To Have And To Have Not

I don’t have a little brother, but if I did I would call him Clipper. Not that I’m particularly wild about that name, or that it stems from some embarrassing incident that all families love to burden their youngest members with. It’s just that from my sports-dominated perspective, all little brothers should be named after the prototype for little brothers – the Los Angeles Clippers.

A little background here…

In 1960 the Minneapolis Lakers relocated their highly successful NBA franchise to Los Angeles, taking up residence in Inglewood’s Fabulous Forum. It was one of the most high-profile franchise relocations in sports history, and in virtually no time at all the Lakers were the toast of the town.

In 1984, the San Diego Clippers staggered north up the coast, eight dismal seasons removed from their formative years as the Buffalo Braves. They moved into the decidedly Not-So- Fabulous L.A. Sports Arena. Once ensconced, the Clippers began their relentless pursuit of mediocrity – which in most years would have marked a step up from the previous season. Many basketball fans came of age under the impression that “hapless” was actually a part of the Clipper’s full franchise name.

In their first 38 seasons in Los Angeles, the Lakers appeared in 17 NBA Finals and won 6 NBA Championships, gaining sports icon status along the way. The Clippers, ahem…did not. Then in 1999, both teams moved into the brand new Staples Center, where the former rattled off four more NBA titles more championships in quick succession, while the latter resumed its annual pursuit of high draft picks.

Not to say that the Lakers/Clippers shared arena relationship is completely unique. The Jets and Giants share a football stadium. In fact, just across town the L.A. Galaxy and Chivas USA soccer teams both play their home MLS games in the Home Depot Center. And they play against each other – the former once every four years and the latter at least twice a year. To the best of my knowledge however, only the Lakers and Clippers provide such a stark contrast in success.

In fact, the disparity in the long-term fortunes of each team is so great they do not even have a rivalry. Think about that for a moment. Can you imagine a scenario anyplace else in the American sports consciousness in which fans of two teams playing in the same city, the same league, the same Pacific Division – the same building, are NOT sworn enemies? But as is the case with most everything in Los Angeles, things are different here.

Lakers fans are actually grateful that the Clippers exist. It gives them four additional games each season in the nearly “automatic win” category, and even better, two more de facto home games. Clippers fans get far easier access to the quality NBA basketball that high-profile visiting teams bring to the Staples Center. And what’s more, enterprising hoops fans can purchase a Clippers season ticket and sell their home games against the Lakers in the secondary market, thereby bringing the cost of a season of basketball into a more affordable range. This works like a charm for Clippers fans – as long as they don’t mind being second-class citizens in their own home. In other words, little brothers.

To this Sports Fan, the entire scenario is irresistible. How does this play out on a day-to-day basis behind the scenes? What is the specific impact of this Have vs. Have Not dynamic on sales, marketing, operations, game production? I had often thought that it would be interesting to attend a Lakers game and a Clippers game in quick succession just to compare and contrast. And then, like a gift from the sports deities, the perfect scheduling opportunity presented itself for witnessing this dichotomy in all of its glory.

In the waning days of the regular season, April 4th offered a Lakers home game and a Clippers home game on the same day. In the afternoon, the Lakers would play host to the San Antonio Spurs – two proud franchises with multiple championships between them over the past decade. Playoff positioning would be at stake in front of a national television audience. In the evening, the Clippers would entertain the New York Knicks. Both teams had long since been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, and were playing out the string at the tail end of yet another dismal year. This I had to see.

To be continued…

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