BC. Needless to say, I was the only one. Now, with Griffin's jersey among the most popular in the league, I would probably look like just another bandwagon jumper in my red and blue #32. The Clippers were among the most popular visiting teams in the league last year, selling out arenas nationwide over the course of Blake Griffin's travelling above-the-rim exposition. What a difference a rookie season can make.
In my mind, there is no way that Butler, Billups, Paul, and possibly even Jordan would have ended up with the Clippers were they without Griffin. He is the draw for fans and players alike. His exploits are exciting, his candour is compelling, and his star is shining brightly for all to see.
Thankfully, due to the media's sudden love for all things Blake and never-before-seen regularly scheduled nationally televised appearances for the Clippers, the new shining stars of Staples Centre can now be seen even outside of the greater Lob Angeles region.
My money says that even Beelzebub and the boys will be spending the hellishly-cold winter months indoors, glued to their TV sets to catch all of the goings on in Lob City. I wonder what NBA League Pass costs down there?