Sixteen banners and all 321,000 acres of Los Angeles.
The Lakers have been the basketball team of Los Angeles. Their iconic purple and gold transcend sports: it is a fashion statement, a nod to a near-religious following and a universal symbol of champions. The Lakers also boast a long history of basketball legends: Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant and now LeBron James.
The Lakers’ “little brothers,” the LA Clippers, have long struggled to parallel such glimmering greatness. At Crypto.com Arena, the home to both teams, the Lakers’ 16 championship banners and 13 retired jerseys adorn the walls. When the Clippers play, however, the banners are veiled by black drapes, in an attempt to mask the purple and gold glory of the Lakers. But even in the Clips’ best efforts to cover them, the 16 distinct moments of ecstasy still linger.
But after 53 long years, there is now a point to be made: The Clippers are finally tiptoeing out of the Lakers’ purple and gold shadow. And this is my way of illuminating how much the Clippers have caught up.
It’s not hard to see how the Clippers have been a consistently better team in recent years. They have enjoyed a better regular season record in 10 of the last 12 seasons, appearing in 10 playoffs to the Lakers’ five. For those who might argue that head-to-head results are a better measure of a rivalry, the Clippers have beaten the Lakers in all of their last 10 matchups — in those games, the Clips outscored their rivals by a combined 122 points.
This has helped the Clippers steal away attention from the ‘LakeShow.’
The ‘New Era’ Clippers changed the culture for the entire franchise.
Once left out of most superstars’ preferred destinations, the LA Clippers have turned into an enticing suitor to many big names in the market. Kawhi Leonard, fresh off a championship run with the Toronto Raptors, chose to sign with the Clippers over the Lakers in 2019. The superstar forward was the first player in NBA history to switch teams in the offseason after winning Finals MVP.
Paul George, who joined the team with Leonard, recently told reporters that he wants to retire with the Clippers. George is an eight-time All-Star and a six-time member of the All-NBA Team. Likewise, 10-time All-Star James Harden has made it clear that his most preferred trade destination is the Clippers.
The Clippers have also established themselves as one of the league’s more popular teams on social media. The Clippers boast the sixth most followed TikTok account in the NBA. As it stands, it has 1.8 million followers and 22 million total likes — not far behind the Lakers’ 2 million followers and 26.8 million likes. Per the Clippers’ social media team, the Clippers amassed the most viewed TikTok channel in the NBA last season.
And the die-hard fans that show up to games? What was once a nearly 4,000-fan difference in game turnout between the two Angeleno teams twenty years ago has now shrunk to just around 1,200 fans in the 2022-23 season. If anything, the Clippers’ average home crowd attendance has surpassed that of the Lakers in five of the last ten seasons.
What’s more, the Clippers will soon be moving out of the Lakers’ 23-year-old arena. Starting in the 2024-25 season, the Clippers will play in the Intuit Dome in Inglewood, California. Not only is it a newly constructed, high-tech stadium, but it is also a clean, empty canvas for the team to paint its own history on.
Now, that isn’t to say that the Clippers are now the big brothers that run downtown Los Angeles — they are still 16 trophies behind. Sure, the Clips had better seasons for much of the past decade. But the Lakers have a championship to point to, and the Clippers don’t. Even to this day, Los Angeles is flooded with fans, residents and tourists donning the storied purple and gold — and perhaps that’s the way it’ll always be.
But there is a fresh new change in Hollywood.
Despite how small and insignificant the Clippers once were, they have become a legitimate rival to the Lakers and an organization that demands respect and recognition. Those of us who have been paying close attention already know that the Clippers have made far more progress than they get credit for. And it’s time for the rest of the world to start paying attention too.