On Tuesday, the LA Clippers announced that star power forward Blake Griffin, who had been injured since December, would miss another four to six weeks with a hand injury. Details were scant at the time, but later in the day, ESPN’s Michael Eaves reported that the injury was caused when Griffin had repeatedly punched a member of the Clippers training staff at a restaurant, breaking his metacarpal in the process.
As wild as this story seems, this type of sensational outbreak has been all too common for Clippers fans lately. Just a few months ago, the Clippers made arguably the biggest offseason show of all time when photos were posted reportedly showing the team barricading center DeAndre Jordan’s door so they could re-sign him without interference from Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, who had extracted a verbal commitment from Jordan just days earlier.
Even before that, the news broke that Jordan and point guard Chris Paul had a rocky relationship that was driving the center from the Clippers. Apparently, the story claimed, one court wasn’t big enough for two guys who were each making over $20 million a year to connect with each other on alley-oops and jams.
All of these incidents have occurred in the past year — let us not forget the slightly more historic ownership saga that followed Donald Sterling’s racist remarks, or the trade saga that brought Paul to Los Angeles in the first place.
It’s long been noted that being an elite athlete in LA is kind of like being both an all-star and a movie star at the same time, but the Clippers seem to have been taking things to a new level. The media buzz perpetually emanating from the Staples Center is effectively the opposite of what one would expect from Greg Popovich’s Spurs, and it certainly outpaces anything put out by the league-leading Warriors.
Until this point, the reality TV show that had been going on in LA could only have mentally harmed the team. Now that a wild incident has physically reduced its roster as well, it’s time to consider whether the team can handle this double fame.
The Clippers have been based out of LA for a long time, to be sure, but most of it was as the fourth- or fifth-best team in a market saturated with champions. The team slowly went through its motions, occasionally squeaking into the playoffs but always playing second fiddle to dynastic squads like the Lakers, the Angels, USC football and UCLA basketball.
When these other teams saw their empires fall, LA was only too happy to embrace the Clippers as the city’s champion of the future. Homegrown players like Griffin and Jordan were beginning to make waves throughout the league, and when a proven playmaker in Paul arrived to run the offense, the town was re-christened “Lob City” in expectation of future success.
The Clippers, to some extent, did repay fan expectations by becoming good. Ticket prices soared, and the team became a mainstay in the postseason. Despite having three of the best players in the NBA to build around, however, they never became great. Four years later, they have yet to make their first Western Conference Finals, let alone the NBA Finals.
Countless things were done in order to get the Clippers back on track, with the team hiring a new coach, revitalizing its bench and even finding a new owner in Steve Ballmer, who would better invest himself in the team. But the Clippers still seem plagued with problems. It’s hard to argue that anything but their own focus could still be standing in their way.
When Ballmer bought the team, he stated that one of its biggest assets was its location in Los Angeles. But until the Clippers concentrate more on winning and less on exciting escapades, it may be its biggest liability as well. It’s easy to get distracted in LA, as more than a few USC coaches and professional football teams formerly located in the city can attest to, and doing so can be quite unforgiving. In order to avoid repeating history, the team needs to take a cue from the past and keep the attention to what it’s doing on the court.
Until then, the Clippers may remain on the front page, but it won’t be the one in June.
Andrew Mather got in his column late because he was feeling under the weather. Send him a (virtual) tissue and/or NyQuil at amather ‘at’ stanford.edu.