Blake Griffin looks up to the rafters, imagines a Slam Dunk Champ banner (Andrew D. Bernstein/ Getty).
The Clippers franchise has been an easy target for jokes in their 34 seasons in San Diego and Los Angeles, but it's still shocking to consider the depths of their ineptitude. Prior to this season, they had made the playoffs only five times, winning two series and never making it to the conference finals. This year has featured several milestones, including the franchise's first 50-win season.
It's all cause for some celebration, even as the Clippers look to be limping into the playoffs. Yet, with the team only one win from clinching their first division title in history, there are some questions to be answered as to how exactly the Clippers should go about acknowledging the best regular season in their history.
Blake Griffin, for one, does not think there's much to celebrate. From Arash Markazi for ESPNLosAngeles.com:
The Los Angeles Clippers don't have any championship banners up at Staples Center, and Blake Griffin wants to keep it that way until they win an NBA title. [...]
"I kind of have bigger goals than that for the team," Griffin said. "I think the team has bigger goals than that. We expected to win the division. We didn't come into this season thinking, 'Oh, it would be great if we could win the division.' We expected it. It's something to be proud of and maybe there's a banner that goes up (in the training facility), but it's not something that needs to go up in Staples [Center], and we don't need to hang our hat on that."
Every NBA team hangs division championship banners except for the Lakers and Boston Celtics, winners of 23 NBA titles. The Los Angeles Kings, who won the Stanley Cup last season and share Staples Center with the Lakers and Clippers, hang division and conference title banners.
Griffin's opinion wasn't shared by teammate Caron Butler. Butler, who has played for the Lakers, believes the Clippers should commemorate their first division title and 50-win season with a banner.
"For the first time, yes," Butler said. "It will be a special moment in history. Winning over 50 games and winning the division. Acquiring guys like Chris Paul and Blake Griffin and having the roster that we have, the expectations have soared through the roof. We're trying to build some momentum for years to come."
In a very basic way, the Clippers are not in a position to turn down any banners, because they just don't have that much in their history to celebrate. Unless the franchise wants to celebrate owner Donald Sterling's various misdeeds, they have to raise a division title banner. The Clippers simply can't claim to be on the same level as the Celtics and Lakers, the two most successful teams in the history of the NBA.
On the other hand, they are in a unique situation because they share the Staples Center with the Lakers. Putting up a division title banner where the Lakers have none could serve to emphasize the Clippers' persistent little-brother status, something they're always keen to avoid.
Then again, perhaps the only way to escape that position is to create a history that can stand on its own, without constant comparisons to the Lakers. As Butler says, this is a special moment in franchise history, potentially the beginning of a new era of success. It's meaningful, and banners exist to commemorate this sort of thing.
Essentially, the Clippers are faced with a choice between holding themselves to the legendarily high standards set by their co-tenants or embracing the reality of NBA progress. It's very difficult to win a championship, but it's also true that the path to that goal includes comparatively minor accomplishments. A champion must learn to win a division, a playoff series, a conference, etc. There's no way to jump to the front of the line — it's a long process requiring hard work. Acknowledging lesser goals doesn't necessarily communicate that the team is willing to settle for a division title. Pointing to that success can be an indication that the franchise wants more, and that they're getting closer to it. As usual, the choice is not binary.
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