Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Clip It

For a majority of my life, the Los Angeles Clippers sucked. They epitomized failure in so many ways, not just through their bad management and below average players, but by playing in a huge market, and being that lousy other team in L.A., the little brothers of the Lakers that no one could even pretend to care about. First, I remember the Loy Vaught era during the late 90's. Those were the times when the Clippers didn't even want to be Clippers, when their sheer existence as a franchise was a punchline. The Clips played in the dimly lit, sedative L.A. Sports Arena, never garnering attendance that would fill even half the building. If they happened to be on T.V., you could hear a pin drop in the background of the telecast the arena so was quiet. They made the playoffs once during that time, as the 8th seed in the 1998 playoffs, but were swept 3-0 by the Utah Jazz. Then, there was the Darius Miles era. Those were the fun, headband wearing days that were supposed to end better, but never panned out. Players like Miles, Quentin Richardson, Corey Maggette, and Lamar Odom (then on his first go-round with the Clips) were once thought to be the future of basketball in Los Angeles, but instead became nothing more than another example of NBA irrelevancy in the early 2000's. So, when the new look Clippers, now in the Blake Griffin and Chris Paul era, came into Washington, DC to take on the Wizards holding the third best record in the league, I couldn't help but reflect on the futility of Clippers teams of old.

It wasn't exactly a complete Clippers team that came into the Verizon Center, because they were missing their all-star point guard and team leader, Chris Paul. The star guard has been sidelined since January 12th with a deep knee injury, and doesn't plan on making his return to the lineup until Sunday at the earliest, when the team travels to New York to take on the Knicks. Meanwhile, with Eric Bledsoe starting at point guard, the Clippers had lost to both Toronto and Boston, dropping 5 of their last 7 games without Paul in the lineup, as they continued their East-coast Grammy trip in D.C.

The Wizards continued to struggle on the road, losing all three contests on their most recent road trip. Washington, now 11-35, was trying to avoid their 5th straight loss overall. In order to win tonight, they'd have to do it without Bradley Beal, who was missing his fourth straight game with a sprained wrist.

While the Wizards were out of town, I had kept myself busy with fan photography by working two Washington Capitals games. Hockey games are a different experience for me altogether. First off, I know very little about ice hockey, and cannot name a single player on either team by face, or number. Second, hockey games are always completely sold out with loud, obnoxious, fair-weather fans that wouldn't be in the building if the Caps weren't a playoff team the last couple of years. D.C. is certainly not a hockey city, but Caps fans fill the arena with their red sweaters, get wasted off of overpriced domestic beer, and are belligerent drunks by mid-way through the 2nd period. My theory is that hockey fans who aren't Canadian simply get high off the aggression and violence of the sport. For American hockey fans, the tradition of the Stanley Cup, and the true beauty of the game are mere afterthoughts. They indulge in the blood and gore of the sport as one would a UFC fight, or a boxing match.

Caps fans are far from the worst in the league. On Sunday, I witnessed what I believe to be the worst fans in the NHL. This distinguished group of maniacs are Pittsburgh Penguins fans. Penguins fans are a loud, belligerent, and obnoxious bunch, much worse than the comparatively docile Capitals fans. Pittsburgh fans would march through the concourses of the Verizon Center, flaunting their black and gold gear, serenading the rest of the arena with a chorus of, "FUCK THE CAPS!"

A last minute fight in the lower level of the arena between a drunk Penguins fan, and a valiant Caps fan, consummated my belief that Pittsburgh fans were brutes, even if some of them seemed like decent people when they were posing for pregame fan photos. Most of the pictures I took of the Pittsburgh faithful, of course, were taken before they had the chance to get loaded with alcohol and like savages.

I was actually refreshed to be working a basketball game again, which lends itself to a much tamer crowd with not as many drunk idiots in attendance. I was able to get a glimpse of Chris Paul warming up, even though he wouldn't be playing in the game later. There was a sizable contingent of Clippers fans in the arena to see Blake Griffin, but the slam dunk phenom was pulled out of the lineup at the last minute tonight, due to a strained left hamstring, much to the disappointment of his fans.
Clippers forward Grant Hill is one of two players in the league still playing at the age of 40
Despite having the third best record in the league, the Clippers have struggled recently without "CP3" in the lineup
Clippers guard Jamal Crawford is a top candidate for the NBA's sixth man of the year award, averaging 16.9 points per game coming off the bench.
Unfortunately, for the purposes of fan photography, the arena didn't seem too energized tonight. It could have been because fans were so hung over from last night's Ravens Superbowl win, or it could possibly have been due to the absence of Paul and Griffin, the two players that a large majority of those in attendance had paid for specifically to see in person. Regardless of the reason, a lot of fans weren't too photogenic, and either declined to have their picture taken, or simply ignored me, limiting my output to under 400 pictures for the first time in weeks. In fact, it was the first time I can recall that none of my fellow fan photographers had been able to ascertain 400 photos.

Wizards guards Martell Webster, left, and John Wall, right
A 14 year NBA veteran, Lamar Odom has returned to the Clippers, the same team that drafted him in 1999.
Clippers guard Eric Bledsoe is defended by Wizards guard John Wall
Triple teamed: John Wall is defended by three Clippers
John Wall orchestrates the offense, as Eric Bledsoe defends
John Wall tries to dribble around Eric Bledsoe...
But again is met with multiple Clipper defenders
Wizards forward Nene goes to the foul line. Clippers guard Jamal Crawford, background, shouts out to a teammate. 
Trash talk? Clippers forward Caron Butler talks to Wizards forward Trevor Ariza 
Wizards guard Martell Webster is defended by Clippers forward Matt Barnes. Wizards forward Nene looks on.

Despite my shortcomings, I was able to hand in the camera early without generating any resentment from my supervisor, and catch the last few minutes of what turned out to be a comfortable 98-90 win in favor of the Wizards, behind 21 points from Martell Webster, plus 15 points a piece from Garrett Temple and Nene.

The Clippers were led by sixth-man candidate Jamal Crawford with 28 points off the bench. Interim starting point guard Eric Bledsoe contributed 17 points and 9 assists in the loss.