The morning buzz in sports is about the greatest point guard of our generation, Chris Paul, joining the Los Angeles Clippers. It’s a dizzying thought, but the Clippers, the much-mocked baby brother to the mighty Lakers in LA, now have the city’s better basketball team. This is a day for Frank Stallone, for Billy Carter, for Roger Clinton…. the day that your little bro with the runny nose and the toilet paper stuck to his shoe inherited the earth.
Paul is a 26-year-old future hall of famer who might end his career as the greatest point guard to walk the earth. He now joins a team with reigning rookie of the year Blake Griffin, terrific young center DeAndre Jordan and former finals MVP Chauncey Billups. They are young; they are loaded; they are primed for a sprint of a sixty-six-game season where youth will reign supreme. The Lakers, in sharp contrast, are old, creaky and bitter that their own trade for Paul was voided by the league earlier this week.
I recommend going here and here if you want more analysis of the trade itself. I’m more interested in the cultural shift at play. Not unlike seeing Newt Gingrich at the head of the Republican primaries, having the Clippers rule Los Angeles hoops is like living an alternative universe. To put it in LA terms, it’s like one of the Jackass movies winning the Oscar for best documentary.
The Lakers have been to thirty-two NBA Finals and won sixteen championships. The Clippers have the most sixty-loss seasons in NBA history. The Lakers are the team of Magic, Kareem, Shaq, Kobe, with the ubiquitous Jack Nicholson in the front row. The Clippers are the team most known for their geriatric, feral, furtive owner Donald Sterling, who favors unbuttoned shirts and gold chains and has been accused of bringing “escorts” to ogle at his players changing in the locker room. In recent years, Sterling has had to fend off racial discrimination suits from both former Clipper employees and tenants living in his archipelago of slums.
As comedian Nick Bakay once wrote, “The Lakers’ luxury box is prawns, caviar and opera glasses while the Clippers stock Zantac, barf bags, some good books, and cyanide.” They share an arena, the Staples Center, that has over the last decade resembled a coke-fueled celebrity yacht party for Lakers games and a dour family reunion no one attends for the Clips.
These aren’t two NBA teams. They are the two Americas.
But in a 2011 where we’ve seen global revolutions from the Middle East to the Mid-West overturn accepted truths in thought and deed, it’s hard to think of a more appropriate way for the SportsWorld to end its year. The Lakers have always been the ultimate team of the 1 percent. The Clippers are the also-rans, the afterthoughts, bottom-dwelling 99 percenters of the first order. One trade, and this sacrosanct truth has been turned on its head. To see an exhilarating symbol of the change 2011 has brought and 2012 will bring, you can do worse than remembering the names Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and the soon-to-be almighty Clippers.