HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — What do you do when the bully is wounded, down on a knee and struggling to gain his equilibrium?
You pound on him. You take every shot you can to keep him down, to gain whatever measure of satisfaction you can. It’s the law of the jungle, as they say, the way it’s done in the cutthroat world of professional sports.
That’s why the Los Angeles Clippers are wise to strike their Staples Center hallway neighbors now. The Los Angeles Lakers are in a holding pattern with Kobe Bryant fighting his way back from a devastating injury, Dwight Howard gone and guys like Nick Young and Robert Sacre joining Steve Nash and Pau Gasol.
The Clippers had the upper hand last season, when Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and the rest of Clipper Darrell‘s favorite team won the Pacific Division. They served as the most exciting team in the Southland — though the Lakers still won the headlines battle because they generated the most drama in SoCal this side of the Kardashians.
Adding front office ace/coach Doc Rivers, sharpshooter J.J. Redick, utility man extraordinaire Jared Dudley and others bolstered the Clippers’ situation over the summer. Rivers helped make sure Paul’s free-agent frenzy ended before it got started, and that led us to this point:
The Clippers covered up the Lakers’ championship banners and retired jersey numbers at Staples during a preseason game Friday night, a move initiated by Rivers. And that dials up the energy in the battle for Los Angeles to new levels:
“He can do that?” Young said after Lakers practice Sunday, the team’s first since returning from China. “For real? That’s disrespectful. We got to talk to Doc. He can’t have that. We got to do something about that.”
The Clippers revealed their Staples Center redecoration during a preseason game Friday, as they plastered giant posters of players Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, Jamal Crawford, Matt Barnes, Jared Dudley and J.J. Redick over the Lakers’ 16 championship banners and 10 retired uniforms.
“That’s a lot of pull y’all are giving Doc,” Young said, somewhat facetiously. “I think he shouldn’t come in and have so much pull like that. He’s got to earn his keep.”
I’m not saying what the Clippers did is right or wrong, but it is certainly understandable when you are battling for the hearts and minds of millions of Angelenos. The Clippers don’t have decades of credibility to lean on in this fight. They have a sliver of an opening to exploit while the Lakers are in flux. They have to go for the jugular.
Bypassing the Marquess of Queensberry Rules for the UFC playbook makes perfect sense. If you can’t win a fair fight (the Clippers are down 16-0 in the titles category and decades behind in the credibility department), it’s time for the by-any-means-necessary approach.
Rivers knows what he’s doing. He understands what it takes. He’s been a part of the only franchise that can rival the Lakers in terms of all-time success. He has a keen insight on how this works.
He knows that maintaining that elite level is just as pressure-packed a situation as trying to get to that level. So while covering up a few banners and retired jerseys might seem like a stunt to some, it’s much more calculated than that from this perspective. The Clippers are firing shots at the Lakers. They smell blood. They are on the attack.
We’ll find out if they have what it takes to follow through on all of this or if the Lakers have what it takes to fend them off. Either way, fans of both franchises, in Southern California and around the world, will be the biggest winners. Because this sort of contempt only cranks up the level of competition. Just the way it should be.