The windows have walls
Time for another crack at the curious question of Clipperdom. I recognize that my last post on the subject might've seemed like just the latest in a long line of killjoys I've been cranking out this past week, but I think I've had a real breakthrough. I understand that the world loves a feel-good story, and that people in LA deserve a chance to experience this as much as anyone else (major cities LIVE for these shots at underdogdom). The tricky thing is, though, this whole stance assumes that the Clippers are as generic a success story as George Mason. This isn't some bunch of cast-offs carried aloft by fortune; as erratic as this franchise has been, there have been moments, there is some voice, and this current incarnation is a high point, not a fluke. Yes, Sterling probably should be shot. But that doesn't nullify what's come before this taste of the nectar, or vaporize its ability to affect the meaning of Clipper Fever. The reason I harped on the '01-'02 team is that, to me, this was a statement roster, one that struck a chord despite its competitive shortcomings. T. wisely invoked the Larry Brown teams, the existence of which alone negates this "non-team touched by heaven" condascension.
The more I think about it, the more this whole scenario exposes one of the major flaws of the Association: teams that don't win get the franchisa non grata treatment, from the front office, the media, casual observers, and even their own would-be fans. Only winning seems to unlock not only the right to significance, and only there do the scribes who record sentiment awaken and start juggling connections. That's why the Clippers playoff run can be so easily be appropriated—there's no burden of heritage to stand in the way of the novice. It's the difference between a Big 10 school catching fire in the tournament and some obscure pin-prick mounting the stead of victory; not only can anyone root for the Clippers, anyone in LA can claim that this all-purpose underdog is indicative of their own inner lovable loser. I'm as much for this League of Psychology crap as anyone I know, but it shouldn't be a League of Fan Wish Fulfillment. In 2003, Kevin of ClipperBlog gave us a perfectly pleasant survey of the emerging Clipper fan culture; contrast this with the bedlam we're now witnessing, in which everyone has decided out of the blue that their sentimental bent is all that's needed to tool up for Brand and Cassell.
You want answers? You want positivity and a prescription for excellence? Look at the NFL. I'd say that, in large part, its monstrous success as a top-to-bottom league has been due to its recognition of all teams. Cities cherish their NFL franchises, no matter how sorry, and a combination of parity and the everyman-accesibility of football's visceral struggles mean that even the sorry Texans keep a hand on this city's organs. Fans don't only recognize that their teams have a past, present, and future unique to them—they find value in experience of participating in this up-and-down saga of conquest. They may be more nasty and guttural than most NBA devotees, but they're never abandoning their team or severing their self-hood from it. For better or worse, NFL teams are mirrors of the communities that house them, and gaining sudden admittance to the cabal of worship is no more likely than instant civic accpetance. I'm not entirely sure why the NBA is so resistant to, of incapable of, this, but the way the Clippers have been eaten up at home and abroad certainly proves the pitfalls of not discouraging it—and reveals one great gaping lack in the Association's order of things.
P.S.: Just to prove that my heart is always in the wrong place, the first time this semi-occurred to me was when, for no apparent reason, I decided to pray for the life of the Hawks.
UPDATE: This is exactly what I was trying to say.