Many of us have probably become Clipper fans while rooting for the underdog. Maybe you jumped in to watch "The Polish Rifle," a player many fans said they could imagine playing at a YMCA rec game. Maybe you got a chance to see a certain lil guy make his name through a variety of game winners, including some memorable moments with the Clips. Or maybe, like me, you were attracted to the charisma of a couple of head-bopping kids who seemed like they were inseparable, and possibly a part of something bigger. Maybe you became a fan before 20somethings like me were even born.
Through all of these eras, the Clippers were still synonymous with losing and dysfunction. Then a lottery ball fell the Clippers way. And everything would change. Well, almost everything.
The Clippers got Blake Griffin. That led to Chris Paul. That led to Doc Rivers. That led to Steve Ballmer. Even a uniform change. And in the midst of all that, the Clippers have gone up the rungs of championship contention. Gone were the lovable loser tags. The Clippers are winning, and, to the average NBA fan, they certainly aren't lovable.
The Clippers have now become public enemy #1 around the league.
Some of this is due to reinforcement in the media, particularly dealing with that tired "Clipper Curse." The team has done everything possible to distance itself from the tired trope that the media has continued to tie as a weight on the team's ankle. Amin Elhassan, a former Suns front office member, dipped into the Skip Bayless school of click-baiting provocation exclaiming soon after the Clippers retained DeAndre Jordan that "Isn't this the most Clipper story ever? The players change, the coach, the GM, the owner, even the uniforms, but the Clippers will always be a circus. Clips gon' Clip." Last year's Sterling distraction was undeniable, but even a year later after an excruciating collapse that had nothing to do with any sort of "curse," Clipper favorite and ESPN LA columnist Ramona Shelburne threw some dirt on the wound with an article plastering Shelly Sterling's face on ESPN's front page with the heading "Still same Clippers, one year after sale." The article is well written for what it's trying to accomplish: a heart breaking recollection of the Clippers near WCF berth with some Shelly quotes peppered in.. But the theme throughout is that the curse is a black cloud that continues to follow the team. Even with Donald Sterling thrown overboard, this narrative will continue, particularly as the media, however subtly, continues to propagate it. It adds onto the fuel of making any sort of Clipper failure, whatever it is, a lightning bolt for humiliation.
And yes, there have been failures. The last two postseasons in particular have had a few absolutely excruciating endings, endings that I won't bore you with details of. They definitely add fuel to what so-called haters can throw at the Clippers.
That "curse" compounded with Clipper failings (albeit now at higher levels) have always been something Clipper fans have dealt with, even from our home base thanks to that other LA team's fanbase. But the weirdest part of all of this is that now, the Clipper players are going to take a lot of flak for simply being unlikable. A lot of this is generic fluff, particularly when thrown against the team's two premier superstars. Yes Blake Griffin and Chris Paul flop. Your superstars do too. They also play some of the best basketball you will ever see. But the rest? Boy, there's a lot to look at, and a lot you can understand.
Take a look at the team's roster, especially some of its new additions. Lance Stephenson and Josh Smith have been seen as two of the league's most prominent underachievers of the past couple of years. Stephenson just had one of the most inefficient seasons in recent memory, has a laundry list of off the court issues, and has simply been a general knucklehead that's had to be controlled. Smith? Well, you don't need to know about how the guy with the huge contract was unprecedentedly waived in the middle of the season, only to have his former team springboard onto a crazy winning streak that got derailed by a devastating injury to their breakout point guard. You also remember Smith from that aforementioned Clipper collapse, taking the same terrible shots that Clipper fans will dread all season. That they went in during a certain Game 6 is besides the point, every efficiency based metric hates Smith for very real reasons. Even Paul Pierce, with his catch phrases and Clip Art, will bring swagger that most critics will only point out is unearned for this franchise.
Then there's DeAndre Jordan. The lovable Clipper. As much the news cycle washes away the old with the new, DJ has given the buzzards one thing to hold their hat(e) on, and it's that DJ is no longer an underappreciated star. He's now a player who "isn't a man" and blah blah blah. No more tallying of the different high fives DJ has with every player in the league. The awe of his absurd feats of athleticism will be dulled. He's now another Clipper to be criticized. All this with Matt Barnes off the team, eh?
The Clippers were a particularly attractive team to me when I was younger because of their instantly likable cast of characters. The losing stung, but I felt a sense of happiness enjoying the players I was rooting for despite the Ls. I became more and more attached through the years, and I felt, with admitted bias, the cast of characters still remained lovable. Now? Well, I still love the core of the cast. These are the same starters I've been rooting for over these past few years. But I most definitely need to learn to love a few of these new additions, players that have me excited as a fan of this team as a puzzle, but weary due to checkered histories individually. Smith? Stephenson? These guys play basketball the right way? These are some of the least accessible pieces I have seen on the team, but I'm ready to get behind them. I have only recently enjoyed Pierce due to his career whittling down, but I understand why people dislike the guy's arrogance.
This all said, it's easy for me to put aside these little squabbles due to the fact that these guys seem to be here to win, and I am now entirely enmeshed with the team rather than the individuals. However, for people on the outside looking in, the Clippers have just become much easier to hate. And to an extent, I get it. I get it even moreso when you look at the other contenders that will be prominent next season, with all of their happy narratives for the media. Golden State: media darling Stephen Curry and simply incredible brand of offense/defense basketball. San Antonio: the anti-Clipper Curse team. OKC: former media darling Kevin Durant looks to retake his throne. Cleveland: LeBron James hate continues, but may have been blunted some after years and years of Finals failures, even moreso this last one where the guy's back finally gave out from carrying another under equipped Cavs team to the Finals. The Clippers? The narratives have already been outlined, and none of them cry for sympathy. Purists will want Chris Paul to break through his awful second round narrative, but it seems most generic fans revel in his failure more than his success. Possibly due to his overly competitive spirit that these same fans will claim nearly ran DJ out of town.
So, embrace the hate. It's coming, and it will come in droves. The most talented team in the Doc/CP3 era will face the most rampant criticism, with people waiting for its failure.
Whatever happens, the basketball world will remember the 2015-16 Los Angeles Clippers.