You can talk about how it doesn't mean anything. You can talk about why it shouldn't mean anything. You can crack jokes, make fun, dismiss, and snort. But if you want to understand where we stand in the history of the NBA, you need to take a moment and recognize that the Los Angeles Clippers winning their first division title in franchise history does in fact mean something.
If the Clippers played in the Northwest, full of more recent teams like Oklahoma City (no, I will not count their Seattle history) and Minnesota; or the Southeast, where the Wizards, Bobcats, and Heat have long been terrible teams historically, it would be one thing. But the Clippers' win over the Lakers on Sunday was more than just a win to clinch a top-four seed. It was a declaration that times have changed for Lob City.
Sports fans and media are all victims of the prisoner of the moment problem. So in large part, the Clippers' division title will be only mildly noted, because 1) Who celebrates a division title? and 2) The Clippers are a good team with Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. They should win the division, right?
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But historically, this franchis is a mess. A huge, ugly, hot, smelly mess. The Clippers have been the dumpster fire of the NBA. They had who many consider to be the worst owner in the NBA. They were perennial losers. "The Clippers Curse" was a thing often talked about. Michael Olowokandi. Darius Miles. Al Thornton. Yaroslav Korolev. Melvin Ely. These are all names in the Clippers' draft history. They had one glorious run in the mid-00s, and the result of that was Elton Brand electing to sign with Philadelphia after the Clippers had already given Baron Davis a massive contract.
And all this while sharing the building with arguably the most successful franchise in NBA history. Always the loser little brother, watching the purple and gold pile up championships.
So to not only win their first division title, in a division with that team -- along with the Suns, who have a history full of Charles Barkley and Steve Nash -- means something. To do it while sweeping big brother and cementing a top-four playoff spot for what could be a title run? It's a referendum on history, the declaration that this Clippers team really is different. The first-round win vs. the Grizzlies last year was a declaration, but not like this. Not to actually be a contender, to be the best team in the Pacific, the best team in LA.
It's kind of a bizarro world. The Lakers are desperately clawing for their playoff lives, hoping to sneak into the eighth seed on the back of the Jazz's late-season collapse, while the Clippers are finishing off a 50-plus-win season, clinching the division and running the Lakers out of the House that Kobe Built.
Whether the Clippers can succeed in the playoffs is a much bigger, and more important question. No one clings to a division banner in today's NBA. And should the Clippers lose in the first round, it will be yet another indication that the franchise just can't win.
But in the process of NBA history, there's got to be a beginning in a move toward legitimacy. The Clippers have to walk before they can run, and even as they've fallen behind the Nuggets for the third seed, they've still managed to have their best season in franchise history.
Lob City was a cute slogan a year ago. But the Clippers have become a credible NBA franchise, and given their history of misery, it's good to take a moment and realize how far the league's biggest joke has come in turning the punchline around ... especially on big brother.