I still can’t believe it.
The Clippers pulled off a coup many of us anticipated they needed to make, not only acquiring Kawhi Leonard, but also trading for a co-star in Paul George. Both are from Southern California. Paul George, as known by many Clipper fans, grew up rooting for the Clippers. There was an idea that maybe he could be the co-star Kawhi would need, but his availability was not totally clear. The Clippers traded for George, and Board Man got paid.
This has been touted as a seismic event for the league. Vegas title odds changed instantly. A contender and champion out East took a major blow, while the West deck got reshuffled once again. There will be many pieces about what this means for the race for next year’s championship, and for good reason. It was indeed one of the most game changing nights in July that the NBA has experienced in quite some time.
But to Clipper fans?
This moment was so huge that most of us are still in shock. It was unlike anything we have ever seen before, even been close to seeing before. The lead up to Friday night encapsulated so much of what it felt like being a Clipper fan. The Clippers, after years and years of band aid front offices from despicable human being Donald Sterling, have a new owner and he has enabled smart people to have power within Clipper management. For a year their pursuit of Kawhi Leonard has not been quiet, but it has not been particularly loud in the media. There was quiet momentum building to the Clippers, even in the wake of an impressive Toronto Raptor championship run.
And then? The Lakers trade for Anthony Davis. Days before Kawhi’s decision, the Laker media and their fans become loud. Very loud. The noise became so loud that it was difficult to tune out. Clipper fans, as they’re used to doing, had to listen, with only quiet hope remaining. Hope that the Clips had done the right things, and that this superstar is of a different kin than those that usually follow the Laker brand.
It was the middle of the night, and everything changed.
The media perception of the Clippers changed. The idea that the Clippers could not reel in a big fish is no longer. Those people in the media with their loud noises shrugged and moved on, and will now rationalize this new path Kawhi Leonard has taken. The phrase “Clippers” and “title favorites” are now being thrown around more than we’ve ever seen, even during Lob City. The front office that dreamt big for the summer of 2019 pulled it off. They lost a lot in the process — a ton of picks, a highly capable veteran, and a young player that has every single tool to be a cornerstone guard in this league. But everything is different. Most importantly, Clipper fans are believing again, after years and years of offseason misery.
This revamped Clipper organization scoffs at the idea of a “Clipper Curse,” after the organization scrubbed any stench of Sterling for the past few years. “Basketball reasons” is not in their vocabulary. Clipper fans may be insecure in a sea of Purple and Gold that constantly questions their fanhood, but this Clippers team is as confident in their identity as any team in the NBA. Clipper fans, though, still have their baggage, and seeing definitely constitutes believing.
This team took a swing, in front of everyone, and hit it out of the park. What lies ahead for these Los Angeles Clippers is not a certainty, but that this happened at all is so much more for Clipper fans. That arguably the best player in the league saw the Lakers and did all he could to come to the Clippers is validation for the merit of team building. That the gravity of the Laker brand did not suck another star we were so sure meshed with our culture. In the eye of Kawhi’s uncertainty, you could feel that familiar vulnerability amongst Clipper fans. And now, poof. A new coat of confidence.
There is so much work to be done before winning a championship, and those Lob City wounds are still fresh and not completely healed. But for the Los Angeles Clippers and their fans, this was an incredibly refreshing start. It’s nice to turn that hope into belief.