Battle: Los Angeles (That Never Was)

Getty Images | Photo By Jeff Gross

In August of 1965, a civil unrest erupted when a California Highway Patrol motorcycle officer arrested Marquette Frye in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles.

In April of 1992, four Los Angeles Police Department officers were acquitted after videotape showed them beating motorist Rodney King. Thousands rioted soon afterwords for almost a week tallying property damage of almost $1 Billion.

Infighting is nothing new to the city.

Rodney Dangerfield would do the best job at describing how the Los Angeles Clippers are viewed in relation to their city-mates.

Since moving from San Diego in the 1984-85 season, the Clippers have finished with a better regular season record than the Lakers only four times (’91-’92, ’92-’93, ’04-’05, ’05-’06).

Those were the seasons that followed the departure of Lakers’ focal points Magic Johnson (’91), and Shaquille O’Neal (’04).

The Clippers seemed to always be in rebuilding mode. Danny Manning led the team to consecutive playoff appearances in ’92 and ’93, had begun to look worthy of the first pick in the draft.

He would be traded the next season for an aging Dominique Wilkins, and the Clippers returned to their losing ways, winning only 25 games in ’94.

The 2000′s would bring a panoply of young talent like Lamar Odom, Darius Miles, Quentin Richardson, and #1 pick Michael Olowokandi. But the young group never jelled under Coach Alvin Gentry, and the fun-bunch would be dismantled over time.

Meanwhile the Lakers built and rebuilt championship teams, even as former Laker great Elgin Baylor failed to do so as general manager of the Clippers.

The erection of Staples Center arena began a new era in Los Angeles sports history.

Just like the New York Giants/Jets did for so many years, the Lakers and Clippers would share the same building.

Lakers/Clippers games usually turn out to be Lakers home games anyway. But now both teams literally worked in the same building.

That created somewhat of interest in a rivalry which is based on nothing more than location.

But for all of the underwhelming competitive history between the teams, one must wonder how quickly things would have changed if Lamar Odom secured a rebound over the smaller Shawn Marion in game 6 of the 2006 Western Conference playoffs.

The then 6th seeded Clippers had actually advanced to the second round of the playoffs, scoring an upset over Carmelo Antony and the #3 Denver Nuggets.

The Lakers were at the door-step of a monumental upset themselves, seeded at #7 and facing MVP Steve Nash and the Phoenix Suns. The Lakers went up 3-2 and were on the verge of eliminating the Suns. But Tim Thomas nailed a 3-point shot in the closing seconds to send the game into overtime, and the Suns won the game and eventually the series.

Had the Lakers advanced, not only would it have gone down as the biggest upset in NBA history (Smush Parker and Kwame Brown were the starting point guard and center), but it would have setup a historic match-up with both teams playing all potential seven games in the same building.

There would have been little use for cliche’s about a team taking care of business on their home-court, and suggesting that games 3 and 4 would be different once they got around their crowd.

The need for travel would be eliminated resulting in more rested players and lessening excuses.

The Los Angeles fans would be treated to a two week long civil war of basketball which has never been witnessed at the professional level.

The drama started 2 seasons before when there was much chatter about Kobe Bryant leaving the Lakers as a free agent to join the Clippers.

It was suggested that Kobe wanted to play (beat) Shaq four times a year and lift a much maligned franchise to championship visibility in the process.

In the end it was Shaq who was traded and Kobe stayed, and some started to believe Kobe simply used the Clippers as leverage.

Elton Brand would emerge as 20 and 10 player, and the savvy of veteran Sam Cassell had the Clippers posting better records in two seasons than Kobe’s Lakers, and critics jeered that the Clippers were better off without him.

A second-round playoff match-up would have been a chance for Bryant to silence what had become a long list of media critics.

At that time, the battle for the best team in Los Angeles was up for grabs.

Bryant initially seemed over his head a primary player while the Lakers floundered.

Brand and his consistent double-double ways for the Clippers reminded the city how important a dominant big man was.

So just as the Clippers began to become everyone’s new favorite L.A. Team, Bryant’s scoring jumped 8 points to lead the league at 35 ppg in 2006, including a legendary 81-point outburst against the Toronto Raptors.

The Lakers managed to regain top-billing over the Clippers as Phil Jackson’s return to bench corresponded with Kobe’s new scoring barrages, and the Lakers were once again a draw after a season in obstruction.

The stage was set. The Staples Center was preparing for a playoff extravaganza. The story lines were there, whether it were Clipper Coach Mike Dunleavy trying to avenge the bitter loss by his Blazers to Jackson in 2000, to Cuttino Mobley trying to join Rip Hamilton as a native Philadelphia ball players who defeated Kobe Bryant.

But the Lakers couldn’t hold up their part of the deal. It took one Tim Thomas pump fake to send Kwame Brown flying by as the clock expired, and he swished a 3-pointer, leaving Kobe Bryant to slam the ball in frustration.

The Clippers would lose in the semi-finals to the Suns, and a Lakers/Clippers match-up hasn’t been on the radar screen since.

The emergence of Team USA member Eric Gordon and rookie sensation Blake Griffin could have the Clippers challenging for a playoff spot in the near future.

With the Lakers core in tact, there may very well be the dream Southern California match-up.

Follow G-Small @ twitter.com/gregorysmall

  • LANative

    nice read!

  • Jim Morrison

    If only it happened. We were so close, Kobe was up 3-1 against the phx suns but thanks to Kobes company they ended up losing not only the series but Kobe also lost the mvp to Nash that year. Theres no way the Lakers would’ve lost to the Clippers and they would’ve made it to the Western Conference Finals that year. Imagine what one series could have done. If you see how Kobe plays the Clippers, its just like what LeBron said before the Cleveland game. ” I know my spots on that floor” and if LeBron has the confidence to say something like that imagine Kobe proving it. Kobe always plays well on the “road” vs. the Clippers. Unfortunatly this is all speculation bc it never happened. :(

  • gus26

    nice read… uuhhh picture doesn’t go…

  • PIERCE’S WHEELCHAIR

    DONALD STERLING NEEDS TO DIE, JUST LIKE AL DAVIS! THE DODGERS ARE ABOUT TO BE IN THE SAME BOAT WITH FRICK AND FRACK AT THE HELM! GOOD THING WE HAVE THE LAKERS! NEED TICKETS? –> http://bit,ly/a6iLTr

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