LA Clippers no longer a joke as Lakers lose their Hollywood sheen
SIDELINE CUT:Los Angeles Lakers fans must have known that the end was nigh when Jack Nicholson walked out.
Film fans will have noticed a marked decline in Jack’s big screen appearances in recent years but he has remained a ubiquitous front row presence for Hollywood’s favourite basketball team, the undisputed number one fan since his days of turning in era-defining turns as JJ Gittes and Randle McMurphy.
Jack has seen the rise and fall of several Los Angles Lakers dynasties but he is always there, front row, smiling his inscrutable smile and occasionally behaving like an unpaid coach.
But the current season has turned into one of bitter underachievement for the Lakers and the sense is that the team is in long-term decline. Jack’s decision to leave the arena with seven minutes remaining in a recent game against Oklahoma was an explicit show of disenchantment with how the team was playing.
On Thursday night, things turned blacker than Jack’s shades for Lakers fans when they lost their third game of the season to the LA Clippers. The brand leader in world basketball suddenly finds it is not even the best club in the city any more.
For decades, the existence of the LA Clippers seemed like a dark joke.
What hope could any club have of co-existing in a city of illusion, chutzpah and hard glamour, the very qualities that had come to define the Lakers?
The story of the Clippers might have been dreamed up by Nathanael West: the club spent several decades drifting fruitlessly towards the west coast and ended up in Los Angeles via San Diego. Some years they produced dreadful teams. Many other seasons they were merely mediocre. In 1997 they actually made it to the NBA play-offs and in a macabre postscript, four members of the team who played that season have since died, two from illness, one in a car accident and one by murder.
Mostly, though, the Clippers just existed in an NBA twilight world where the only Los Angeles team that anyone knew or cared about was the Lakers.
Getting traded to the Clippers was a kind of jail sentence for a player and countless promising ballers have enjoyed fruitless seasons there. There are endless Clippers jokes: Why don’t the fans fall asleep at Clippers game? Because they might get hit with a pass.
The most interesting thing about the Clippers has always been their fans: those people who actively turn their back on the success and beauty that the Lakers represent, preferring to support this underworld team. There can’t be more than a handful who have supported the Clippers through the various chapters of Lakers greatness – the Showtime era of Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the Lakers-Celtics rivalry that defined American sport in the mid 1980s, the arrival of Shaquille O’Neal, the indomitable period of Kobe Bryant and O’Neal and the unprecedented run of success under Phil Jackson, part basketball coach and part legend.
In recent years the Clippers shared an arena, the Staples Centre, with the Lakers, and the only night they drew a full house was when they played the Lakers. How could the Clippers ever be expected to compete?