“Small fracture in his back” is the type of phrase designed to minimize anxiety. It’s no big thing. A little something. Don’t pay any mind to “fracture” or “back” because “small” is the operative word. The phrase implicitly creates context from a cloudy condition. “Stress fracture in his back”? That’s the kind of notification alert that sets bells off, injects doubt. Ask former consensus No. 1 overall pick Joel Embiid.
When Blake Griffin withdrew from Team USA training camp and this summer’s FIBA World Cup, fleeting murmurs bubbled as to whether he played too concussive a style of basketball, whether this was the harbinger to his athletic deterioration. Is this the beginning of the end for Griffin and the Clippers?
It turns out that there was an answer; it was no. Griffin continued his offseason workout regimen, telling the Los Angeles Times, “It's less than a hairline, and my back is not fractured. Everything is still intact.” In a summary assessing the repercussions for Team USA, ESPN.com's Brian Windhorst went as far as to suggest that, while Griffin and the team are appropriately treading carefully with the injury, nearly 70 percent of big men growing up experience a fracture similar to the one Blake is rehabbing. This was more precaution than cautionary tale.
So it goes for the Clippers these days. For a franchise that has had its share of unusual occurrences, even in recent memory -- a water main bursting during a game in Memphis? -- unfortunate events most would attribute to “karma” or “luck” have had more logical explanations come to their defense. Maybe it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy of the team’s two stars, Blake Griffin and Chris Paul, who repeatedly claimed upon their arrival that the past was of no concern. Their ambition was to seize control of the future. It was an odd juxtaposition for a franchise that viewed fate as a four-letter word.
And yet here we are, a half-decade later with perceptions shifted and the couching and parsing of words to mitigate unreasonable speculation. The downplay of injury to a top-10 player on a contender. Nary a mention of the “Clippers curse.” Barely a whisper of such superstition in the past few years. In the span of marveling at in-air acrobatics to hating the team’s brashness to begrudgingly accepting their ability, the Clippers have inched further and further away from the self-defeating stigma and, frankly, excuses of a moribund franchise.
In fact, the du jour topic after last season was whether Griffin had quietly surpassed Paul as the best player on the team.
Now with Donald Sterling officially excised from the organization, any vestigial hexes have eroded and the Clippers are reborn in a new space: win (or lose) on their own terms.
Fans have observed a slow but methodical transformation: have a young star legitimize the team, bring in a superstar to introduce lofty aspirations, attract a championship-winning coach to validate those aspirations, inject stability via ownership swap. Star, coach, front office, owner; every component has been replaced and rejuvenated in the past four years. What else is there?
It’s a scary thing to have beaten a curse. Gone is the comforting “it’s the Clippers” catch-all. Banned is the caricature of a villain typically situated courtside -- although Shelly Sterling still retains her own set of courtside seats as a stipulation of the sale, and it seems she has every intent on using them. A goodbye wave to the perpetual anxiety cloud that floated over Staples Center, source of constant trepidation for fans, reminding them not to get their hopes up.
It’s always easy to find excuses for losing. And none of the changes guarantees the Clippers will win a championship. The only thing it means is they’re accountable for their own fate. Isn’t that all anyone really wants?
Andrew Han writes for ClipperBlog. Follow him @andrewthehan.