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Escaping the Purple Shadow: The LA Clippers & A Necessary Rebrand

Years of ineptitude and irrelevance have defined Los Angeles’ other basketball team. But with their latest efforts the tide may be shifting on the way we view the Clippers

In the 1999 movie “10 Things I Hate About You”, there is a common theme explored in the dynamic of siblings. The Stratford family has two daughters that couldn’t be more different. Bianca is the popular one that everyone wants to be around, while Kat is antisocial and at times portrayed as hostile towards anyone that speaks to her. It becomes clear that one is the preferred child over the other, which helps to explain why each woman acts the way that they do throughout the film. 

Bianca and Kat grew up in the same household but have had vastly different experiences. It is not that different from the dynamic that we see in Los Angeles basketball between the Lakers and Clippers. The Lakers are the glamor franchise, the darling of the NBA with multiple championship banners and Hall of Fame players. There have been books written and movies filmed about the Lakers and their championship culture. In the same building are the Clippers, who are best known for having the second worst winning percentage of all-time and for having a former owner (Donald Sterling) that is racist who was banned from the NBA. For years the Clippers have been the maligned sibling of the Lakers, but with a recent rebrand it seems that the Clippers are finally poised to attempt to step out from the massive purple and gold shadow that has haunted them for years. 

A History of Ineptitude 

Since the NBA Lottery system was instituted in 1985, the Los Angeles Clippers have had a lottery pick 22 times. In that time the team has had 24 losing seasons, only achieving relative success in the last 12 seasons with players such as Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, Paul George, and Kawhi Leonard on the roster. But before them, the Clippers were a joke in the Western Conference, always hoping for the next young star to bring them from the depths of the cellar. Some of those high picks included: 

  • 1985 3rd overall pick Benoit Benjamin: six years with the Clippers, 13 points and 9 rebounds per game

  • 1987 4th overall pick Reggie Williams: three years with the Clippers, 10 points and 3 rebounds per game

  • 1990 8th overall pick Bo Kimble: two years with the Clippers, 5 points and 1 assist per game

  • 1996 7th overall pick Lorenzen Wright: three years with the Clippers, 7 points and 7 rebounds per game

  • 1998 1st overall pick Michael Olowokandi: five years with the Clippers, 10 points and 8 rebounds per game

  • 2000 3rd overall pick Darius Miles: two years with the Clippers, 9 points and 6 rebounds per game

  • 2002 8th overall pick Chris Wilcox: four years with the Clippers, 6 points and 4 rebounds per game

  • 2010 8th overall pick Al-Farouq Aminu: one year with the Clippers, 5 points and 3 rebounds per game

It is one thing to just simply have bad luck in the draft, that is the perils of drafting 19 and 20 year old prospects. But it is another to squander good talent once it arrives. In 1982, the Clippers drafted Terry Cummings from DePaul. He made an instant impact and even received MVP votes as a rookie. After his second season he was traded to Milwaukee where he became a two-time All-Star. The Clippers also drafted players like Danny Manning and Lamar Odom that went on to have excellent careers after they left the franchise. All of this was happening while the team that they share a city and arena with was dominating the NBA headlines and winning championships. 

The Los Angeles Lakers are without a doubt one of the NBA’s glamor franchises. They are iconic, a destination for players to cement their greatness. Jerry West, who the NBA crafted its logo after, was a Laker. So were all-time greats Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain, Magic Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, and LeBron James. The team has won 17 NBA championships, tied with the Boston Celtics for the most in NBA history. It is not easy to share a city with another team, let alone play in the same building

Separation From the Purple & Gold

Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer purchased the Clippers in 2014, following the investigation into former owner Donald Sterling’s toxic environment that was plagued with racism. Sterling in his tenure as Clippers owner was widely known as being incredibly cheap, with former center Bill Walton remarking that players often could not cash their game checks in a recent ESPN documentary series. Ballmer, who purchased the team for $2 billion, is the opposite of cheap. He has spent money to bring in players and coaches to keep the Clippers in championship contention. 

During his tenure the Clippers have tried to differentiate themselves from the Lakers by tapping into unique fan experiences and social media marketing to garner favorability online. They have fashioned jerseys, courts, and apparel to fit a younger demographic of true basketball fans as opposed to the glitz, glamor, and Hollywood feel of the Lakers. But despite that there are seemingly too many similarities between the two franchises in the way that we view them. Currently, the teams play in the same city, in the same arena, and even have logos that can at times look the same. Ballmer has seen this, and he has decided to make changes. 

Next year the Clippers will be moving to a new arena, the Intuit Dome. They have also rebranded the team's visual identity with a logo and jersey rebrand to pay homage to the sailing vessel that the team is named after. Many people have had opinions on the team's new look, but one thing is certain: they look nothing like the Lakers visually. 

The Intuit Dome itself is a stark contrast from Arena, where the team currently plays. The Dome will feature the most bathrooms in an NBA arena, with the intent being for fans to be able to get back to their seats as quickly as possible. The team is also creating a section called “The Wall”, a section of the arena dedicated for the most committed fans, where opposing team jerseys are not allowed. It is a page from soccer’s playbooks, reminiscent of the ultras section at European matches, helping to create a home court advantage for the Clippers. These changes are all reflections of Ballmer, a high energy man that loves basketball. 

But more importantly, is that they are trying to become the anti-Lakers. Lakers games are notorious for attracting A-list talent courtside, and when Dr. Jerry Buss owned the team and the games were akin to visiting a nightclub. These games are entertainment events as much as they are sports games. The Clippers know that they cannot compete with the Lakers in this space. After all, they have the championships and the reputation to drive this interest. Instead, the Clippers are trying to position their team and their new arena as the team for a basketball fan. 

In many ways, the Clippers have needed to re-identify themselves ever since Donald Sterling was revealed to be a racist that owned a team in a predominantly black league. And they are doing just that with a passionate owner, a new look, and a new stadium to try and attract new fans of the team. The Clippers were always doomed to be in the Lakers shadow as long as they shared a building with them. The Lakers brand is one that has been cultivated through years of winning and identity-building. No team can replicate that overnight. Instead, Steve Ballmer and the Clippers are looking to forge their own path on their own terms, and they need to be commended for that.

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