Lakers and Clippers becoming rivals

LOS ANGELES -- It used to be easy for a journalist to cut out on the Clippers in favor of covering the Lakers.

But like tapping your forehead with both fists while wearing a Darius Miles jersey, those days are over.

When I was late to a Clippers practice a few weeks ago after stopping by the Lakers' practice facility, Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro asked me: "What were you doing? Kissing the Lakers' a---- again?"

When I was late to an event Chris Paul had last weekend because I took in Dwight Howard's debut with the Lakers, Paul looked at me and said sarcastically: "The Lakers are more important, huh? You had to go see Dwight's debut? It's all good."

They were joking with me (I think), but they were speaking a new L.A. truth, asking a new L.A. question, too: Whose side are you on?

You can't be a catch-all basketball fan in this town right now any more than you can claim to root for both USC and UCLA in football. A line has been drawn.

Don't listen to players and coaches when they say the Lakers and Clippers don't have a rivalry yet. Never mind their clich├ęd responses before and after games -- watch their actions.

Remember when Pau Gasol rubbed Chris Paul's head last season and Paul jumped right back at him and rubbed his head and the two had to be separated? Paul does. He brought it up in a GQ interview last month and brought it up again to me when we spoke before the start of training camp.

"We call that sonnin'," he said. "Like when I take Li'l Chris to the bathroom, I'll walk with my hand on his head. That's my son. You know what I mean? I understand that Gasol is that tall, but don't do to me what I do to my son."

Try asking former Lakers and current Clippers Lamar Odom and Ronny Turiaf about their time with the Lakers and watch them have momentary amnesia, unwilling to talk about their former team, as if it were forbidden.

"It's out of respect for this team to not mention where you once were," Odom said. "We expect to play and win here so you have to be aware of your surroundings and who you represent now."

After years of disregarding the Clippers as a joke, Lakers fans are now vigilant about the Clippers creeping on their territory, quickly pointing to their championship banners and even citing the number of lob dunks they had last season as compared to their "Lob City" counterparts. On Twitter, Lakers fans think I'm a Clippers homer and Clippers fans think I'm a Lakers homer whenever I tweet about the other team, and a tweet about one team will usually elicit just as much reaction from the other team's fans.

Credit the failed Chris-Paul-to-the-Lakers, successful Chris-Paul-to-the-Clippers moment for the climate change, on and off the court.

For the first time since the Clippers moved to Los Angeles from San Diego in 1984, they got a significant win over the Lakers in grabbing Paul, and they crowed about it, plastering his image in a Clippers jersey on buildings and billboards throughout the city.

When I saw Kobe Bryant two weeks ago, he asked me to ask Odom what it felt like to now play alongside the player who set in motion his departure from the Lakers.

Bryant was laughing, poking fun at an old friend, but the fact that he brought it up at all, and knew it would get back to the Clippers' practice facility, suggested even the undisputed king of L.A. hoops feels what we can all feel now: Paul's arrival in Los Angeles has cued the start of a genuine rivalry between these teams.