For the most part that was because the Clippers have been terrible for pretty much all of their history, but in recent years they were the better team record-wise, if not Angelenos’ hearts.
This season, though, the Lakers and Clippers are both two of the top teams in the Western Conference, so before they played against each other on Friday night, it was only natural that their head coaches were asked about the current state of the “rivalry” between the two franchises, such as it exists at all.
Luke Walton and Doc Rivers have differing opinions:
Luke Walton & Doc Rivers were asked about LAL-LAC 'rivalry.'— Matthew Moreno (@MMoreno1015) December 29, 2018
Luke: "To some people. Not to us right now. We've got other things we're worried about, other things we're focused on."
Doc: "For the players, I think it's a big deal. It should be. Always has been."
To illustrate Rivers’ point, Clippers forward Montrezl Harrell went off after the game about how the city and media need to realize “there’s two teams in L.A.” (via Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN):
“I love it,” Harrell said of hearing the boos. “Because they already don’t recognize us as a so-called L.A. team, but we don’t really care about that. But we want y’all to know that we’re the LA Clippers. That means Los Angeles Clippers, man. So there’s two teams in L.A.
“Y’all try to overlook us, just because of everybody in that purple and gold and the history of it. Yeah, I respect that. But that don’t mean s--- to me. Excuse my French -- that don’t mean nothing to me. I come out here and play for the guys that I am on the floor with. At the end of the day, y’all gonna have to recognize us, man. We are going to make you understand who we are.”
It make sense for the nearly universal favoritism the city of Los Angeles shows towards the Lakers to bother Harrell. It has to be frustrating to have the name of a city on your chest, be playing in the building that ostensibly is your “home” and to feel like the city almost unanimously doesn’t see you as “their team.”
What Harrell — and the people who try to make this a narrative — have to understand, though, is that most fans aren’t bandwagon jumpers. Most people don’t wake up in the morning, check the standings to see which team in their city has a better record and then root accordingly. Fandom is built over decades, usually from a team being good when someone is a kid in order to draw their attention.
Even then, it’s still often passed down from parent to child. How many Lakers fans are raising their kids as Clippers fans, even if the Clippers have been better for a couple years?
I’d imagine not many. Even if a kid naturally gravitated towards the team that wins more, it seems likely that more would be drawn towards their parents’ favorite team. That’s just the way this stuff goes, because fandom is often tribal, and doesn’t always make sense logically.
It’s understandable that it’s annoying for Harrell and the Clippers to feel like a red-headed stepchild in their own city, but that’s what happens when you share a geographic area with maybe the most successful NBA franchise ever. It seems like being overlooked like that gives the Clippers more motivation against the Lakers, which means the Lakers will have to make sure they get extra up to play them moving forward, unless they want to get pounced on again.
Because at the end of the day, while the Lakers want to win the city’s heart, it’s going to be less satisfying if they do so while not actually winning their division. For now, Harrell and the Clippers can take solace in that, even if it’s not going to make most of the city care any more about them.
For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. All stats per NBA.com and Basketball-Reference.com. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.