It’s a date and image that will live long in the hearts of Clipper fans. The team was in the midst of a community outreach trip, garnering fan interest for the upcoming season. The lockout had just been lifted, and at this very moment, so were the spirits of not only the Clipper players, but their fans.
“Lob City” is what Blake Griffin christened it. Not only did it bring an excitement to Clipper basketball, it would also usher in its greatest triumphs.
I am, of course, referring to the Clippers acquisition of Chris Paul prior to the 2011-2012 season.
You see, up until that point there was nothing Clippers fans could say that could upend the tenants they had just so happen to share Staples Center with. They would always be the “little brother” who just couldn’t live up to the successes of the older one.
2011, remind you, was still not many years removed from Clipper fans sitting in the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena with paper bags covering their heads, and to an extent, their identity.
Each year fans would get excited, sharing in the hope that this year might just be the year that they crack the playoffs.
“Maybe, just maybe, if we stay healthy, we can crack the eighth seed,” fans would say.
But 2011 and Chris Paul changed that. Then Clippers GM Neil Olshey was on a mission to change the path of the franchise. It wasn’t solely acquiring Chris Paul. Olshey would also acquire Chauncey Billups and suddenly the Clippers had a squad heading into the lockout-shortened 2011-2012 season.
Eighth seed was no longer an option. The organization and their fans suddenly demanded more.
The team would deliver, and deliver for the next six seasons.
They finished the 2011-2012 season with a 40-26 record, enough to secure the fifth seed in that year’s playoffs. They would take the gritty Memphis Grizzlies to a seventh game in Memphis and break out for a 10-point victory to secure the spot in that year’s second round. However, that series would also signal to the world that the Clippers were no longer the punch line to your “little brother” jokes.
The date was April 29, 2012. The Clippers struggled early against the Grizzlies, eventually trailing Memphis by as many as 27 points. With 9:13 left in the fourth quarter, it looked as though the Clippers would be in for a long battle with their newly minted core, down 95-71.
But, just when it looked the bleakest, The Clippers started to write their own narrative. The Clippers would essentially channel their inner Hollywood, rallying to win 99–98. The 18,119 fans at FedExForum were left speechless and stunned.
But in the midst of constant playoff disappointment, the excitement from this game has all but been forgotten. We live in a world where suddenly the only thing that matters is the title, and the title only.
“It don’t mean a thing, if you ain’t got that ring.”
This is the purgatory the Clippers suddenly find themselves in. Writers and reporters clamoring that this core does not work, that they should tear it all down and rebuild from scratch.
In the 32 years since they left San Diego for Los Angeles, the Clippers have only qualified for the post-season 10 times. 10 times.
Let that sink in.
Six of those playoffs appearances came following the acquisition of Chris Paul from New Orleans.
And people want to start over?
The Sacramento Kings led by Chris Webber and Mike Bibby never won a title. The Utah Jazz featuring John Stockton and Karl Malone never won a ring. The Minnesota Timberwolves led by Kevin Garnett and Sam Cassell never won a championship.
Yet even with those franchises’ playoff heartbreaks back then, time has healed all the proverbial wounds. Fans of those teams now look upon those years with a season of nostalgia, while yearning to go back. Even without a ring, it’s better than the alternative. Looking back upon losing season after losing season.
So maybe, just maybe, we should enjoy the “Lob City” core of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan for however much longer we have them.
Because if we don’t, we will all wish we did when the Clippers of the near future host a 2011-2012 team reunion night at Staples Center.
[Featured Image by Rick Bowmer/AP Images]