December 15, 2011 was one of the greatest days in Los Angeles Clippers history.
Before people jump down my throat for making that statement or show their petty bitterness with insecure jokes (I’m talking to you Lakers fans), there’s really no other way to describe it.
I know they didn’t win a championship, a conference title or heck, even one single game as currently constructed, but the acquisition of Chris Paul represents a monumental step forward for the franchise.
In Paul they now have a superstar in his prime who chose to come to the Clippers. Sure he was ready to join the Lakers less than 10 days ago, but who cares about that now, he’s a member of Clipper Nation.
Let that sink in for a moment. The Clippers are widely known as one of the worst franchises in major sports history. They’ve always been labeled losers, something that happens when you only make the postseason four times in 30 plus years, and have seemingly suffered at the hands of a cruel fate and an infamous owner.
The only stars they ever had either came through the draft (where the player has little say in the matter) or they were short term rentals who had no desire to be here. It was like the NBA’s version of detention, aka you’re banished to the Clippers.
That’s over and done with.
Thanks to the emergence of Blake Griffin, great draft choices by Neil Olshey and his staff and quality free agency moves, the Clippers are now on the fast track to changing their image.
There’s no bigger example of that reality than trading for Chris Paul. Sure the team had to give up some of its most coveted assets in Eric Gordon and their unprotected 2012 first round draft pick, as well as longtime Clipper center Chris Kaman. Those guys will be most definitely be missed, but it was a price that had to be paid if they ever really wanted to change their destiny.
The franchise has had great moments before, including getting Elton Brand to play his best years as a pro in red, white and blue. His teams made the playoffs and played deep into the postseason, coming just one bad defensive play short of the Western Conference Finals. But we all know how that ended, and the window was ultimately smaller than Kobe’s sense of humility.
With Paul and Griffin on the court together, alongside the youth of DeAndre Jordan and the veteran savvy of guys like Chauncey Billups and Caron Butler, these Clippers are primed to make immediate moves.
But even focusing on that sells the move short. A big chunk of what makes December 15, 2011 so special for the citizens of Clipper Nation is the symbolism involved.
A superstar in his prime finally chose to come to the Clippers, to not only fight to overcome the team’s cursed image, but to chase championships and build a brand new legacy. That’s not me putting words in Paul’s mouth either, take a look.
Fortunately for the Clippers, Paul doesn’t care about their sordid history. He sees only a bright future filled with lob passes to Blake Griffin, a renewed rivalry with the Los Angeles Lakers, playoff appearances and – if they’re fortunate enough – a championship.
“That’s what’s going to make this even more fun,” Paul said. “Anybody remember what the Hornets’ record was before I got there? It was 18-64. I’m used to being an underdog. It’s what competition is all about.”
That mentality has to permeate across nearly an entire franchise for it to really work, and Paul’s introductory press conference said it all.
You had Paul, the engaging young star ready to shine in Hollywood’s light and Olshey, the fresh-faced young executive oozing confidence and a genuine belief that the organization was finally moving in the right direction.
He had every reason to; they had pulled off what was seemingly impossible.
Sure it was just one day and there are a ton of uncontrollable variables that will ultimately decide the trade’s true value, but none of that mattered. Because on that one day, the memories of previous failures, freak injuries, heartbreaking losses and every other Clipper negative were gone.
At long last, the Clippers looked like a well-run organization capable of not only dreaming big, but believing in themselves enough to make those dreams a reality.
Just ask Chris Paul.
Will R. is a journalist/writer who covers sports, news and music for several websites. He’s a longtime Clippers fan and his “Diary of a Clippers Fan” is regularly published during the NBA season. His music work can be found on www.WestCoastRydaz.com
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