My choice to become a Clippers fan while at college in California was more reflex than anything else. Even in those days of the early Internet, I could’ve opted to follow my hometown New Jersey Nets and simply sit out an L.A. basketball scene dominated by the unbearable Lakers and their equally unbearable fans. But the part of me that roots for losing franchises — what my recent ambivalences about this sort of thing leads me to believe is kind of a pathological tendency — latched onto the Clippers.
That late-’90s/early-’00s team was terrible, and the sporadic KCAL9 broadcasts were about evenly split between Tyrone Nesby dribbling the ball between his legs for no reason and Bill Walton making fun of Michael Olowokandi and Pete Chilcutt. It was hard to watch, or would’ve been for someone who wasn’t so used to — and so strangely comforted by (seriously, I’m still trying to figure it out) — watching losing teams lose. So it felt like home. And when the Nets turned things around shortly after I left school and became really good for the first time in my life as a fan, I kept the Clippers in the picture. When they start to win, I thought, then I’ll know it’s time to dig a bomb shelter, stockpile canned goods, possibly start pulling for the Bucks, etc.
And the Clips did figure it out, emerging as a brilliantly enjoyable team to watch in the ’05-06 season thanks in large part to what turned out to be a last-hurrahing Sam Cassell and Elton Brand (above), who is — pace Clipperblog’s Kevin Arnovitz — the closest thing the franchise has ever had to an icon. Brand played hard, played well, produced movies in his spare time (with Werner Herzog!), and looked as much like a franchise cornerstone as this nightmare of a franchise has ever had.
When the Clippers poached Baron Davis — also a producer of both points and films — from the Warriors last week, it was assumed that he’d team with a re-signed Brand to make the Clips a team that was both enjoyable to watch AND capable of getting a good lunch table at The Palm or something. I don’t know where they’d go. I went to school in San Bernardino County, basically, worked one summer internship in Hollywood, and have watched The Player several times. What I meant is that the team would be interesting. Except…well, except Elton Brand has not resigned with the Clips, and has instead taken a 5-year, $82 million deal from the Philadelphia 76ers.
At Clipperblog, Arnovitz ably sums up the way this one last kick in the gut feels to fans who have — willingly: again, it’s tough to figure — basically spent 20 years getting kicked thereabouts:
The reason this is so hard for Clipper fans is that Elton Brand came to fill an important function. Enough has been written about the subject, so I won’t overstate how the Clippers occupy a unique place on the sports landscape. There are a few other tribes in fanhood who can appreciate the trial that accompanies the loyalty to a franchise like the Clippers. For a lot of people in the NaÃ§ion, Brand changed that. With Elton in his prime playing in a Clipper uniform, the psychic cost of being a Clipper fan became a lot more manageable.
I don’t know how fair it is to judge Elton. Only a small collection of people know for certain what was said and not said in the confines of meetings, emails, formal and informal negotiations. Should a group of strangers’ potential grief dictate a decision as important as where a person should live and whom he has to work for? That’s asking a lot. Was Elton deceptive and insincere, or was his decision based on an honest desire to be close to family and work in an environment most to his liking? My guess is the truth — as it usually does — lies somewhere in between. But that doesn’t make it any easier to take.
And sportswriters are naturally piling on as predicted — even J.A. Adande, whom I generally like, jumps in with a “The Clippers are inept/Elton Brand is greedy” piece at ESPN.com — but there’s more to this story. Not to get too Bissinger on anyone, but as cool and familiar as the outsider perspective is (and I think Arnovitz is fucking great), it’s nice to read something like this breakdown from the Los Angeles Times‘ Mark Heisler, that has reporting and new information in it. I guess this is what sports sections are for? This and keeping Bill Plaschke from wandering, shirtless, babbling, and smelling of K.C. Masterpiece, through downtown L.A.
[The Clips] had every intention of keeping [Brand] and were stunned to find out he was gone. How it got to that point is a mystery. Brand had helped talk Baron Davis into signing with the Clippers, saying he would take less money to make it happen. Technically, Brand took a bigger offer from the 76ers, $82 million to the Clippers’ $75 million. However, with Sterling giving his basketball people a blank check, the Clippers were going to dump enough players to get to $81 million.
That offer was never relayed to Brand. The Clippers say at the end, agent David Falk stopped returning their calls. Whether the imperious Falk, who once represented Michael Jordan, did this for revenge or just because it felt good is a mystery. He did once vow to get the Clippers for not taking his client, Mike Bibby, with the No. 1 pick in the 1998 draft.
…The Clippers had a bigger problem than Brand’s agent. It was Brand. Once he opted out of his Clippers contract, everything changed. Whether that was Falk’s influence or that Brand was impressed by the 76ers, he now seemed to be looking for a way to leave rather than a way to stay. Brand was slow in returning calls to Clippers officials. Whenever they made an offer, Falk would take it back to the 76ers.
For those who know Brand, questioning his sincerity is like refusing to stand for “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Nevertheless, there is another Brand who surfaces occasionally, the wily one who tells you what you want to hear. Clippers officials who revered him noted that if Brand wanted to be here, he was making them work awfully hard to make it happen.
UPDATE: Well, really more of a clarification. That L.A. Times piece came via Clipperblog; I wasn’t trying to create some sort of false contrast between bloggy and “real” media, there.