Lakers vs. Clippers: So What?

 —  March 30, 2005

The Way is what causes the people to have the same thinking as their superiors; they may be given death, or they may be given life, but there is no fear of danger and betrayal.

— Sun Tzu, The Art Of War

Most days when I see a Bill Plaschke column in the Times, I make sure I check out Fire Jim Tracy during the day for an amusing break down of the king buffoon of Los Angeles newspaper columnists. No such luck today, however, as Plaschke has decided to talk NBA. So, I thought I’d chime in.

My problem is with the core premise of Plaschke’s column: That the Clippers will finish with a better record than the Lakers and that in and of itself is a major incitement of Jerry Buss. Plaschke goes on to suggest that the Clippers will be better than the Lakers for years to come.

Let’s look at this in two parts. First, that the Clippers will finish with a better record than the Lakers.

So what? The difference in the Laker and Clipper records this year will ultimately amount to a handful of ping pong balls in May and means nothing else, really. If the Clippers do end the season with the better record, and they may, I’m sure they will trumpet that fact in ads next season — LA’s best team. But this is the equivalent of Cal State Northridge beating UCLA in basketball, a sign of a short-term situation that does not really impact the number of banners hanging from the roof in the respective gyms or the potential for future banners.

Which brings us to part two: That the Clippers will be better than the Lakers for years to come and the reason is Laker ownership’s errors. On paper, the Clippers should be a team of the future, while the Lakers will require greater roster changes to return to being a contender. But I have four words that counter that:

Jerry Buss. Donald Sterling.

Sun Tzu, the ancient Chinese philosopher on war whose concepts really apply to all conflict (just ask Gordon Gecko), listed as the first thing needed to win a war as “The Way” (some translations call it Moral Law). The idea is pretty simple — to win a war a leader must have both the support of the troops and the people back home. (You could ask whether George W. Bush understood that concept, but that is really a debate for another blog).

When it comes to winning the war of the NBA, Jerry Buss has proven himself a leader that players and fans will follow. Right now the people at home are restless, but Buss has proven over decades that he knows how to lead an organization to titles. Plaschke et al can question his moves short term, but by the time the 2007-08 season starts the situations in Los Angeles and Miami will be very different, and the Lakers can (and should) be poised to be a power again for years to come.

Donald Sterling has just a couple of playoff appearances to point to for his decades of leadership. He does not care about winning the NBA war. He is very adept at winning the profit war. He will not let winning the NBA war get in the way of winning the profit war, no matter how well poised the team is for the future. Years of that same attitude has driven off all but the hard-core masochist fans.

Come April 21, the Clippers may have a better record than the Lakers, and the local media will make a big deal of it. So what. Ask me who I’d rather follow into the NBA wars.

(As a side note here, I’m using the war references here as a metaphor. I do not want anyone to confuse — or think I confuse — what happens at any NBA level with the dangers and challenges our soldiers face around the world. They are truly brave and amazing men and women.)