Growing up in Los Angeles, it would be hard to say that the Clippers and the Lakers really had a rivalry. The Lakers were one of the preeminent franchises in all of the NBA while the Clippers had to deal with the indignity of Donald Sterling. Among non-diehard fans, it wasn’t all that uncommon to root for both teams except for when they played each other.
Those niceties are long gone. Ever since David Stern’s veto sent Chris Paul to the Clippers instead of the Lakers, the Clippers were no longer the lovable losers to the Lakers behemoth. They were a real-life contender that demanded real attention, and that meant drawing some fault lines between the two team’s fanbases.
For much of the Lob City era, though, the Lakers weren’t a contending team, so that prevented the two franchises from having a real rivalry. Even last season, when the Lakers’ fortunes were supposed to change, they failed to make the playoffs, leaving the Clippers to continue their long-running California feud with the Golden State Warriors rather than really engaging with the Lakers. (To be clear, I’m not forgetting Patrick Beverley, but he engages with everyone.)
Now, everything has changed. The Lakers and the Clippers have the two best superstar duos in the NBA, and both teams expect to contend for a championship this season. This may not have been a real rivalry in the past, but it is now.
The Clippers closed the deal with Kawhi Leonard
The Clippers and the Lakers were two of the three teams in the hunt for Leonard in free agency, and being in direct competition for the hottest star on the market is a great way to start a feud. Both teams have been targeting Leonard for nearly a year — the Lakers believed they were Leonard’s top choice when he asked for a trade from San Antonio during the 2018 offseason, and the Clippers had meticulously put together a year-long pitch by rebuilding their front office and culture, and also just being present around Leonard, a lot. Ultimately, the Clippers won, and they get to lord that over the Lakers, who were forced to scramble for lesser free agents in the aftermath of Leonard’s decision.
It hurt the Lakers to lose out on their primary free-