For NBA fans, “Boston vs. Los Angeles” evokes imagery of the Celtics vs. the Lakers—probably the league’s most storied rivalry. Russell vs. Chamberlain. Bird vs. Magic. Paul Pierce vs. Kobe Bryant.
But this is 2016. Kobe’s retiring and the Lakers stink with the worst record in the 15-team Western Conference.
So a Boston fan like me on a California vacation thus opted to see the Celtics take on the playoff –bound Clippers at L.A.’s Staples Center—as opposed to the hapless Lakers.
“Hapless Lakers” still sounds weird to say. But that’s an unexpected 2016 reality. Along with Donald Trump and $1.50 gas.
Can you say “Isaiah Thomas vs. Chris Paul?”
Built in 1999, the Staples Center has giant statues of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson outside its downtown locale. Undaunted, I broke out some Celtic Green for the Staples showdown, and found many kindred spirits in similar colors. Green abounded, as southern California features plenty of New England expatriates.
The beautiful arena is like most modern NBA venues. State of the art. Comfortable. Expensive. A far cry from the old Boston Garden.
Jack Nicholson was NOT at courtside, but Ellen Pompeo (Grey’s Anatomy) was among the Hollywood stars there pulling for the Clippers, who are still trying to distance themselves from the disastrous ownership tenure of Donald Sterling.
There were other familiar faces in the building. Former Celtics coach Doc Rivers runs the Clippers, who feature former Celtic star Paul Pierce. It was cool to see the 18-year veteran embrace Celtics TV announcer Mike Gorman on the floor before the game. Pierce scored eight points before injuring a knee and ankle and leaving the contest. I hoped it wasn’t the last moment of his Hall-of-Fame career.
Although the Clippers have no tradition they still tried to convey a sense of historic franchise success. A pregame interview on the scoreboard screen showed a fan being asked about his favorite all-time Clipper moment. The fan cited a triple double by Chris Paul a month earlier. Sad. Especially compared to the decades of awesome Celtic or Laker history. It takes time to build tradition.
I was reminded of these disparate traditions when I went to the concession stand and looked at all the Celtic throw-back journeys worn by fans. There was a #6 (Russell). A #32 (McHale). Several #33’s (Bird). And, appropriately, a whole bunch of #34s (Pierce).
The game was a bummer for those of us wearing green, as the Clippers rolled. Paul had seven assists and four points in the first seven minutes and L.A. never looked back, winning 114-90. Austin Rivers (son of Doc) led the Clippers with 16 points. LA’s best player, Blake Griffin, didn’t even play, as he was serving a suspension.
That’s the thing about sports. You never know what you’re going to get. You pay the big bucks and hope to see a classic contest. But for Boston fans, it was a dog of a game.
Yet afterwards it occurred to me that I’d probably witnessed one of the greatest wins in the sorry L.A. Clipper history.
It takes time to build tradition.
Where did the Clippers play before they moved to Los Angeles? (Answer follows)
Born Today …
That is to say, sports standouts born on April 7 include former NFL running back Tony Dorsett (1954) and Major League Baseball star Adrian Beltre (1979).
“Lakers hang banners. Clippers hang selfies.” – Internet quote regarding how the Clippers hang player photos from Staples Center rafters, because they have no championship banners.
The Clippers played in San Diego from 1978-84. From 1970-78 they were the Buffalo Braves. In 1978 new owner John Y. Brown, Jr. traded franchise ownerships with Celtic owner Irv Levin. A Californian, Levin then decided to move the Braves to San Diego, something the NBA would have never allowed him to do with the Celtics.
Michael Moffett is a Professor of Sports Management at NHTI, Concord’s Community College. He recently co-authored the critically-acclaimed and award-winning “FAHIM SPEAKS: A Warrior-Actor’s Odyssey from Afghanistan to Hollywood and Back” (with the Marines)—which is available through Amazon.com. His e-mail address is email@example.com.