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NBA Word Association -- What Word Comes to Mind for the Clippers?

May 19, 2012; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling before the start of game three of the Western Conference semi finals of the 2012 NBA Playoffs against the San Antonio Spurs at the Staples Center. San Antonio Spurs won 96-86. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-US PRESSWIRE

As you know, the NBA bloggers of SB Nation have been writing weekly themed posts for the past several weeks. This week we've got one that's a bit different.

Among the group, each NBA blogger was asked to write down a word or phrase they associated with each team. They were not given more instructions than that -- this is not necessarily the current team, not necessarily the franchise in general. Just a gut reaction, what's the first word that pops into your head?

For today's post, each team blogger is writing about their reaction to the words that others associate with their team. Fun, huh? This one's really interesting, and you can look for the twitter hashtag #NBAWordAssociation to find other posts today. I'll have an index of them later on.

As you might imagine, I was expecting the worst from this exercise. The Clippers organization, despite the very promising current edition of the team, does not exactly have the most positive reputation among hoops junkies. Let's say the impression of the team is both Sterling and not sterling at the same time, and neither of those is good, if you catch my meaning.

With sufficiently low expectations, I was somewhat pleasantly surprised to find that the disapprobation was not universal.

By my count, among 28 responses, 15 were negative in nature, 10 were positive, and three were enigmatic at best, but neither positive nor negative that I can tell. Let's look at them.

The Good

The positive comments were almost entirely focused on the recent seasons and the highlight-reel-worthy style of the current team. Words like fun, dunks, lob, LobCity, explosive, and exciting were all used to describe the team, clear references to the Blake Griffin/Chris Paul era of Clippers basketball (though explosive and exciting could have applied to the team of the early 2000s as well).

In addition to the above, some chose to associate the team with a specific player, as the survey produced one CP3 and one Griffin. I find that interesting in so far as neither of those very high profile players seems to have completely taken over the public perception of the team -- there are two faces of the franchise, and that's a good thing.

Finally there were a couple of less obvious positive descriptors used: veteran and trying. Both of these are ambiguous, but I believe them to be intended in a positive light. For instance, why use the word veteran if your intent is to be pejorative? You could always use old in that case. Why that would be the word someone would associate with the Clippers is a different question. Yes, with Grant Hill and Chauncey Billups and Lamar Odom and others on the team, there is a significant veteran presence, but Griffin and Paul are both the present and the future and they are both still very young.

Trying on the other hand could mean a couple of different things. It could mean the more straightforward definition, striving, working to achieve a goal. That's how I choose to interpret it, as it makes some sense to me that one might observe that the Clippers are trying to behave in a more professional manner as an organization, that they are trying to compete for a championship. On the other hand, it could mean trying in the sense of bothersome or annoying. Given some of the other words associated with the team, that's entirely possible as well. Or perhaps the person who used trying to describe the Clippers fully understood what they were doing and intended this double meaning.

The Bad

Brace yourself. None of these will come as a complete surprise to long-suffering Clippers fans (though a few do seem overly harsh and a tad misinformed), but it's still not a pleasant list.

We'll start with those that seem directed at the team's ownership and management over the years: words associated with the Clippers here included cheap (twice), horrible, mismanaged, jail, racist, slavery and joke in addition to three direct references to the owner, The Donald, Sterling and like the team, loathe the owner.

Now, racist is understandable even if slavery is clearly over the line, but it does serve to illustrate how deep the resentment towards Donald Sterling and his foibles extends in some circles. On the other hand, jail just seems misplaced. Legal issues are not uncommon in the NBA and if anything the Clippers have employed a relatively law-abiding group of players over the years. One might think that Donald Sterling should be behind bars for his various misdeeds, but it seems nonetheless a strange association to place that on the team. Cheap, horrible, mismanaged and joke all hurt, but they're more than understandable given the history of the franchise.

The comment Like the team, loathe the owner is obviously one that is both positive and negative, but to me the very fact that the author felt compelled to mention his or her hatred puts it in the negative category overall. I could do some calisthenics and bend over backwards to maintain that The Donald and Sterling are not necessarily negative as comments. Heck, I could even use Sterling as an adjective meaning of the highest quality. But who are we kidding?

There were also a few other negative comments that aren't necessarily directed at the management/ownership of the team: paper, cursed, annoying, and little-brother. Paper is a reference to the nickname the Paper Clips, popularized by New York Post NBA columnist Peter Vecsey. Vecsey always prefaces it, referring to the team as "My beloved paper Clips" but he doesn't really belove them. Cursed is an obvious reference to the injuries and other misfortunes that have befallen the team over the years. Annoying is not clear to me. I was concerned that we'd see some flop references in this exercise which we did not, but perhaps this particular person finds the theatrics and whining annoying. Or perhaps they're annoyed by something else. Little-brother obviously refers to the Clippers position in Los Angeles as the second team after the legendary Lakers. There's not much to be done about that, but it's not necessarily a bad thing to be the little brother and have to push harder to get noticed.

The Weird

Finally, there were three responses on the survey that are pretty impossible to interpret.

One respondent wrote Texas A&M, which can only refer to DeAndre Jordan's alma mater. But in that case why not write Oklahoma or Wake Forest? Why pick the school of a relatively minor Clipper? This one probably says more about the respondent (an Aggie no doubt) than about the team.

One person wrote Awwwwww. WTH? Is that adorable puppy awwwww? Is it ooooh and awwww at something spectacular?

And there was one response of other. OK.


In the end this was an enlightening undertaking.

The Clippers seem to be trying to be a fun, exciting, and explosive team with CP3 and Griffin, to replace their cursed past with lobs and dunks. But after years of horrible, cheap, mismanaged leadership by a possibly racist owner, the team is still often viewed as a joke.

We've seen some evidence that perceptions of the team are beginning to change. Personally, I'm excited about the possibility of repeating this process going forward. It will be interesting to see what this word association exercise produces in the future.