- Arash Markazi, ESPN Staff Writer
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LOS ANGELES -- Perception doesn't always match reality in Los Angeles.
It usually supersedes it.
It's a city famous for make-believe stories filmed on made-up sets built to create pseudo-celebrities famous for, well, we're not quite sure.
In other cities, it may take years to rebuild images and reputations. But Los Angeles has always been an oversized high school in this department. The class clown can turn into the big man on campus overnight if he's seen with the right group at the right spot at the right time.
That's exactly what happened in a six-day stretch with the Los Angeles Clippers when they added Chris Paul, Chauncey Billups and Caron Butler to a team that already had Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, Mo Williams and Eric Bledsoe.
Seemingly overnight, the Clippers went from being the butt of 35 years' worth of "Tonight Show" jokes -- stretching from Johnny Carson to Jay Leno to Conan O'Brien and back to Leno again -- to having a waiting list for season tickets.
It is a new alternate universe that Los Angeles sports fans are not quite sure how to embrace.
While the Clippers added Paul, Billups and Butler to a young roster on the rise, the Los Angeles Lakers have signed Josh McRoberts, Jason Kapono and Gerald Green to an aging team that was swept out of the playoffs last season.
Are the Clippers better than the Lakers? Who knows? Does it even matter? The fact that this has been a serious question throughout the city this week is a moment almost as unthinkable as someone actually waiting to buy Clippers tickets.
The Clippers haven't just been the little brother to the Lakers' big brother for the past 30 years. People at least pull for the little brother to beat the big brother at some point. The Clippers have been more like the perpetually down-on-his-luck in-law who can't get out of his own way. Who wants to get behind a depressing cause like that?
In one magical week, however, everything has changed. The in-law won the lottery and now everyone wants a piece of him.
Los Angeles is always about the next big thing, and the Clippers are the "it" team right now without having played a single game yet this season. It's a lot cooler to wear a Clippers "Lob City" T-shirt or CP3 jersey around town than the Kobe Bryant or Derek Fisher jersey you've had since the '90s.
It's true the Lakers have won 16 championships compared to zero for the Clippers. And it's also true the Lakers have missed the playoffs only four times in the past 35 years, while the Clippers have been to the playoffs only four times during that same stretch, advancing past the first round only once. But popularity, especially in this city, isn't always based on merit and accomplishments. Simply look at Twitter: Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, Katy Perry, Kim Kardashian and Britney Spears all have more followers than the president of the United States.
We want to be entertained more than anything else.
Championship banners and retired jerseys are great to look at and reminisce about, but they aren't worth the price of admission. If you're going to spend a week's salary to go to an NBA game this season, chances are you'd rather pay to watch Chris Paul lob passes near the rim to finishers like Griffin and Jordan than to watch Fisher bring the ball upcourt and feed it down low to Andrew Bynum or watch Bryant go one-on-five at the end of the shot clock.
This isn't to say Los Angeles is no longer a Lakers town. It likely always will be a Lakers town as long as they are the only team in town with a championship, but the Lakers just got some company in the relevancy department. Conversations at the workplace and schools across Los Angeles won't just be about the Lakers game from last night anymore; they'll likely revolve around the handful of highlight-reel plays made by Paul, Griffin, Jordan, Butler and Billups.
Lakers fans will scoff at this notion and say they've seen this all before. They remember when Sam Cassell came to Los Angeles in 2005 and helped Elton Brand and the Clippers get to the second round of the playoffs before flaming out the following season. With all due respect to any former Clippers, Paul is no Cassell and Griffin is no Brand. What the Clippers have now are two of the top 10 players in the league and the cornerstones of what could be a championship-caliber team for years to come. This is something the Clippers have never, ever had.
The reality, of course, is we don't know exactly what the Clippers have until we see them play.
But the perception is they could have the best team in Los Angeles, and in this city that's all that really matters.
Arash Markazi is a columnist and reporter for ESPNLA.com.
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