When one suggests a Los Angeles Lakers–Los Angeles Clippers rivalry, fans of the purple and gold have been quick to quell the thought. Such suggestions are met with familiar refrains such as: “we have 16 championships and the Clippers have none” or “when was the last time the Clippers even made it to the Conference Finals, much less the NBA finals?”.
Laker fans have brought up the Clippers’ past ownership of Donald Sterling, where the team boasted mostly laughable seasons between 1981-2014. In that time, the positive years for the franchise were only as a result of the NBA’s nixing of a Chris Paul trade to the Lakers, that resulted in the “Lob City” years, alongside Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan.
However, when one contemplates the recipe for a rivalry, the Lakers and Clippers should be considered foes soon, if not right now. Think about what actually makes for a good rivalry. In reviewing many of the great sports rivalries, they generally have all of, or most of the following:
- Meaningful post-season encounters
- Regular meetings
- Geographical proximity
- Bad blood between fans
- On-the-court instances of bad blood
- Competition for similar resources
Meaningful post-season encounters is clearly the only lacking ingredient. The Lakers and Clippers have never met in the playoffs. Both franchises have rarely been good enough at the same time for this to even be a possibility. Additionally, the Clippers have not exactly been pillars of playoff success to this point in their history. Even with their “Lob City” golden years, the team never advanced beyond the second round.
During much of that time, the Lakers have had one of the worst records in the NBA, not making the playoffs for the past six seasons. However, with the purple and gold now having a core of Anthony Davis, LeBron James, and a deep team surrounding them, and the Clippers having Paul George and Kawhi Leonard, the two are set to meet in the post-season very soon.
While the ingredient of competition in meaningful post-season encounters has not historically been present, this promises to change in the near future, you would think.
As far as regular meetings and geographical proximity, this potential rivalry is as strong as it gets. Both teams literally share an arena in the same city and are both in the Pacific Division which guarantees regular meetings. As such, the two teams have the familiarity needed to foster a meaningful rivalry.
In addition, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported on August 2 that the Lakers and Clippers were set for a mouthwatering 2019 Christmas Day showdown. On August 3, Shams Charania of The Athletic broke the news that both would face off in the opening game of the season (Oct 22). Both promise to be special occasions in the battle for Los Angeles, and depending on the results of course, memorable ones.
Some may argue that there is no true bad blood between fans. While this may have been the case in the past because the two franchises have not exactly been on any kind of equal footing, recent events have changed this. Twitter may not be an accurate view of fan-bases in general, but it does facilitate discussion with some of the more passionate aspects of a fan-base. And one best believe there is heated chatter back and forth between both sets of fans.
Laker fans have been quick to try and dismiss the Clippers as viable rivals due to their lack of post-season success. Clipper fans have tweaked Laker fans for living in the past. Just look at the reaction to posts about or from “Clipper Darrell”. And then, of course, there was that recent video of Laker fans taunting Kawhi Leonard as he was walking about the city. Clearly, as much as either fan base may not want to admit, the fans have become, and are becoming, more heated towards each other every day.
On-the-court instances of bad blood is arguably something lacking in a Lakers-Clippers rivalry. There is no one moment of heated confrontation that really comes to mind. However, there was an instance between the Kobe Bryant–Pau Gasol Lakers and the first year of the “Lob City” Clippers. This was in 2012, where the teams were involved in an on-court skirmish where multiple technicals were issued after Gasol touched Chris Paul on the head.
Again in 2012, Gasol clashed with Blake Griffin after a forearm dunk from Griffin knocked Gasol to the floor. This was six years ago though and there hasn’t been much else in the way of on-court bad blood since.
It could also be argued that the Clippers turning the tables on the Lakers in terms of head-to-head success in recent years should be enough to foster on-court bad blood. Since 2012, the Clippers have won the season series either 4-0 or 3-1, until last season where they tied 2-2.
Ultimately, the ingredient of competition for similar resources is the strongest of the rivalry ingredients, at least as of late. The Clippers were the recipient of Chris Paul rather than the Lakers back in 2012. Jerry West was a Lakers on-court and front office icon. Now, he’s helping the Clippers land key free agents. The Clippers were said to be among several teams in terms of a potential trade destination for Anthony Davis, before he made his intentions clear that he wished to go to the Lakers. The Lakers lost a head-to-head battle with the Clippers for the prize free agent of 2019, in Kawhi Leonard.
The Lakers felt that they “got played” by Leonard according to a report by Brian Windhorst of ESPN. Some believe the Lakers felt “played” because Leonard never meant to choose them all along. Rather, some felt that Leonard used the Lakers as leverage in order to pressure the Clippers to trade for another star. Or, worse yet, some believe that maybe Leonard delayed his free agency decision in order to sabotage the Lakers’ chances at landing other free agent stars that were available earlier on in free agency, such as D’Angelo Russell or Jimmy Butler.
Add to that the fact that Paul George, a coveted free agent prospect for the Lakers in 2018, failed to give the Lakers so much as a meeting before deciding to re-sign in Oklahoma City before demanding a trade to… the Clippers just one year later. Leonard also reportedly moved the location of a free agency meeting with the Lakers in order to secretly meet with George to presumably talk about teaming up.
Like it or not, the Clippers are a franchise to be taken seriously as competition to the Lakers in Los Angeles. The Lakers’ front office situation has been volatile of late while the Clippers’ have been so beyond reproach, executives are deciding to stay rather than get promotions elsewhere. While Laker fans are quick to bring up the teams’ respective pasts, these same fans are in danger of succumbing to the same Lakers exceptionalism that the franchise itself has become victim to all too frequently.
The Lakers franchise has fallen into trouble expecting their past achievements to equal current success. Fans are also in danger of underestimating a foe in the Clippers that is currently as formidable as any Laker foe of years past. The only thing missing is for both franchises to be good at the same time. This season promises to bring a change in this respect, and with it, a change in perspective from Laker fans.
Like it or not, the Clippers and Lakers will be rivals soon, if they are not rivals already.
By Frank Gaulden (@FrankGaulden)