Rebranding the Clippers — What would it really take?
Lob City — It wasn’t supposed to stick around. That’s what Blake said. Coining the phrase when someone was filming a reaction video to the news of Chris Paul landing in Los Angeles, not with the Lakers, but with his own team. Later in a frustrated and strict tone he tried to distance their team from the nickname. In a concerted effort Blake tried dropping the name with the basketball equivalent of a model saying “I’m more than just my looks”.
Blake himself was a testament to both the curse of the Clippers, and the possibility of it’s end. Having been picked #1 overall in 2009 with a 17.7% chance. The Clippers actually lost a coin toss that would determine one extra combination, a practice employed due to an oddity of the Draft Lottery structure. Clippers fans probably let out a nervous sigh of relief after the Draft Lottery, and another on Draft Day when their maligned franchise took the sure bet in drafting him.
The Clippers didn’t enjoy their fortune long. Blake broke his kneecap and had to sit out the entire season.
Then everything seemed change all at once.
Step-by-step the Clippers were changing the story, changing the narrative.
It wasn’t just good decision-making, the Clippers were winning. They’ve averaged a 65% W/L ratio or about 54 wins since Chris Paul moved to Los Angeles.
All of those changes, all of that success only to be marred by a terrible post-season where the Clippers have never advanced past the second round.
One April stands out above the rest. It wasn’t execution, it wasn’t injuries, the refs didn’t screw them over when once again the Clippers ended their season early in 2014. The supposed source of the curse had lurched into the public eye. Donald Sterling’s toxic racism erupted the NBA community with a public scandal that lead to swift justice including his ousting as an owner and maybe the best commissioner related gif of all time.
It didn’t take long for Ballmer to step in and buy the team. The Clippers responded as an organization, promoting Doc Rivers to President of Basketball Operations, and by 2015 they unveiled new logos and new uniforms.
Despite the initial hate, and the jokes, and the story coming out that the logo was designed by a rival team’s graphic design team (with the subtext of not putting in a true effort). The boulder finally seemed pushed up the hill. The Sisyphean task of killing the Clippers’ curses both supernatural and self-imposed actually achieved, their demons vanquished.
New Owner. New Logo. New Brand.
To the casual fan, the Clippers are still the Clippers (lol). With Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and Deandre, facing elimination in the first round, once again losing Blake to injury, it wouldn’t surprise anyone if Chris Paul bolted to San Antonio, Blake went home to Oklahoma, J.J. Redick followed the money, Doc retired, and with a lonely core of Austin Rivers, Jamal Crawford, and DeAndre Jordan on a 1-year deal the Clippers disintegrated into Sob City.
The stories are swirling about what comes next, but maybe the rebrand is in full effect with Kevin Arnovitz tweeting that Chris Paul will re-sign for the 5-year $200M+ deal he helped construct during the last CBA negotiations. J.J. Redick and Blake are also rumored to be willing to stay in L.A.
Championship or bust.
The mentality that has supposedly defined Los Angeles sports for generations is supposed to now press the Clippers to make even more big changes even though things are good, not great, but good.
That would be a huge step backwards. Going back to the lottery, or trying to re-build on the fly without a salvo of 1st round picks, tradable assets like an underpaid player in his prime that can’t find minutes behind the Clippers’ best, or even cap space would ultimately push them back to being the second tier NBA team, the off-brand Lakers, the team just renting a room in Magic Johnson’s house.
Rebranding is about changing the conversation and the Lob City era Clippers still have a chance to flip their script.
As I’m writing this Chris Paul is leading all scorers in a do-or-die Game 6 trying to force a Game 7. Should they can escape a 1st round exit, overcoming injuries once again, their franchise point guard carrying the team on his back, that’ll add to the lore. It’s not quite hanging a championship banner, but if Joseph Heller’s Colonel Cathcart was making his list he’d add it to “feathers in his cap” column, and not yet another “black eye”.
Assuming the current timeline gets extended, the next time this core becomes free agents, the Clippers would only have two years left on their lease with Staples Center which ends in 2024. Coincidentally Los Angeles is also making a bid for the Summer Olympics that year.
They’ve already set aside $250M for overrun and are open to cutting red tape for vital construction projects. In fact this week members of the Olympic committee are touring Los Angeles. Wouldn’t it be nice if they could catch the Clippers before they head back to Europe?
It wouldn’t surprise me if Ballmer, who’s made it known that he wants a long-term solution for the Clippers to have their own arena, to slide into a sweetheart deal for a fast-tracked construction. Perhaps in trying to bring the Games to L.A., he can get some kind of friendly terms with the city in order to offer “one more thing”, say an oceanside venue to the Olympic Committee. Local political leadership has already recruited Kobe, Carl Lewis, Magic Johnson and Wayne Gretzky, and even Trump has pushed to get the games in L.A.
A new arena would make a lot more sense than trying to fill a football arena for 41 games a year (as was rumored with the new L.A. Rams stadium), or getting people out to Inglewood at the old Forum. To continue the rebrand, Ballmer could try to get a stadium built in Santa Monica and become the choice entertainment of the quickly evolving Silicon Beach.
The Bayside Clippers has a nice ring to it, and would give the rivalry with the Golden State Warriors an extra element to it. Possibly even outshining the slow resurgence of the Lakers in their post-Kobe Process who look more concerned with modeling the Warriors than beating them in a playoff series.
In this somewhat dream scenario, Chris Paul and J.J. would be 36, Blake and Deandre 32. Probably enough in the tank for some veteran-heavy runs with the optimism that they find magic like the 2011 Dallas Mavericks. Neither Deandre or Blake’s game will age like Dirk’s, but maybe that won’t matter. They would just have to last long enough until they can hear their names called at a stadium to call their own.
When they retire— Redick, Paul, Jordan, and Griffin should hang in their own set of rafters. No comparisons to Worthy, Kareem, O’Neil, Bryant, and the rest of Purple and Gold’s illustrious history necessary. Clippers fans deserve to be part of Los Angeles, they deserve their own piece of history, and the Lob City Era can be that cornerstone that the future of the Clippers will measure itself to.
The Lob City Era… something that wasn’t even supposed to last, would be the reason that the Clippers story changed.
Not just a new logo, not just a palatable way to escape a painful past, but changing the narrative through perseverance, loyalty, and grit. A legacy that was earned by individuals despite the odds and proved they were much more than the flashy dunks that started it all.