Kawhi Leonard and Paul George got their first taste of what it’s like being Clippers in Los Angeles before the start of training camp this week.
On Saturday, Paul George attended a Bellator mixed martial arts event at The Forum and on Sunday, Kawhi Leonard was at the Rams game at the Coliseum.
Both local products returned home this summer and got the same reaction when they were shown on the scoreboard.
They were showered with boos.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who lives in L.A. This is still a Lakers town, and Lakers fans wanted George to sign with their team last year and Leonard to sign with them this year. The fact that both spurned the Lakers and ended up on the Clippers created arguably the best rivalry in basketball this season.
It also left Leonard and George without across-the-board love from the hometown fans.
This is nothing new for Clippers players.
Chris Paul knew the Clippers were the second team in Los Angeles when he arrived in mid-December 2011. He originally had been traded to the Lakers, but “basketball reasons” famously led the NBA to veto that deal.
Joining the Clippers wasn’t what Paul planned on, but he still was going to play in L.A. and call Staples Center home. The only difference was moving a few feet down the hall and playing for the other team in town. No big deal, right?
Paul didn’t know how massive the difference was until he arrived and his wife, Jada, drove around trying to find a Clippers hat.
“She went everywhere and there were no Clippers hats anywhere,” he said. “She was at every store and they didn’t have any.”
That was a minor inconvenience compared to getting booed at Dodger Stadium as he threw out the first pitch. Not only was he wearing a Dodgers jersey, but so was his 2-year old son. “I had Little Chris with me and they still booed,” Paul said. “That was the craziest one.”
“We didn’t know it was this bad,” Paul’s dad, Charles, once told me. “Especially playing in the same building as the Lakers and seeing all their banners. You see it on TV, but we didn’t really realize how bad it was until we got here.”
This summer may have been a homecoming for Leonard and George, but they are finding out the warm welcome was only reserved for them if they chose the Lakers.
The common belief is the Lakers will retire the number of any Hall of Fame player who plays the majority of his career with the team. While that’s generally true, it’s not a rule.
Certainly not when it comes to Vlade Divac, who played eight seasons with the Lakers, the most of any team in his 16-year NBA career, and was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame this month.
Divac began and ended his career with the Lakers and had the unique distinction of replacing both Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Shaquille O’Neal. But his biggest contribution to the team was getting traded to the Charlotte Hornets in 1996 for a 17-year-old by the name of Kobe Bryant. His second was, as a member of the Sacramento Kings, tipping the ball to the Lakers’ Robert Horry for his game-winner in the 2002 Western Conference finals.
Divac never won a championship or was named an All-Star with the Lakers and therefore does not deserve a place among their legends.
The Basketball Hall of Fame doesn’t dictate which numbers the Lakers should retire, and being a member of it doesn’t guarantee Divac the honor. Divac had a good run in L.A., but his career here falls well below the cut to have his number retired.
LeBron James knows there wasn’t just one big winner this summer in Los Angeles.
“Staples Center is the biggest winner of the summer,” he said at last week’s Lakers media day. “If you’re a fan of the game of basketball, you’ve got an opportunity to see the Clippers one night, then you get an opportunity to see the Lakers, then you got great shows, great performers, artists, everybody who comes through Staples Center throughout the year. Staples Center is the place to be.”
James joked that Chatsworth Sierra Canyon High, where his son and Dwyane Wade’s son will play this season, should have a game at the arena as well before remarking how great the L.A. sports scene is.
“The city of Los Angeles should be very proud of not only what’s going on with the Lakers and Clippers,” he said, “but also with the Rams, Dodgers, Kings, USC and UCLA.”
Um, what about the Chargers, Galaxy, LAFC, Sparks, Angels and Ducks?
“If I missed you,” he said, “I apologize. It’s just a great time to be a sports fan in this city.”
Los Angeles native Jonas Never, who played baseball at Santa Monica High and UC Riverside, painted a mural inside Staples Center to honor the arena’s 20th anniversary.
The mural features championship celebrations from Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal following the 2000 NBA Finals, Lisa Leslie after the 2002 WNBA Finals, Anze Kopitar at the 2014 Stanley Cup Final, John Cena after WrestleMania 21 and even Taylor Swift at the Grammys.
What about the Clippers? They’re represented by Lou Williams winning the sixth man of the year award last year.
“We snuck in Lou Williams,” Never said. “He was a Laker and a Clipper.”
The Clippers are hoping to give Never something more significant to paint next summer.
ESPNLA 710 has been the home of the Lakers for the last decade, and Lakers media day generally has been one of the best days for the station with the popular “Mason & Ireland” show broadcasting live from the team’s practice facility. Unfortunately for the station and its listeners, Steve Mason and John Ireland’s candid interviews with James, Anthony Davis and others were heard on tape delay so the station could air “The Will Cain Show” live from New York.
It’s one thing to gut the station of local programming from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., but it’s another to not adjust that schedule for special events and circumstances such as their exclusive access during media day. It’s a tone deaf decision by management and one few, inside and outside of ESPNLA, can justify in a market craving Lakers coverage.