When I was in high school and even around the end of middle school, I loved wearing and collecting jerseys. My favorite player growing up was Eddie Jones and the first jersey I ever got was his Charlotte Hornets #6 jersey. (I later got his Heat jersey and it was my most worn article of clothing until a certain new Heat #6 ruined it forever.) I became a Clipper lifer young, and Clipper jerseys became a staple in my very modest collection. Elton Brand (for so so long), Baron Davis, and now, Blake Griffin.
I'm 26 now. I don't really collect many more jerseys, because, well, I'm older and in medical school. It's not the most becoming thing when you're in your mid 20s, spending most of your time in a foreign country, and in higher education I suppose.. but I still occasionally wear them especially if I'm either playing basketball, going to a basketball game, or going to the gym. Or even if I'm just hanging around my apartment and want something comfortable to put on.
One thing I did want to get, however, was a Chris Paul jersey. As soon as Paul became a Clipper, I went to every other jersey store in the Glendale area just asking if they had Paul jerseys available. Honestly I didn't even have the intention of buying one at the time and I was positive no store would have a Paul Clipper jersey a day after he was officially traded to the Clippers. But I just wanted to hear it back. "No, we won't have the Chris Paul Clippers jersey." Chris Paul. Clippers.. It felt so symbolic of all the change I'd been waiting for. That real culture change.. It's been developing for years, but it hadn't really hit until Paul came. I really felt it the moment he became a Clipper.
But, I'm cheap, and I wasn't getting a Paul jersey until I knew he was a Clipper long-term. After occasionally seeing my dusty Brand jersey rotting in a drawer back home, I wanted some security on that investment. So, I made due with my Griffin jersey and wore it at Clipper games, at my place watching games overseas, pickup games, generally basketball related activities.
At first, when Blake was a rookie and was the media's shiny new toy, I'd find myself talking about the things he couldn't do rather than the things he could. Even here, with fans who I knew already knew Blake's deficiencies. The Clips were a young team loaded with potential and Blake was in the forefront of that. All the talk was about his potential. People would see my jersey and talk about his highlight plays and about how the Clips could be dangerous in a few years. A few people would even mention Eric Gordon! But I would talk about what Blake couldn't do. And what he needed to do.
Then we got Chris Paul. And that was the end of the public talking about Blake positively. Now all you hear is how Blake can't do this, can't do that. My jersey brought out something entirely differently in general fans of basketball. All I heard was the word "overrated." So overrated. Can only dunk. Soft. All that. The difference between being the loveable underdog and a rising target. Blake Griffin had become the new LeBron James, a supremely talented freak athlete on a contender who supposedly had no idea how to win when his team would lose. Russell Westbrook had plenty of that as well but watching the Thunder implode without him probably took some of that away. Blake Griffin is now scapegoat #1 in sports.
So not only did the outsider's perspective change, but more importantly, my perspective changed. I stopped calling Blake overrated, because, really, it's impossible to be overrated when the majority of the country is calling you that. This jersey is more than that. It's about more than just showing all the stats, that talk about how his jumper did improve from when he came into the league, the array of different post-moves he's developed, his career high free throw percentage last season, his passing, his dribbling, his improved but still inconsistent defense.. About all the things we already know.
This jersey represents the culture change. With all the hate, I realize more and more this is where it all started. Not only a realization, but an appreciation. Blake Griffin. This is the guy that's changed everything. This jersey. Griffin brought Paul, brought Doc, brought everything. Griffin brought a franchise stability that might last well after he's even retired. Because while this team has had spurts of success before, Blake is the rookie that brought in that sort of onus to really maintain it.. That's the kick in the butt the franchise probably needed. Hell, that's how it happens most of the time in sports.
So while I finally know Chris Paul is going to be a Clipper for a long time, I'm fine with my Blake jersey. Because this is what it's about to be a Clipper fan. I want other people to talk down Blake's importance to the team. Because they have no idea. After all the wait, this is the identity we finally have. Proud Clipper fans, in a position where outsiders are rooting for us to fail rather than playfully talking about our possible success. That's fine. That's great. Be ready for it. This jersey is Clipper Nation.
Wear it. And wear it proud.