Sunday, December 16th, 2001
For the past few NBA seasons, sportswriters, fans, and local sports anchors
have tried to play up the rivalry between the Los Angeles Lakers and the
Los Angeles Clippers. It seems logical that there would be crosstown competition,
but upon deeper inspection, is there a rivalry at all?
The Lakers have lapped the NBA competition since the 1999-2000 season. The
Lakers core: Shaq, Kobe, Derrick Fisher, Robert Horry, and Rick Fox have
been together for a few seasons and have gelled into a cohesive unit. With
the exception of the two most dominant players in the league, the Lakers
are not a terribly exciting team to watch. However, they are a force to behold.
The Lakers have stumbled out of the gate and still manage to have a 17-3
Each offseason at the Clipper compound, there is a large scale propaganda
movement that declares the Clippers to be "a much improved team," "the most
exciting young team," and "the new power in town." Of course, these statements
are first made in early April when the Clippers season ends and the postseason
begins. This year, the Clippers are living up to their billing better than
they have in the past. Still, at 12-11, the Clippers are focused on whom
they'll be battling for the eighth playoff position in the Western Conference.
The Clippers core unit has typically changed each season, which makes it
difficult to establish a winning tradition. The current Clipper ensemble
has remained intact for almost two seasons and the addition of Elton Brand
has given the organization its first legitimate superstar since Ron Harper
left the Cavaliers to join the Clippers in the early 1990s. Moving in a positive
direction is a strong sign for the future, but rivalries aren't based on
future speculation. Rivalries are defined in the here and now.
Here and now, the Lakers are still light years ahead of the Clippers. The
teams have played twice this year and each meeting has been hyped to the
level of a heavyweight bout. Los Angeles fans and media have neglected to
mention that only one of the contestants is a heavyweight. The other is a
legitimate junior-middleweight. But honestly, as exciting a fighter Sugar
Shane Mosley is, would he really pose a threat to Lennox Lewis? No.
The Clippers will one day be a legit force to be reckoned with if they remain
together. Until that point is within sight, let's keep the "rivalry" in
perspective. The Lakers routinely stomp the Clippers in games that are exciting
for the first three quarters.
If excitement made rivalries, the Lakers/Clippers edition would be tower
over the Packers/Bears and the Dodgers/Giants versions. However, competition
makes rivalries, so we'll have to wait. Until then, let the Lakers judge
themselves against the league as a whole and let the Clippers keep their
minds focused on their rivalries with the Nuggets, Trailblazers, Warriors,
and Sonics. Those are the teams the Clippers must push aside before they
can even contemplate tackling the Lakers in a crosstown rivalry.