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Clipper Fans and the Generation Gap

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Over the years it's always impressed me how some apparently very diverse people have contributed to ClipsNation and engaged in some spirited, passionate arguments. It's seems we pleasantly and functionally amble along with a really diverse cultural pool. But lately I've come to suspect that there might be a very deep divide between a lot of us. I'm talking about long-time Clipper fans and those of us who have joined the party much more recently.

Now, don't get me wrong. All you recent fans, you are absolutely welcome aboard. I love the bandwagon and I don't care how long you've been a Clipper fan, I am happy to have you here. Without you and your enthusiasm we'd be dead. More fans in the seats, more media eyeballs is what convinces ownership to keep throwing money at the team. More dollars for the team makes the team better. We all want the same thing. We want the Clips to win.

But in a couple of threads recently, I'll admit to being shocked at how many members of Clipsnation (significant, contributing members) have actually only been Clipper fans a few years. Herein, perhaps, lies the problem.

For my part, I've been a Clipper fan for a relatively long time, since 1992 or so (four years before my estimable colleague, LJ Hann was born). I saw one year of pretty good basketball, then almost a decade of terrible basketball marked by bad management, bad draft choices, fleeing free agents, players who, though we loved them, wanted only to leave us. Danny Manning and Brent Barry couldn't get out quick enough after their rookie deals. Ron Harper and Lamar Odom both compared their tenure with the Clippers to time in jail (or perhaps, in Harper's case it was hell).

Coaches, most of them underpaid, many of them terrible, came and went. I can't remember all of them. Elgin Baylor, the long-time GM seemed to learn on the job, made some horrible draft picks in the early years, then got a little better, but was generally uninspired, forced to deal with an owner who was content with making a tidy profit, but never putting enough money, never taking enough risk to put a winner on the floor.

The truth is that after the relative high of Larry Brown in the early nineties, it wasn't until the arrival of Mike Dunleavy in the early 00's that things got better again. By that time the Clippers had vacated the old Sports Arena (which I frankly miss. I had season tickets there and while it was short on comfort and amenities it was a great place to watch a basketball game) and moved to the spiffy and enormous Staples Center. Dunleavy somehow convinced Donald Sterling to re-sign some of the young players on the team (most notably Elton Brand and Corey Maggette), add a few good pieces, and perhaps most significantly, build a state-of-the-art practice facility. The Clips finally managed to field a winning team that lost in the second round of the playoffs in the 2005-06 season.

Maybe you don't remember that. That's okay, because it didn't last. Dunleavy thought he was all-powerful. He pushed out Baylor, Elton Brand left, Baron Davis arrived. (Dunleavy even drafted Blake Griffin, who never played for him.) Dunleavy's reign imploded and he was finally, mercifully gone. By that time, the Clippers were trash again.

I don't think I have to go over the last two years. By some miracle (a lot of luck and being in the right place at the right time) the Clips seem to be back. Blake Griffin is the hottest ticket on the map. Chris Paul is here for the moment and the Clips have a shot at being really good again this year.

But... here's the thing, I'm old enough (and grey enough) to have seen this before. Twice before. While, admittedly the long winter of the nineties is not nearly as interminable as the distance between 2005-6 and now, but I believe I've learned my lesson. Unless the Clippers are very very careful, unless they commit to inspired coaching and visionary management... the bright blue heaven we're all wrapped up right now could easily turn black and go away again.

If those of us who've seen this before seem overly cautious, circumspect, too careful, or even negative, you have to understand. We've been here before. We've been close enough to heaven to smell it only to have it vanish right before our eyes. And we don't want that to happen again. Not again. Please, no, not again.