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A Clipper a Day - Ruben Patterson

This is easily the most difficult Clipper a Day profile for me to write.  There are many things I could say about Ruben Patterson, in his first year with the Clippers.  Where to begin?  I guess I'll start with basketball.

Like Brevin Knight, the Clippers' acquisition of Patterson on a one-year, unguaranteed veteran's minimum contract seems somewhere between a bargain and completely improbable.  I'm not at all clear on how a guy with a reputation as a tough defender, who has also averaged 11 points in his 9 year career, coming off his best season as a pro, did not manage to sign for more money and more years.  

One thing for certain - with the signings of Knight (31) and Patterson (32), the fact that Al Thornton was the oldest rookie in the draft, and the departures of youngsters Yaroslav Korolev, Daniel Ewing and James Singleton, the Clippers are suddenly a very experienced (euphemism for old) team.  Their average age of 28.3 is the highest in the NBA, and they're really older than that since their youngest player is out of action for several months.  This is of course a major departure for Clipper fans - we're used to the team being young, inexperienced, exciting.... and bad.  Old and bad may be the worst possible combination.  So let's hope they're not that bad.

Patterson is a somewhat improbable NBA player.  At 6'5" he has the height generally associated with shooting guards, but his body (and his jump shot) might be better suited to a power forward.  In fact, he is strong enough to play the 4, where he will get some minutes this season.  Offensively, he is most effective on the fast break or slashing to the basket, although he does also have a nice post up game.  He averaged 14.7 points and 5.4 rebounds per game (both career highs) starting at small forward most of the season for an injury-ravaged Bucks team last year.  

His demeanor on the court should make him a fan favorite.  He hustles, he plays tough defense, he dives after loose balls, he gets more than his share of steals in the passing lane and on the blind side.  If coach MDsr wants to play a running, defensive unit, Patterson will fit right in.  

So that's the basketball.  And then there is the baggage.  As a basketball player, Ruben clearly talks too much.  He should never have called himself the 'Kobe Stopper' and in fact he seems to resent the moniker at this point.  And when he demanded 25 minutes of playing time per game while he was in Portland he was way out of line.  In both of these cases, you pretty much have to let your play do the talking.  Coaches (and smart fans) do not want to be told who you think you are or what you think should be done with you.  Just play basketball.  

His off the court troubles include a misdemeanor assault conviction for breaking a man's jaw outside a Cleveland night club and a domestic abuse charge which was later dropped by his wife.  And then there is the big one.  In 2000 Patterson was accused of raping his child's nanny.  I want to be careful here - I'm not a lawyer.  But Patterson was not convicted of rape.  He entered a modified plea in "which he did not admit guilt but agreed a jury might convict him."  He received a one year sentence, most of which was commuted - he spent 15 days in jail.

The Clippers have been blessed in recent years with a team made up not just of good players but seemingly nice guys.  It's hard to imagine a more clean cut NBA superstar than Elton Brand, and Corey Maggette's appearance in a rap video was as the family man who turned down the NBA groupie.  Even the ink is at a minimum on the Clippers - they must be last in the league in tatoos.  In a league where it is not uncommon for players to run afoul of the law, Sam Cassell's 2003 arrest outside a Toronto Strip Club for assault (charges that were later dropped as completely fabricated) is the only dirt I can dig up on the current Clipper roster.  (Donald Sterling is another story.)  Sam has since stopped hanging out with Gary Payton, a good choice in any case.  

A little over a year ago, Kevin wrote an excellent post on ClipperBlog pondering the philosophical questions of supporting a sports team whose owner had been accused of discriminatory business practices.  The irony of an NBA owner discriminating against African Americans is similar in fact to that of a father of an 8 year old girl cheering for a convicted sex offender.  It's very convenient for Clipper fans to justify a distaste for the Lakers at least in part because of their poster boy's alleged misdeeds.  But what if it's your team?  What if Kobe Bryant actually signs with the Clippers the next time he becomes a free agent?  Would most of us immediately change our allegiances?  I'm pretty sure I wouldn't.

So can I cheer for Ruben Patterson?  White liberal guilt plays a role here as well.  There are a lot of factors.  Ruben Patterson's parents battled drug addiction as he was being raised.  His father spent time in prison.  His upbringing is so far removed from my own he might as well be from another planet.  

And yes, I have a daughter and rape is a particularly vile crime.  But these cases are so frequently 'he said, she said' and this one is no different.  I imagine that the world of an NBA basketball player becomes impossibly distorted - as we've witnessed a little in recent revelations about Stephon Marbury in the Isiah Thomas case.  In the eyes of an NBA basketball player all young women simply MUST want to have sex with them.  I'm reminded of the episode of 'Friends' where Chandler and Joey were getting free porn on the cable - and they don't understand why waitresses just bring them coffee and don't also undress.

Furthermore, I reserve large amounts of my liberal guilt for the laws requiring sex offenders to register where they live.  Ruben Patterson is an NBA player and in the public eye - his legal troubles will follow him whether he registers or not.  But it's an unconscionable violation of a person's privacy to require him to register his address AFTER he has already been punished.  We don't require this of convicted murderers, but we do require it of sex offenders, and the 'offense' could be as minimal as an 18 year old having sex with a 17 year old.  Or in Patterson's case, a crime for which he has never actually admitted wrongdoing.  Yes, I have an 8 year old daughter.  No, I don't want to know about the guy who just moved in down the street.  I won't sign your petition, and if I see your warning sign posted on the light post, I'll take it down.  He has a right to live there and a right to be left alone.

Like I said, this is a tricky post for me.  I realize I'm all over the map.

I like Ruben Patterson as a basketball player.  I like the defensive intensity he can bring to the second unit, and I like that he hustles on every play.  I don't like the fact that he has a troubled past any more than I imagine he does, but I don't think it's my place to judge him.  Is it a double standard?  Do I judge Kobe Bryant more harshly?  I don't know.  Maybe.  Although I can honestly say that the vast majority of my criticisms of Kobe Bryant over the years have had nothing to do with Eagle Colorado (although there has been the occasional 'excellent rapist' quip in the comments).  If Ruben Patterson gripes about playing time, I'll certainly criticize him for that.  

I wish that the Clippers roster was as squeaky clean this year as it was last year.  But for my part, I'm going to try to focus on the basketball issues.  The others are just a little beyond me.