East Coast vs. West Coast Beef, NBA Edition

A few weeks ago, I began tweeting about the dynamic in Los Angeles with the Lakers struggling and the Clippers playing the best basketball that franchise has ever seen. I opined that the dichotomy of the Lakers and Clippers has switched on the court, but it wouldn’t necessarily switch in terms of where the heart of the city lied. As long as both franchises exist, the Lakers will always have more fans, but the Clippers are definitely becoming the cooler, more fun franchise to pay attention to.

Undoubtedly, the Lakers have a history they can live off for decades to come without winning another title, and their fans — myself included — are extremely proud of the continued, sustained success. However, I received a comment from a Lakers fan that forced me to shift the discussion from the chasm between the Lakers and Clippers fans in Los Angeles to fan integrity.

“I’m bothered by [Clippers] fans thinking they don’t still have to kiss the ring, and my ass,” he said. And after I told him Clippers fans don’t owe him anything, he continued, “They absolutely do. After my team has experienced unparalleled success and yours has experienced unparalleled failure for 25 years, you don’t get to come in and talk sh*t just cuz [sic] you’ve had a better first quarter of one season.”

And there it is, the air of entitlement that emanates from the city at the same alarming rate as car pollution. In the grand scheme of things, all basketball fans are created equal. None of us have really done anything to help or hinder the relative success of the teams we give our hearts to, but Lakers fans seem to believe that they’ve been given special dispensation to require something from fans of teams with lesser success — especially Clippers fans.

For the most part, this is where the disconnect between myself and the rest of Lakers Nation lies. I patently would love little more than for the Lakers to be successful; the highs are what makes sports worth it. But during the lows, living in the past and trying to drag those past experiences of success back with you isn’t the best look.

Tonight is essentially only the sixth very interesting game between the Lakers and Clippers since the 2006 season — and even those games weren’t that interesting. The Clippers acquired Chris Paul last season, and the two teams split the season series 2-2. This year, the Clippers have a 1-0 advantage, and this sixth game over the last two years comes on the heels of the Clippers’ 19-game winning streak (they’ve lost their last two) and the Lakers struggling to play .500 basketball despite five former all-stars on the team (two of which will be all-stars this year).

So here we are, a month away from the all-star break with the Clippers looking like legitimate title contenders and the Lakers looking like they might get into the postseason if they can pick things up during the second half of the season — and the fans of both organizations don’t really know how to handle it.

Clippers fans are horrible at talking trash because they’ve never been able to, and the Lakers fans are expecting Clippers fans to shut the entire fuck up because the team they root for has not won a title — like ever.

Fandom is a funny, so funny that there is a similar situation happening on the other side of the country. Jason Clinkscales explains.

Not too long ago, the Nets were nothing more than what followed Knicks highlights (or lowlights) on the local news. With the exception of being Julius Erving’s second ABA stop and the amazing window dressing that was the Jason Kidd era, the franchise was almost as comical as the Clippers, except that it spent the last 10 years waiting for idyllic better days across the Hudson River.

The arrival of the Brooklyn Nets this fall became the sporting entrant in New York City’s gentrification project. And New York Knicks fans are letting the longtime and bandwagon Nets fans know it.

The difference between the Lakers/Clippers dichotomy and that here in the Boroughs, of course, comes to titles. Where there may be an obvious “Kiss Da Ringzzzzz” mentality with some Lakers fans towards their Clippers brethren, Knicks fans have a different counter for the Nets’ faithful: “You’re still the Nets!” The Dwayne Schintzius era this is not, but when it comes to the Knicks, a 40-year title drought doesn’t lend to as much entitlement as for the Lake Show.

The Clippers’ hype came from something unexpected yet organic thanks to the growth of Blake Griffin, the development of DeAndre Jordan, a deep bench and the "THANK YOU, DAVID STERN! THERE IS A GOD!" present of Chris Paul. The hype from the Nets, however, has little to do with the on-court product, but emerged from a new building in the city’s most boisterous borough, mainstream local media being impressed by the shiny new toy and the most famous minority stake owner in sports.

Knicks fans, who spent the last four years just happy to leave a decade of irrelevance on the national scene, look at Nets fans like the transplanted New Yorkers that moved into neighborhoods once seedy but now have dreamy real estate. If it’s not complete resentment towards the newcomers, it’s far from endearment.

As for me, I’d like to believe that the Nets are a blessing in disguise for Knicks fans. Despite the dismissal of former head coach Avery Johnson last week, this is at least a better team than the ones that have dressed up in recent years. Where the Subway Series is a springtime nuisance for the Yankees and Mets players, the hockey antagonists locked out, and both NFL teams parked on the couch, the Knicks and Nets have a chance to create an honest rivalry for the first time in the history of both franchises.

Either way, those Nets fans that remained loyal to their team despite leaving for Brooklyn get slight passes as they remember being the Eastern Conference punch line. Those who became fans when Jay-Z foolishly declared that the city was under new management? Well, they’ve been getting #taped.

The thing about all of this is it’s okay to love your basketball team. It’s okay to talk trash to fans of rival teams. It’s okay to love your basketball team’s history. What isn’t okay is demanding something from fans of other teams when your squad is playing like hot garbage.

Tonight, I’m going to be rooting for the Lakers. I’m going to talk some trash, and I’m going to pump up Kobe jumpers and Steve Nash dimes. And if the Lakers win, Clippers fans are going to be sick. But if the Lakers lose — which they probably will — I'm not going to want Clippers fans to chill because that’s what they deserve to do. And the rest of my Lakers brethren should follow suit.

The Clippers have something special going on this year. I’ll be patiently waiting for them to ruin it, because that’s what they do. But if they figure it all out, all power to them.

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