Sure, when you share the same city, potential fan base, and same arena as what is arguably the model NBA-franchise, the second most successful team in the history of the league, and the winner of five out of the last eleven NBA championships, it's virtually impossible not to be thought of as such.
It's not like the Clippers are doing much to make people think otherwise, considering they've only had two winning seasons since moving to LA in 1984, have only made the playoffs four times in the last 35 years, their history of first round draft pick busts (see: Olowokandi, Michael; Miles, Darius; Korolev, Yaroslav, et al) and the rumored Clippers curse.
In a nutshell, the Clippers suck. (They also suck outside of a nutshell, and most everywhere else.)
Despite a team history steeped in failure and their current, and obvious shortcomings (a horrible owner, no brand/franchise identity, and a subpar coach) I've actually found myself drawn to watch almost as many Clippers games as I've watched Lakers games this season (read: almost every game–I'm an unashamed basketball geek).
Stigma aside, there's actually a glimmer of hope in Clipper Nation, and even if that glimmer of hope doesn't manifest itself in winning records and playoff runs longer than “four-and-out,” I'm pretty sure I'll be watching as much Clippers basketball as I can while that glimmer is wearing a failure-soaked Clippers jersey.
That glimmer of hope is Clippers forward, Blake Griffin, my current NBA man-crush (not in a “gay” way, but in an “unhealthy obsession with his seemingly effortless badassery and undeniably likeable on-and-off-court personality” way) and as of mid-November or so, my favorite player in the league*.
1) His Breakthrough Performance, November 20, 2010 vs the Knicks
Since this game against the Knicks, poor Timofey Mozgov (#25) probably had recurring nightmares of being defiled by a beast in a Clippers uniform. First, he gets posterized on the follow-up dunk that Blake could conceivably have finished by sitting on Mosgov's shoulders like a child on a parent's shoulders at an amusement park.
Adding insult to injury, Mosgov, who's listed at 7'1″, gets absolutely ruined as Blake drops the best in-game dunk I've seen since Vince Carter's evisceration of Frederic Weis in the 2000 Olympics. It's embarrassing enough to get dunked on like that, but to have it compounded by getting a face full of Blake's lap has got to be just short of televised castration on the public humiliation scale.
But Blake wasn't going to stop there. He topped the night off with a ridiculous spin move on a breakaway and added Danilo Gallinari to his ever-growing list of people he's defiled on the court this season, by throwing it down on the Italian (who reacted like an extra on the set of the Alfred Hitchcock classic, The Birds).
Unfortunately, in true Clippers fashion, they found a way to lose 124-115, despite 44 points and 15 rebounds from Griffin. Such is life for Clippers fans.
2) The Potential That Something Amazing Might Happen
As evidenced by the clip above, the Knicks game was no fluke. This kind of stuff happens every game. Blake's rare combination of size, strength, court sense, and agility makes him a must-watch player. There's a feeling that if you were pull your gaze away from the TV on any given trip down the court you might miss something amazing.
The only other players in the league that I'd really put on this level with him would be the player formerly known as LeBron James (because since he's “taken his talents to South Beach,” it seems he does a lot more standing around with or without the ball than he ever did in Cleveland) and Kobe Bryant (partly because he's still capable of taking a game over [for better or worse] like none other, and mostly because this is my unavoidable Lakers-bias making its presence felt).
The fascinating thing about Blake is that he's capable of all this while having a larger frame (6'10″, 251lbs) than LeBron or Kobe. I'm just hoping that large frame (that includes some troublesome knees, one of which kept him from playing at all last season) can stay healthy when he plays both ends of the floor with such a high level of intensity, “Clippers Curse” be damned.
3) Likability, On And Off The Court
Contrary to what most mainstream sports media tends to perpetuate, I don't really need my favorite athletes to be role models, model citizens, and/or guys I'd like to have a beer with. Ultimately, I just want them to make my favorite team better, thus making me happy and filling whatever void(s) that my addiction to sports represents.
If an athlete does, by chance, come across as a “good” person with an endearing personality, I consider it a bonus. That's where Blake Griffin fits into the equation. If you've read this far, you've surely gathered that I'm a fan of his talents, but the more I watch him play, the more I see how he happily he interacts with his teammates and genuinely looks like he's having good time playing a game for a living (despite being on a team with the NBA's worst record), and the more I'm exposed to clips like the one above, the more I'm sold on him.
It's rare to see an athlete so gifted, that it also so driven to improve (as natural talent often breeds complacency or a sense of entitlement), while not being caught up in being a totally self-absorbed and self-important dick. Granted, my perception could be way off, but I'd like to think I'm a decent judge of character, even if it's just from a fan's perspective.
And that's why I love Blake Griffin. That's why I'll actually sit through an entire Clippers game. That's why, if the Lakers and Clippers are on at the same time, I bounce back and forth between broadcasts so as not to miss much of Blake's time on the court.
We're incredibly lucky, LA and OC hoops heads. We're lucky to be able to watch the latter half of the career of one of the greatest players of all-time, in Kobe Bryant, and the beginning of a what could very well be the long and illustrious career of one of the greatest forwards to ever play the game, in Blake Griffin. (Until he, like most Clippers “stars,” leave the Clippers as soon as he's eligible for free agency.)
*Actually, to be honest, Blake's 1b, as Kobe Bryant has been 1a for about a decade now (likability aside).