“The Last Dance” has brought to the surface how draining it can be to be the championship favorite year in and year out. The burden of expectations weighs heavy, and even Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls struggled with the pressure of winning and maintaining a dynasty.
The Clippers, for essentially their entire existence, have operated on the other end of the spectrum. Their story is one of a downtrodden franchise debased by inept ownership. Forget expectations of contending: The Clippers have barely dreamed of making the playoffs for most of their history. No one understands being an underdog better than the Clippers and their fans.
The franchise’s underdog story essentially begins and ends with Donald Sterling. He was too cheap to run the team well, so top draft picks tried to stay away or negotiated early outs on their contracts. Little attention was given to training staffs and practice facilities, which compromised the franchise further and led to highly-touted players regularly suffering injuries with the Clippers. The allure of playing in Los Angeles wasn’t even a draw to free agents because of Sterling’s odious personality. Donald Sterling’s most positive contribution to the NBA was convincing Dr. Jerry Buss to buy the Los Angeles Lakers, an action that ended up relegating the Clippers to bystanders within their own market.
The Clippers know how it feels to be counted out before the games even start, to step on the court with a talent disadvantage, and to live in the shadow of others’ success. Before Steve Ballmer entered the picture, the Clippers were the truest definition of an underdog, and the scars from living that reality for so many years persist.
In a way, that was the draw of rooting for the team back in the day. There was joy in even fleeting victories knowing that the odds were stacked against the Clippers. It’s a far cry from where the franchise is now, but that mentality is forever a part of this community’s DNA.
It is Underdog Week at SB Nation, a topic that should be very near and dear to all Clippers fans, so we want to celebrate your favorite underdogs. Let us know in the comments if there are any particular teams or players that you’d like to revisit this week, perhaps even games where the Clippers upset a massive favorite.
On to the links...
- Perhaps my favorite piece that I read related to “The Last Dance” was an excerpt from head coach Phil Jackson’s diaries during the 1997-98 season. There are tons of great details, but the part that cracked me up was Jackson loudly playing Taboo at night with his family in his hotel room to get back at Michael Jordan, who had been taking piano lessons in his room one floor above.
- The Clippers will officially reopen their practice facility today for “limited voluntary rehabilitation and physical wellness activities”, as reported by the Los Angeles Times and confirmed by a team source.
- NBA players continue to put their faith in Adam Silver for a safe resumption of play this year. One reason the players trust Silver so thoroughly is because of his handling of Donald Sterling back in 2014.
- On that note, “Blackballed” premieres today on Quibi.
- In some pure basketball news, The Ringer examined some under-the-radar storylines for all the Pacific Division teams.
- Doc Rivers spoke with his son (and former Clipper) Austin about the hiatus and tons of over topics.
- And one last very strange story: Spencer Dinwiddie set up a bitcoin GoFundMe to crowdsource his next free agency decision. The Clippers, along with the Lakers and the Nets, are on the GoFundMe image, so make what you will of that.