The Los Angeles Clippers and Lakers both moved into the Staples Center during the 1999-00 season, the only NBA teams to share an arena. Since then, the Lakers have hoisted five NBA championship banners to add to their 16 in total, alongside two other conference titles in that span. In that time the team has also added two more retired numbers to the jerseys that hang at the top of the arena, bringing that total to nine, while also hoisting two tributes to the championship Minneapolis Lakers and late Hall of Fame broadcaster Chick Hearn.
In that time, the Clippers have accomplished … well, they made it to the second round a couple of times.
New Clippers coach Doc Rivers is attempting to change that. After the laissez-faire turn of former coach Vinny Del Negro, the former Boston Celtics coach has decided to instill a defensive mindset and more consistent offensive philosophy for a Clippers team that disappointed with a first round exit in last year’s playoffs. And to drive a team-first point home, he’s asked the Staples Center to cover the Lakers banners when the Clippers take hold of the arena. From the Los Angeles Times:
"Well, I didn't look at it as the banner thing," Rivers maintained. "I just look at it as putting our guys up."
"Listen, I think this is our arena when we play," Rivers said. "So I just thought it would be good that we show our guys. No disrespect to them. But when we play, it's the Clippers' arena as far as I know."
“Our guys,” in this instance, refers to banners of Jamal Crawford, Blake Griffin, J.J. Redick, DeAndre Jordan, Jared Dudley, Matt Barnes and Chris Paul being placed over all those championship remembrances and retired numbers. Rivers doesn’t want a lick of purple and gold to be seen during Clippers home games, outside of the smart alecks that still show up to Clippers games in Kobe Bryant jerseys.
It’s doubtful that players like Crawford (on his sixth NBA team) or Matt Barnes (on his eighth NBA team, and second go-round with the Clippers) will ever have their numbers retired, but in competitive terms, this hardly matters. Not only are the Clippers superior to the Lakers at present time, but the injury to Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook could provide a window for a Rivers-led Clippers outfit to grab home court advantage throughout the Western Conference playoffs.
Rivers, whose Celtics defeated the Lakers in the 2008 NBA Finals, probably doesn’t mind the direct Lakers-to-Clippers comparisons that will result from the covering of the Laker banners, because this year’s Lakers squad (with Kobe Bryant out for an undetermined amount of time, and Steve Nash still limping around) is a long shot to make the playoffs this year, even if they still sort of run the city.
They may run the city, but they don’t run the arena. As Clippers center DeAndre Jordan told the Times:
"You've got to give those [Lakers] guys credit. They won championships so they have the right to put them up," Jordan said. "But at the same time, it doesn't say Lakers Arena outside. It says Staples."
It’s true. Not only do the Lakers and Clippers call Staples home, but so do the NHL’s Los Angeles Kings, various award functions, and the usual array of touring boffo acts. And though Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band may not mind a dangling reminder of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s skyhook, the newest Los Angeles Clippers savior is certainly allowed to balk at such a tribute – because for at least 41 nights this season, the Staples Center is Doc Rivers’ arena.
At press time, there’s no word on any Laker plans to obscure any banner the Clippers may raise in recognition of the 2013 Pacific Division title, the franchise’s only such achievement in 43 years of existence, dating back to the team’s days in Buffalo. Strangely, for a team that once counted on Michael Olowokandi to act as a franchise player, the Clippers do not have any retired numbers.
Here's a clip from Friday's exhibition game that details the change:
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