Within hours of the Clippers trading for Chris Paul, the text I sent to Ben was clear and to the point: Clips cover? The only part that was unnecessary was the question mark. If ever there was a no-brainer SLAM cover, it was CP3 and BG teaming up: Dunks, slick passing, uptempo play. Lob City, right?
As it turned out, we got some time with Blake and Chris in L.A. a few weeks ago, and it coincided with the launch of the CP3.V, so I escaped a freezing NYC and spent a week in 80-degree Hell-Ay. I know, it’s tough work if you can get it.
At the time of our cover shoot for SLAM 156, the season was barely two weeks old, the Clips were just 3-2, and they were still trying to figure out how that whole Lob City thing was supposed to work. “He’s Lob City,” Chris Paul told me, gesturing at Blake. “I’m Layup City.”
Blake talked about the transition they’re trying to make, and how it’s not easy to add a guy on the fly and to have to learn to play alongside him: “I’ve seen [Chris] play on TV and all that, and you know how he plays, but it’s like you’ve got to be on the same wavelengths as far as who’s on the floor, time, score, situation, who he’s got on him, who I’ve got on me, how I set the pick, how they defend it. All of those things have be taken into account, and we’re getting to that point.”
The cover story I wrote is about them getting to that point, this process they’re going through learning how to play together. It was really interesting to hear them talk about the differences in their games and the adjustments they have to make, even with something as seemingly reflexive as an alley-oop—the key to Lob Angeles.
CP3 said the most alley-oops he’d thrown before joining the Clippers was when he played with Tyson Chandler in N’awlins, and Chandler wanted the ball aimed just outside the rim. When Paul arrived in L.A. and talked to Blake, he found out that Blake didn’t want the ball adjacent to the rim. “Instead of throwing right in front of the goal,” CP3 said, “Blake wants it back, really far back.” Paul pointed like a foot outside the rim. (“I try to add some flair to it,” Blake said.)
For the Clippers, it isn’t just about winning games, it’s about rewriting their horrid past. The last time the Clippers had a solo cover of SLAM to themselves was SLAM issue 57, from February of 2002, which was exactly 10 years ago. That issue’s cover line read, “The Los Angeles Clippers may not make it to the top right away, but they will make it. Together.” Instead, Darius Miles was moved to Cleveland a few months later, and Lamar Odom was in Miami by the summer of 2003. In the decade since, the Clips have had one winning season and been to the Playoffs all of one time.
It’s been something of a vicious circle, a swirl down a deep drain, with nothing they’ve done, from changing players to coaches, working. But since GM Neil Olshey showed up and Blake was drafted, the Clips seem to have—and hold your breath here—finally, finally found the road out of cellar and toward what they’ve been looking for forever: Wins.
Of course, the issue as a whole wins, too. Besides the Clips, we’ve got revealing features on Chris Bosh and Kyrie Irving, a perfect Old-School piece on Magic Johnson’s triumphant return at the ’92 All-Star Game and so much more great writing and photography. Check for it in NY this weekend and the rest of the country next week!