The Los Angeles Clippers are currently enjoying their best season in franchise history and yet it barely matters in the City of Angels. The reason is simple: L.A. is synonymous with LakerLand.
The late Jerry Buss didn’t just create a winning basketball club, he was the architect of a prestigious one. No other team in the league’s rich history has seen more transcendent players.
For the sake of perspective, one need only look back to 1996 when David Stern announced the 50 Greatest Players of all-time. It goes without saying that the list is a little dated currently, but it’s still worth glancing at.
It features the name of eight Lakers that are once-in-a-lifetime type of talents. Heck, some of them redefined basketball and set the standard for their respective positions.
For instance, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is arguably the best player the league has ever seen. He is the proud owner of six championship rings, six MVP trophies and two Finals MVP awards.
Abdul-Jabbar spent part of his playing days alongside the greatest point guard that ever lived: Magic Johnson. At the peak of his powers, no one was better at steering a team.
Johnson set up his teammates for scores, rebounded in traffic to get the fast break started and put up points whenever the situation called for it. And he did it all with flair.
With the Lakers at his helm, Johnson won five world titles. He also earned three MVP awards and three Finals MVPs.
His unparalleled level of production at the point guard position make him the standard by which all floor generals are judged.
Johnson and Abdul-Jabbar are, for the most part, in the top five players of all time conversation, and rightfully so. But there are other Lakers that are right on the fence.
Indeed, although they might not yet be on the same level as the previous two talents mentioned above in terms of stature, they are undoubtedly some of the most dominating players we have ever seen.
Wilt Chamberlain was an older player by the time he joined the Lakers, but he still helped the team win the 1972 championship and took out Abdul-Jabbar’s Bucks on his way to the title.
Chamberlain had the privilege of playing with Jerry West. Until Michael Jordan came along, West held the title for greatest shooting guard ever. He was so dominant at the position that he is still today the only player to win the Finals MVP despite playing for the runner-up in the championship series.
When his playing days ended, West eventually became the general manager of the Lakers and acquired Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant.
O’Neal was the leader for three Laker championship teams. The superstar center was rewarded for his terrific play with an MVP award and three Finals MVP trophies. Bryant was a huge part of those title teams and carried the legacy forward when O’Neal departed.
The Lakers’ all-time leading scorer brought in two more championships as the face of the team and collected two Bill Russell awards in the process.
And of course, George Mikan (Minneapolis Laker), Elgin Baylor and James Worthy are integral figures in the history of the franchise.
The bigger point should be obvious: The Lakers have an incredible winning tradition.
Buss always brought in the best possible assets and they rewarded him with championship parades. Whether it was bringing in players or legendary coaches, such as Phil Jackson, the late owner never left a stone unturned.
The same cannot be said about Clippers’ owner Donald Sterling though.
Chew on this stat for a minute: The Lakers have hoisted more championship banners than the Clippers have postseason appearances. Read that last line again.
In 43 seasons, the Clips have participated in the playoffs nine times.
And the few occasions where they played into late April have always been met with a lot of trepidation. It’s not so much that fans feared the team would find a way to fold, it was actually expected.
Every bit of success that’s occurred under Sterling’s watch has been followed by a disaster.
Just look back at the last 20 years.
After making the playoffs in 1993, the Clippers won 27 games the following season. A few years later, they rejoined the postseason in 1997, but laid an egg the next year and won 17 games.
Perhaps the most intriguing team of all was the 2005-06 unit that featured Sam Cassell and Elton Brand. They won 47 games and played into late May. They won 40 games in the ensuing campaign and missed the playoffs.
This brings us to the present installment of the Clippers. They acquired Chris Paul prior to the 2011-12 season and joined the playoffs once again. They were swept in the second round and admirably bounced back this year with the most wins in franchise history.
But these Clippers have not yet earned the trust of fans or media members.
They have great players in Paul and Blake Griffin, but no history to fall back on. None of the game’s legends attend Clippers games in a show of unity or what have you.
We hear about the Lakers’ family or fraternity, but never hear such things involving Sterling’s team.
A losing legacy rarely secures anyone's praise or a proverbial pass. And that’s why the Clippers will always fall short in comparisons with the Lakers in Los Angeles.