by Sean Ceglinsky / @seanceglinsky
Never thought this day would actually materialize. Neither did longtime Los Angeles Clippers supporter Billy Crystal. Nor did anyone else in the NBA, regardless of whether the observer was an avid or recreational fan. Throw the so-called experts into the mix as well, most of whom knocked the franchise for years.
Despite the lack of respect in the past, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and Lob City went out and secured the Pacific Division title with a 109-95 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday afternoon. Crystal naturally was in attendance at Staples Center to witness the coronation, along with a handful of other high-profile Hollywood types as well as the ESPN cameras broadcasting the showdown to the entire nation.
That’s right, you read that correctly: The Clippers won the Pacific Division title. The championship-winning effort, mind you, was the first of any kind in the history of the organization. We’re talking a span of 43 years, given the fact there were pit-stops along the way in Buffalo and San Diego before Los Angeles.
“I would not have missed this for anything, winning the division, this kind of thing doesn’t happen every day, not around here,” said Crystal, who was posted up at his typical courtside seat.
In the locker room afterward, potential talk of raising a Pacific Division championship banner at Staples Center, home to multiple NBA Finals championship banners belonging to the Lakers, was essentially dismissed right away by the Clippers. While pleased with the result, you get the sense this is only the start.
Following the game, t-shirts were handed out with phrases Can’t Stop Los Angeles and 2013 Division Champions Los Angeles Clippers on the front. No one rocked the gear, however.
“We’ve had the opportunity to speak to season ticket holders who have been here for a very, very long time who have been waiting for this,” Paul said. “We wanted to clinch the division on our own terms and win a big, emotional game here in the city. It means a lot. It means we’re headed in the right direction.
“There was no cake and no champagne popping or anything like that in the locker room,” he added. “I think that says even more about our team and that we’re not satisfied. We understand that this is something small compared to the big picture. It’s not just about us guys in the locker room—it’s about the organization.”
The Clippers have taken the back seat to the Lakers here in Los Angeles for quite some now. As far back as most fans care to remember, in fact. This year, however, the roles were reversed. They won the season series without a loss to the Lakers. Winning by an average of more than 13 points per game, for good measure.
“It’s always good to sweep a team in your division, sweep a team in the West. At the same time, we had the mindset this was what we were supposed to do, and we want something a little bit more than that,” Griffin said. “Never having been in that situation, or my first year not even being close, it means something to me.”
Sunday’s outcome meant something to everyone involved. The Clippers, for obvious reasons. Also, the Lakers, considering they’re in midst of a battle for their postseason lives. As things stand now, Kobe Bryant & Co. are on the outside looking in, trailing the Utah Jazz for the final berth in the Western Conference race.
Before the opening tip, the ticket was one of the hottest in town. Music moguls Rihanna and Will.I.Am were in the place to be and caused quite a stir from the moment they stepped into the building at Staples Center. As it turned out, Crystal wasn’t the only celebrity on hand to see the Clippers’ rise and Lakers’ demise.
“You adjust to the situation and you adjust to reality, and that’s what we’re dealing with right now,” Pau Gasol said. “If we are successful and we do make it, I think it’s going to be hopefully reinforcing and encouraging. We have five games left—we are going to try and win them all to give ourselves the best chance.”
The Clippers, fortunately, don’t have to worry about those types of scenarios after defeating their counterparts on Sunday and clinching the Pacific Division title. “There will always be an inner city rivalry,” Jamal Crawford said. “Even when there really wasn’t a rivalry, I’m sure the Lakers got up for the game to play the Clippers. Our fans have a little something to stick their chests out about. We’re trying to create our own little history.”