10:37 PM EDT, June 26, 2013
When they write the history of the Clippers, a laughable concept until recently, the date of June 26, 2013, may be the centerpiece.
Until Blake Griffin showed up, followed by Chris Paul, any history of the Clippers was a knee-slapper. How about a chapter on Benoit Benjamin. Another on blown lottery picks. Jim Mora could write one. Playoffs? You kidding me? Playoffs? Maybe Jon Stewart could giggle his way through the narration.
This wasn't a franchise. It was a train wreck. Coaches came, coaches went. Same with players. Few sports fans in Los Angeles cared. Those who did, and were willing to admit it publicly (Billy Crystal, etc.), were viewed as martyrs or contrarians.
For years, the team marketed itself by promoting the stars on visiting teams. Buy your tickets to see Michael Jordan. Celtics are coming to town. Get your seats now.
Then Wednesday dawned, bringing with it a media gathering that felt like a visit to Rod Serling's Twilight Zone. A laughingstock had become a Broadway hit. Parking spots were at a premium. Same with seats in the news conference. There was a buzz. This was a huge deal.
Doc Rivers had taken the job as Clippers coach. The official news had come a few days earlier. But this was the reality. He was sitting right there, in front of a huge backdrop of Clippers logos. It was real, not a doctored picture.
It had happened. A Celtic with an established, almost legendary reputation, had become a Clipper. Go ahead. Read that sentence again. It may take awhile to sink in.
You never know, but a reasonable assumption would be that this is the last piece of the puzzle. Think of the Clippers as two triangles fitting nicely together to complete the square, but with a hole in the middle. To fill that, you drop in a 51-year-old, wide-smiling, common-sense-talking veteran of nine seasons in basketball-crazed Boston that included an NBA title, and you've got a complete package.
NBA titles are elusive. Only complete packages win them. Sometimes, that's not even enough. If Gregg Popovich and his San Antonio Spurs were not the complete package this season, then the sky will never be blue.
This is a Lakers city. It is also likely, today, that it is full of queasy Lakers fans. It's enough to know that the Clippers, with Griffin and Paul and a talented supporting cast, are already better on paper, and probably in reality. But then, they add a known winner from the hated Celtics … pass the antacid pills.
When Vinny Del Negro was not brought back as Clippers coach, after leading them to their most successful regular season, there was some consternation about the unfairness of that, as if fairness were ever an issue in big-time sports. This typist was among the grumblers.
But had we known what the Clippers had up their sleeves, well …
And if anybody doesn't think Chris Paul didn't have some input here, well …
Del Negro deserves credit for moving things forward. He may not have known that was what he was doing, but nothing short of a title could have voided that designation. He made them keep climbing but got them only to the Hillary Step. The guy who is best suited to plant the Clippers flag at the summit of Everest has taken over now.
Rivers brings the power of personality. The Xs and O's are a given. He adds the intangibles. They are not measurable, just observable.
After the expected and appropriate fawning introductions, Rivers said, "I hope this is the last time I am the center of attention. It's about the players."
After being referred to several times as "the best coach," Rivers said, "We need to stop saying that. I watched the [NBA] Finals and I wasn't there."
When he was asked one of those softball questions about talking to the players and their level of commitment, Rivers said, "I can call any player in the league and get him to commit to play hard and win. It's when you start dishing out positions and playing time that you really see the commitment."
The things Rivers said were neither stunning nor controversial. How he said them was revealing.
He is here to win. Rebuilding is for the Cleveland Cavaliers. It used to always be for the Clippers
"Winning is the only reason I'm still coaching," he said.
Team President Andy Roeser, who has presided through thick and thin — mostly thin — was surprised by the response to his own news event.
"I'm a little overwhelmed by the number of people here," he said.
Team play-by-play man Ralph Lawler, who has 35 years of entertaining fans, mostly when there was little to entertain them with, acted as the master of ceremonies and went to the heart of the matter immediately.
"The sky's the limit," Lawler said.
So, we've arrived at a place we never thought we'd see. Could it happen? Clipper Power. Clipper Pride. Clipper Champs.
Yankees fans understand this. Break up the Clippers.
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