In the 155 meetings between the Clippers and Lakers, only five times have the two teams split the regular-season series two games apiece. Only six times have both teams made the playoffs in the same season, with one team being far superior than the other. In the past, it's been a rivalry born out of nothing other than location. They both share the Los Angeles market and the same arena, but for decades the Clippers were an afterthought to most NBA fans and to the people in L.A in general.
It wasn't until the Lob City era that the Clippers were taken seriously, and when that was happening, the Lakers were on the tail end of the Kobe Bryant era, which ended with the Lakers missing the playoffs three straight years in a row. When the Lakers are up, the Clippers are down, and vice versa.
Historically, this rivalry has just been a footnote in the story of the season. There haven't been hard-fought matchups to call back to, and, if anything, the rivalry exists between the fans. Clippers fans are always ready to overtake the Lakers as the team in Los Angeles; Lakers fans remind them of their number of championships and overall prestige. This rivalry has never been equal either. The Lakers lead all-time 102-52. The Clippers would need to sweep the Lakers every season for 13 straight years to overtake the lead.
Lakers players have always dismissed the notion that there's a rivalry between the two teams, and in the past they've been right. However, after LeBron James' comments following their season-opening loss to the Clippers, the two L.A. teams finally have a budding rivalry worthy of mentioning
About two minutes into the video above, James is asked about the grit and mentality the Lakers showed against the Clippers on Tuesday night. The reporter framed it as this game being a big first test for LeBron and Co., and the anticipation of this rivalry to kick off the 2019-20 season. Immediately, LeBron disagreed.
"I disagree with how big of a test it was. It was the first game," James said. "Obviously the NBA is back and that's what everyone's trying to have the narrative of a rivalry game. Both teams are not who they want to be, and we have a lot of room to improve. "We're a new group that's coming together, we have a new coaching staff and system, and it's not a rivalry. We're trying to get better every singe day."
James slyly slipped in there that Clippers-Lakers isn't a rivalry, despite that not being the focal point of the question. LeBron's always been masterful with post-game press conferences, and he likely knew exactly the firestorm he was going to cause by saying there isn't a rivalry between the two teams, but he's wrong.
The day the Clippers signed Kawhi Leonard and traded for Paul George, effectively putting them in contention for the championship over the next several years, they officially arrived in the NBA. When the Lakers traded for Anthony Davis to give James his co-star, they were pushed back into the playoff picture for the first time since the 2012-13 season. There has never been a time in Lakers and Clippers history where both teams have strong cases at winning the championship in the same season ... until now.
Ever since these two teams took shape this summer, the storyline has been pitting them against each other. The Clippers motto is even "L.A. our way," taking a clear shot at the usual glitz and glam of the Showtime Lakers. The Clippers never truly had a puncher's chance at sustaining a rivalry with the Lakers, even during the Lob City era they were mocked for never reaching the Western Conference finals, but with a ridiculously deep team and the star power to lead them, they can stand toe-to-toe with the purple and gold.
Every rivalry needs a spark that ignites it, and LeBron's comments was the strike that set the fire ablaze. Tuesday night's game became the first classic in what is sure to be several years of competitive fights between both sides, and the NBA knew exactly what it was doing when it scheduled these two teams to meet on the opening night of the 2019-20 season.
There may not have been a strong rivalry between the two L.A. teams before, but after last night the rivalry officially began, and the Clippers are up 1-0.