And their fans are taking heart.
No, the teams we’re talking about are the Los Angeles Clippers and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. The latter made history last week by signing batting superstar Albert Pujols for a record-breaking $250 million. His 10-year contract cost a third more than owner Arte Moreno paid for the team in 2003. Anaheim, about 45 minutes south of Los Angeles, has always been considered by many a small-potatoes town, along with their team. The Angels have lived in the shadow of the Dodgers, one of Major League Baseball’s marquee teams, despite the Angels winning the World Series in 2002.
And now the Clippers have just signed Chris Paul, judged by many to be the most dynamic point guard since Magic Johnson. Repeat: The Los Angeles Clippers. Many people outside the city don’t even know there is such a team. Rooting for the Los Angeles Clippers has been so difficult that the editors at Webster put the example in their dictionary to precisely explain, “fool’s errand.”
“Finally, my time has come,” school custodian Rod Allen told me, as I stepped into a Starbucks in Los Angeles this morning. He says he has cheered for the Clippers over the years despite past promises that have not materialized, including that the signing of star center Danny Manning was supposed to bring a championship. “I’m sick of being in the Lakers’ shadow,” says Mr. Allen. “Who remembers who placed second to Seabiscuit?”
He was reading Bill Dwyre, lead sports columnist for the Los Angeles Times, who wrote: “Death, taxes and Clippers incompetence are the axioms by which we live.”
Paul, a four-time All-Star, has the kind of statistics that can remake a franchise – averaging 18.7 points a game and 9.9 assists. He has the kind of full-court skill that can make other players shine. He’s often compared to the all-time great Bob Cousy, who ran the Boston Celtics during their heyday, or more recently John Stockton, who kept the small-market Utah Jazz a championship contender for more than a decade.
I figured I might be too close to things after living in L.A. for 26 years, so I called a sports analyst as far away as I could find who is still in the United States: Dan Lebowitz, executive director of the Sport in Society at Northeastern University in Boston.
Here’s what he told me.
“This creates a national rivalry in a city that hasn’t had one – like the Mets/Yankees, Nets/Knicks,” he said. “It presents an intracity rivalry that will be good for the fan base on both sides of the equation and will likely make the Lakers better from serious competition as well.”
I looked up one more source, this time on the business side of things to see what, if any, downside there might be. Ronald Hill, marketing professor at Villanova University in Pennsylvania, told me via e-mail, “[T]he issue is one of brand management. With a tarnished brand, the goal is to create new and positive beliefs that help overcome the existing ones.”
He continued, “In this case, the addition of a star player may accomplish this goal, at least in the short run. Of course, all bets are off if the season begins and he does not perform up to expectations, which happens more often than you think.”
I’m not mentioning this to Rod Allen.