Clip & Savor a Real Rivalry
Great! Just what everyone around here always wanted:
A real city series.
It might not be as much fun as going deep into the playoffs, but, in case you missed it, this is a new era. The Lakers aren’t quite as good anymore, and the Clippers aren’t quite as bad.
You remember when Kobe Bryant said that the rivalries with the Kings and Spurs were over?
Well, this one’s heating up.
“I don’t know what the outcome is going to be,” Clipper Coach Mike Dunleavy said Tuesday, “but I think we’ll match up with them better with Shaquille gone.”
Of course, most people preferred the old way, when this was a Laker town, the season didn’t really start until April 15 and the “city series” was a figment of reporters’ imagination, and then only if they needed an angle.
There was a lot of feeling but no rivalry. The Lakers were barely aware of the Clippers’ existence, except during their four annual meetings when the Lakers showed them who was who, as when Shaquille O’Neal went for 61 against them in 2000 because, he said, they didn’t give him enough tickets.
The Clippers would have loved to make it a rivalry, but they lost 27 of the 32 games in the Shaq-Kobe era.
The Lakers once won 16 in succession, going almost four years -- March 3, 1997, to Jan. 7, 2001 -- without losing to the Clippers.
Counting their interim guys, the Clippers had five coaches in the Shaq-Kobe era, and three of them came and went without beating the Lakers.
Chris Ford was here for two seasons -- well, a lockout-shortened one and a Donald T. Sterling-shortened one -- and was 0-7. His replacement, Jim Todd, was 0-1. Dennis Johnson, who replaced Alvin Gentry, was 0-2.
The Clippers’ high point of the Shaq-Kobe era was 1996-97, when Bill Fitch was 2-2. After that, Fitch was known in the Clipper front office as “the Laker Slayer.”
From the arrival of Shaq and Kobe in 1996 to O’Neal’s departure, the Lakers were more celebrated every season. Meanwhile, the Clippers brought in a dozen exciting young players but managed to stay the Clippers.
There’s no truth to the rumor that the FBI was using the Clippers for its witness-protection program, but it still wasn’t easy being one of them.
“I think when you decided to be on the Lakers, you realize it’s going to be a circus over there,” said Eric Piatkowski, the longest-tenured Clipper of them all, after finally leaving last season.
“You’re on the Lakers, you’re in Los Angeles, you have Shaq and Kobe....
“You get numb to it, especially living in L.A. It’s a different world. A lot of those guys love that spotlight. Guys on that team want to be movie stars. Guys want to be rappers. They love the spotlight. It doesn’t seem to affect them at all.”
Or, at least, it took a long time to affect them. When the Lakers finally blew up, the pieces went everywhere.
Last summer, Bryant almost -- but not quite -- became a Clipper.
For months, we were looking at -- and some of the principals were dreaming about -- the mother of all city series: Kobe and the Clippers vs. Shaq and the Lakers.
Bryant was interested in the Clippers, and everyone knew it. Laker General Manager Mitch Kupchak and Dunleavy, who were good friends from their Laker days together in the early ‘90s, even joked about it.
Kupchak would ask what the deal was. Dunleavy would say, on July 1, our arms are going to be wide open and we’re just hoping he runs into them.
In July, Bryant said he intended to become a Clipper, but Jerry Buss headed him off at the pass.
We can only speculate on what would have happened if Bryant had gone to the Clippers, with their better, bigger, younger supporting cast.
It would have been disorienting, to say the least, with local fans forced to reconsider their loyalties. Many would have stayed with the Lakers, if only out of habit and to protect their seat locations.
Even so, the Clippers would have picked up several thousand season-ticket holders before they could print up new prices, with the newcomers delighted to learn they could buy two from the Clippers for the price of one for the Lakers. Kobe and an exciting young team, at a discount!
Anyway, a new chapter starts tonight.
“Oh, yeah, without a doubt, we’re looking forward to it,” Elton Brand said. “We’ve got similar records.... It’s been very one-sided, but we think we have a team that matches up well with them.”
Said Dunleavy: “There are no bonus points for us. Of course, there’s going to be a buzz around town, but the rest of the league doesn’t care if we beat the Lakers or not.”
And, for a change, no one knows how it’s going to turn out.
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