It happened slowly at first, but now it seems to be picking up steam. The Los Angeles Clippers are becoming Seattle's team. Not that there's any real possibility that Microsoft billionaire is going to actually move the team to the Pacific Northwest once he is finally the owner. But if you're an NBA fan from the Emerald City desperately missing the Sonics and wondering what team to support, the Clippers have to look pretty familiar.
One of the truly unique team sites in the SB Nation network is Sonics Rising. It's a team blog in search of a team -- the only one of it's kind as far as I can tell. Managing Editor Kevin Nesgoda and I have been discussing the confluences of Sonics and Clippers fandom for some time now. It started with Jamal Crawford, the quintessential Seattle baller who still runs camps and a well-attended pro-am tournament (going on now, more on that in a bit) in Seattle every summer.
Or maybe it started with Blake Griffin and Chris Paul. When Griffin first came into the league he was constantly compared to Karl Malone -- which never made any sense to me. The correct analog for Griffin was always Shawn Kemp. Kemp's later years where he was terribly overweight have colored our perceptions of him as a player, but for several seasons in the 90s he showed all the promise of the young Griffin, up to and including being the most ferocious dunker in the league.
Add in Paul, and the current Clippers are a lot like the mid-90s Sonics -- led by the best point guard in the NBA and an uber-athletic manchild putting defenders on posters all around the association. The '96 Sonics made it all the way to the NBA Finals, where they ran into the unstoppable force of Jordan's Bulls. Those Payton/Kemp teams had the advantage of playing in a Western Conference that was not as strong as the one with which the Clippers must contend -- but the disadvantage of living in Michael Jordan's world. Can the Clippers reach the NBA Finals level the Sonics achieved? Can they take the next step?
There's another obvious reason for Seattle fans to cheer for the Clippers -- they hate Oklahoma City. Some day the Spurs will be too old (when oh FSM? When!?!?) and it now appears that the Clippers and Thunder and poised to battle for conference supremacy in a post-Spurs NBA. Last season's conference semi-final battle was almost certainly the first of many playoff series to come. We know which team Seattle will root for when that happens.
This summer, the Seattle-LAC connections just began multiplying. Ballmer, whom Seattlites had viewed as their Knight in shining armor who would bring the Sonics home (some of them still think that) bought the Clippers (is buying the Clippers? is trying to buy the Clippers? will buy the Clippers? whatever) after failing in efforts to buy the Kings and the Bucks. Then in June the Clippers drafted Seattle native and University of Washington star C.J. Wilcox with the 28th pick in the draft. In July they signed Seattle native and University of Washington star Spencer Hawes to a free agent contract. Heck, Seattle native and University of Washington star Jon Brockman is on the Clippers summer league team.
NBA fans in Seattle who head out to Jamal's pro am will have a chance to see seven or more players associated with the Clippers in action. In addition to all the Seattle guys who are likely to make an appearance, Jamal announced at the press availability that his buddies Griffin, Paul and DeAndre Jordan are all going to be there -- and it's entirely possible that some other current Clippers could make the trip.
Be sure to check out the overview of Jamal's tournament on Sonics Rising today. And keep an eye on youtube, as the highlights from Seattle tend to be some of the most entertaining basketball you'll see in July. (It's Jamal's tournament after all, and while he doesn't forbid defense, he doesn't recommend it either.)
We're also lucky enough over the next few days to be able to get some insights from our friends in the Northwest regarding the newest Clippers. Today Nesgoda is providing us a profile on Spencer Hawes, who he thinks may be the steal of free agency this summer. We'll also be getting a profile on Wilcox in the coming days.
So if you see some Sonics Rising readers hanging around the comment threads, welcome them with open arms -- we want them to adopt the Clippers, their logical NBA love connection. If they believe that the Clippers are going to move to Seattle, gently remind them that Steve Ballmer is not stupid, and that he would not spend $2B on an NBA team and then move it from the second largest metropolitan area in the nation to the 16th largest. You might also recommend that they have a cup of tea and/or double check that they've taken their meds. They've been through a lot, and Ballmer was supposed to fix it for them. There will certainly be a team in Seattle in the relatively near future -- but it won't be the Clippers.
In the meantime, enjoy the extra expertise that our Northern friends are providing.