First, full disclosure for the origins of this post. For my debut feature on Clips Nation, I originally asked Clipper Steve if I could simply excerpt a forthcoming book I'm self-publishing entitled "CLEAR PATH TO CONSPIRACY: How Tony Brothers, Serge Ibaka, the Illuminati, Halliburton, Mark Jackson, Roger Goodell, the Skin Tag on Mo Speight's Head, the Military-Industrial Complex, Goldman Sachs and Mike Dunleavy Sr. Rigged Game 5, Ruined My Summer, and Defrauded the American Viewing Public of Seeing Chris Paul in the Western Conference Finals".
Steve suggested I go with something simpler and, in his words, "slightly less than 15,000 pages". For those who are interested, I will be selling hard copies out of the back of my trunk after home games, next to one of the bacon-wrapped hot dog guys. I have charts and graphs!!!
I am truly honored to be a regular contributor to Clips Nation, and to be part of the new team Steve has assembled for the upcoming season. It looks like citizen zhiv, Jul and others have already been bitten by a radioactive Zach Lowe and will be doing most of the actual work of reporting, analysis, and intelligent commentary. Although I will pitch in with actual reporting from time to time, my role here will primarily be stories like this one: hopefully entertaining Clipper filler to pass the workday until the sweet and beautiful visage of Don MacLean appears on your television and the actual game is only minutes away. (Here's some of my past fan posts, for those of you REALLY trying to avoid that supply chain spreadsheet. Warning — the first post contains Game 5 triggers).
I've been a Clipper fan since I was 14, and as with most fans who fall in love with a team during adolescence, it's very difficult for me to shake the narrative-saturated, juvenile, fanboy lens through which I watched the NBA as a kid. While I have Google alerts set up for any changes in DJ's PER and understand what a regression is, fundamentally I comprehend the league along literary themes: man vs. man, man vs. self, man vs. whatever underworld creature Steven Adams is pretending he's not (I'm guessing Orc?).
For Clipper fans of my generation, the past 15 years have been populated mostly with disappointing coming-of-age stories, deeply flawed "heroes", and Sam Cassell. In retrospect, what we were missing was one of the most joyful parts of NBA fandom — villains.
I thought we had villains. There was Raja, and whoever came up with that bullshit eight second rule, and Tim Thomas's contract, and Elton, and of course Luke Walton. There was also Sterling, but he was too terrible a person in real life to derive any joy from his awfulness.
But now, we have real sports villains. Villains forged in playoff blood, in referee injustice, in media jabs at Chris, in uncalled flagrant fouls on Blake, in likely justified reactions to Matt Barnes' defense.
I've spent the last two weeks trying to rationally winnow down a list of Clipper Nation's top five villains. This proved to be a much more difficult task than I originally anticipated. The first mistake I made was simply writing down the list of all the players, coaches, and media members who obviously exist only to cheat, libel, injure, and otherwise keep the Clippers from their rightful place in the NBA landscape (the 2 seed, 8-10 games behind San Antonio).
But what started with a simple one-line entry of "Jermaine O'Neal — ugghhh" on my personal corkboard quickly morphed into something along these lines.
A more developed system was necessary. A rubric, to separate the Anthony Morrows of the world from the Marc Gasols. And so, for each player on the corkboard, I asked myself the following six questions, which I now submit to Clips Nation as the guiding tenets of sports villainy.
- When a nonpartisan friend mentions the villain's name, is your immediate and involuntary reaction, "God I hate that guy"?
- Has the villain injured a member of your team? Extra points if it's a key player/hometown favorite that suffered the injury, and if the injury was severe.
- Does the villain seem to play uncommonly well against your team? Extra points if the villain is typically terrible against all other opposition.
- Is the villain a dirty player? Extra points if the villain pretends he's never deliberately punched your star power forward in the groin.
- Does the national media portrayal of the villain not conform at all to what you see when you watch the games? Extra points if the villain is attempting to rebrand himself late in his career as a "hard-ass egomaniac" as opposed to just your run of the mill egomaniac.
- Has the villain broken your heart? Extra points for soul-crushing postseason defeats.
The system isn't perfect, but it's a start. A villain does not have to meet all of the requisites to make the list, but scoring strongly on multiple questions bodes well. I should also clarify, while this rubric is geared towards players, both media members and coaches are certainly eligible. So-called "superstars" who indiscriminately decimate teams on a nightly basis are also eligible, although the threshold for villainy is higher. If LeBron drops 30-12-10 every time he plays the Clippers, that is not enough to be considered a villain. But if Durant drops 50 on us on 48/49 free throw shooting and then calls us soft after the game, he is definitely in the running.
So, without further ado, here's the list, starting with those players that just narrowly missed the cut.
Also Receiving Votes
Some of you will think this is a glaring omission, and in fairness, it's pretty hard to forget that this happened:
I really have no defense, except to say that listing the entire Grizzlies starting rotation probably wouldn't have made for a compelling Clips Nation post.
The Splash Babies
Let me be clear: I want to hate Steph Curry. He routinely kills us, he accosts our ball boys, he loves Mark Jackson, and the site of him unguarded at the top of the arc triggers my irritable bowel syndrome, making viewing Clips-Warriors games very dangerous affairs.
But, seriously, how can you hate something so simultaneously adorable and awesome?
It's like rooting against a baby panda who can dunk or a corgi with growth hormone deficiency and a 95 mile per hour fastball. I'm a Dodgers fan, and I wanted to hate Tim Lincecum, but I just couldn't do it. It's similar with Steph. Although if he continues to rob Chris of his State Farm money, things might change.
Oh, and Klay is irrelevant. "Bull in a china shop" was the most overblown part of that entire series, with the notable exception of Ric Bucher's hair (BA-ZING!!!).
I'm ALL IN on Ballmer, and if that means searching for Zune message boards on GeoCities sites from 7 years ago, then that's what I'm going to do.
(Official Zune Joke Counter for the 2014-2015 Season: 1)
There's no doubt Boogie deserves to be on this list. He's an avowed CP-hater, Blake detractor, and overall Clippers maligner. There's also no doubt that he circles the Clippers on the calendar as his opportunity to show the world how overrated we are.
But, for whatever reason, I don't despise Boogie. Maybe it's the Bill Simmons/Grantland pro-Boogie propaganda machine, maybe it's the fact that the Kings have been so bad for so long (although they always play us tough in Sacramento), maybe it's my past childhood love affairs with generally disgruntled power forwards named Rasheed and Shawn, but Boogie doesn't inspire the enmity that others on this list do. If Sacramento ever gets even halfway decent, Boogie may bump up a couple notches. But for now, he's the write-in candidate.
My Dad was a big Jim Croce fan, and would play his greatest hits CD a lot on long car rides around L.A. Whenever "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown" would play, I would try to picture what Leroy would look like--the baddest guy in the whole damn town, meaner than a junkyard dog, a face like a jigsaw puzzle with a couple of pieces gone.
Mo Speights is Leroy Brown. With a better name.
Clipper Nation first encountered Mo when he shot 1,000% against us in the first Clippers-Grizzlies playoff series in 2012. Ok ok, he only shot 48% against us, not that much higher than his career average, according to some untrustworthy site known as Basketball-Reference.com. But didn't it feel like every goddamn 15 footer he took was the purest silk? Especially in Games 2, 4, and 6?
I actually remember thinking, when Memphis traded him to Cleveland the following season, "Thank God. I could live without another postseason featuring Mo Speights."
Wherever trouble between the Clips and another team is brewing, wherever on-court beef spills into threats outside locker rooms, wherever Blake is getting suplexed and Chris is getting kicked in the face, wherever our most reviled Western Conference playoff rival lies in wait, you can bet your ass Mo Speights is somewhere in the building.
The Mark Jackson Five
(Mark Jackson, Andrew Bogut, Draymond Green, Jermaine O'Neal, and David Lee)
I confess: I will miss Mark Jackson.
And that's not only because the prospect of a semi-competent coach in charge of the Warriors is truly terrifying, assuming Steve Kerr actually knows what he's doing.
Jackson was an old-school, transparent, Disney movie coaching villain. The kind of coach whose linchpin X's and O's included baiting the opposing team's stars into fights and exploiting a serious news story to tell opposing fans to stay home.
In isolation, Bogut, Green, and Lee are not worthy of villain status — especially not Lee, who I included here simply out of courtesy. O'Neal arguably could have his own entry — but since half of his body is still stuck in 1998, it's honestly a gift whenever he's on the court.
But taken together, last year the Jackson mafia trailed only Memphis's frontcourt in terms of the disdain it engenders in Clippers fans. JO lurking the recesses of Staples, Bogut on Christmas Day, Draymond just... being Draymond, Lee pleading with the officials with that "GUYS! HE IS FASTER THAN ME! BEING FASTER THAN ME IS A FOUL!" face, all under Jackson's watchful eye.
The obligatory Kobe entry. If we take the historical perspective, Kobe ranks at the top of the all-time Clipper villain list, no questions asked. He embodies all that is wrong with Laker fandom — the arrogance, the sense of entitlement, the laughably stunning lack of self-awareness (see above). At the peak of his powers, nothing felt worse than a close-fought Lakers-Clippers loss when Kobe narrowly outdueled us in the fourth quarter.
But, honestly, who in the NBA besides Kobe and Mitch Kupchak's therapist has thought about Kobe that much over the past three seasons?
I love that question.
Serge checks off nearly every box on the villain questionnaire. He plays unusually well against us, and hit a Speights-like 60% of his shots in last year's conference semis. He is a dirty player, at least against the Clippers, and seems permanently fixated on Blake's balls (and not in the good way).
The media loves Serge, for no reason other than he does all those "selfless" things a team needs to win, like punch the opposition in the nuts (Wake Forest CP notwithstanding). He also bears a decent resemblance to Stringer Bell, which is even more infuriating because his value system is definitely more in line with Ziggy's from Season 2.
Serge has rapidly ascended this list over the last year, and if we play OKC in the postseason again, he may very well take the top spot. God I hate that guy.
Marc and Zach
Currently, the undisputed princes of darkness in Clipper land. Some may argue Z-Bo deserves to be alone in the top spot, but the image of Marc Gasol literally skipping down the court after we fell down by 130 in the third quarter of the Memphis Comeback is seared so deeply into my memory that, to me, they are truly inseparable forces of awfulness.
What irritates me most about our Memphis rivalry is that, especially in the pre-Doc era, the games were typically played on their terms. The normal rules of basketball — you know, traveling, charge calls, not being allowed to shiv your opponent in the back for an offensive rebound — are thrown out the window.
And yet Z-Bo, Gasol, and the rest of Memphis acts as if the league caters to OUR style of play. For the record, neither Doc nor Del Negro ever drew this up on a whiteboard:
This is especially painful for me, because I used to be a Z-Bo guy. I was ecstatic when the Knicks dumped him here, and was happy for him when he got some recognition after the Spurs upset. But the past three years have changed that dramatically, for obvious reasons.
The next season will bring new villains into Clipper Nation, and the pecking order might be rearranged substantially. Let's just hope Blake's groin survives the shakeup.
And if you felt like the order was all wrong and CJ Miles should be at the top, please don't hesitate to say so.
A Quick Thank You: This post wouldn't have been possible without a huge assist from John Connor Carrol (aka thellorac), the pre-knee surgery Shaun Livingston of Photoshop. Connor, you are the Darius to my Quentin, the Bill to my Ralph, the Sean Rooks to my Cherokee.