Culture of Hoops

Los Angeles Clippers Media Day: This Team is for Real


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Image courtesy of Terra Kohut/Baller Mind Frame.

Image courtesy of Terra Kohut/Baller Mind Frame.

The Los Angeles Clippers Training Facility was a place of calm confidence and organized purpose this past Monday for Clippers Media Day. So much so, that it seemed odd to think that this franchise had just recently went through – arguably, one of the most atrocious, public divorces between owner and league in American professional sports history. From the cast of charismatic individuals that comprise the team’s makeup, there wasn’t much of anything emitting from them and the rest of the players that wasn’t clear focus and business when each respective group addressed the media. And while there was no void of smiles and good energy throughout, the Clippers are clearly ready to cut the commentating and expedite the start of Game One, and by Game One I am in no way referencing the season opener on October 7th, but am explicitly referring to Game One of the 2015 NBA postseason. This team is ready to win and they’re ready to do it right now.

The structure of the event itself represented the energy of the team in a very interesting and noteworthy fashion. Scheduled to speak in timed sessions, the players took to the stage in segmented groups to establish a general understanding of their collective purpose this season. The great Doc Rivers opened up the forum with an incredible introduction followed by The Big Three: Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. The second group of players to emerge was that of Matt Barnes, J.J. Redick, and Jamal Crawford. From there we saw some new additions and familiar L.A. faces including the highly important offseason acquisition, Spencer Hawes, along with Glen Davis, Jordan Farmar, and a surprisingly early cameo from Hedo Turkoglu. Chris Douglas-Roberts and Ekpe Udoh stepped up after and were followed by Reggie Bullock and C.J. Wilcox. The final combination of guys to address the media was Jared Cunningham and Joe Ingles, an exciting Australian import whose expectations are high within the organization.

In regard to the assessment of the Clippers Media Day structure mirroring the team’s overall vibe, in an almost eerie fashion, my reasons for drawing this parallel are as follow: Doc is their captain and the Big Three are team generals on and off the court. The rest of the players that followed, in their respective order, are all officers of the commanding unit, all of which respect and trust the senior athlete above them. There is a systemized hierarchy based off real talent, hard numbers, individual growth, and researched application. This creates a system of effectiveness and team focus. Selflessness is the motto and it’s clear by how they interact with one another and comment on their well-understood, unified goal. No one on the current roster is uncomfortable with their assigned expectations regardless of how large or small their asked contribution may be. This team is built on trust and the foundation is more than solid. Clippers Media Day embodied this spirit in both the physical and spiritual sense. These Clippers are scary relaxed because they’re incredibly prepared and extremely sound internally. It’s Larry O’ Brien or bust.

Image courtesy of Mike Bitanga/Baller Mind Frame.

Image courtesy of Mike Bitanga/Baller Mind Frame.

Doc’s Influence 
The best leaders in any type of situation are the ones that create a sense of comfort and respect through their guidance and organization. The best way to foster this type of environment is to lead by example and expect only that of which you’ve given. Once a unit can trust that the work they put forth is not only appreciated, but actually produces the proposed outcome and results, there is no limit to individual potential, growth, and overall success on the whole.

Doc Rivers has proven to this franchise that he will work harder than anyone to ensure the team’s prosperity and when everyone commits to his system, the results are undeniable. It’s incredible to see Doc’s essence instilled within each and every player. They all share the same sentiment – calm, confident, collected and ready to go. I think the best word to sum up the coach’s belief in his team is authentic.

When speaking to Rick Fox in the earlier part of the day, Doc expressed very plainly how he feels about this year’s Media Day and the team showcased throughout: “Oh, I’m very happy. You know, there’s probably years where you’re not looking forward to it, but this year you’re really looking forward to it. I like our team.” There’s a true sense of pride and value emitting from their leader, and it’s clear that this motivates the Clippers in the most positive of ways. Unlike any other coach, Rivers combines elite greatness with total accessibility and finds a way for everyone to feel comfortable within his system. “In the workplace when you have stability, usually you have success.” It seems so simple, yet so many failed projects or expeditions are the result of missing that key ingredient: stability. Security.

How Doc held this team together during the Donald Sterling scandal, keeping their spirits alive and basketball minds sharp while Adam Silver went to work on defeating the senile, blubbering beast, is not only admirable, but remarkable. This team has come out of such darkness into a light that’s so apparent, it should have the rest of the league shaking in their sneakers.

When revisiting his appearance during Media Day, one can write articles upon articles on how important Rivers is to this organization and the game of basketball in general, but I think the best marker of his greatness is represented in the demeanor of the players that he coaches and the championship culture he’s established in Los Angeles. Coach Rivers and his Clippers are ready to do it right this year and it’s all about the playoff push. Doc echoes this sentiment in almost every basketball breath of air spoken, “We’ve proven we can win games, what we haven’t proven, is that we can sustain winning in the playoffs and that’s what we’re here for.” They’re most certainly here, and they’re ready to attain their prize. Doc Rivers and the Clippers are about it. No fluff, no drama, no gimmicks. This team is for real.

Image courtesy of Mike Bitanga/ Baller Mind Frame.

Image courtesy of Mike Bitanga/ Baller Mind Frame.

The Big Three

Following Doc’s restorative introduction, and what felt like the official kick off to the Clippers 2014-15 season, was the emergence of The Big Three. Adorned in uniquely distinct uniform variations, the guys possessed an air of supreme unity and had a very cool, Zen-like energy about them. Chris Paul spoke more briefly than one would expect, allowing DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin to step in for most of the responses. It seemed as though Paul felt ultra confident in passing the leadership torch around, not because he’s taken a back seat as team captain, but because he knows he’s got two trusted partners alongside of him. And hey, three leaders are certainly better than one.

Their specific part in the press conference felt ceremonial, like an unofficial knighting of sorts that represented a joint trust and understanding of the shared responsibility they have to each other and to their team. Often asked about this sense of leadership, the players continually referenced the unit versus the individual. “I feel like last season was one of the better teams that I’ve been on in my NBA career. I’m sure these guys would say the same,” Paul said after being asked to comment on the talent level of the guys around him. The sentiment was surely shared, but not one guy took more than a moment to acknowledge the achievement before moving on to how they can be better, and make their team better in doing so.

The variety of media questions definitely begged for self-commentary on the elite stature of the roster, but it’s clear that this particular group has no interest in ego stroking. They constantly referenced how important putting in the work is: improving minds, bodies, and the undying drive to be better than before. “Even from ourselves we expect a lot more,” said CP3 when asked about coach expectations, revisiting this theme of maturation and sound work ethic. These guys embody the mindset that the best must work the hardest and their answers were so in sync that it felt as though they were all coming from one large brain.

“I think as far as leadership goes, we all three lead in different ways,” said Blake after he was asked to comment on who the leaders of the team are and how much responsibility each leader assumes. He stressed that it all starts from within; being someone that guys can “depend on to work hard.” He also mentioned that leadership goes hand in hand with not trying to do too much, a motif that brings us back to the hierarchy element and Doc’s system. Exploit what guys do well. Give to the team the best parts of your game: “I think it’s important for leaders to not step outside of what they do and what they do well.”

It’s apparent that Blake is wise beyond his years and it shows in his eloquence and the amount of effort he puts into training. He wants to be the guy that guys can depend on, commenting that true leaders are “The guys that guys want to follow.”

DeAndre Jordan also possessed an uncanny sense of wisdom when speaking to the media Monday, always diverting Sterling questions that have no current relevance and keeping his answers all about basketball. “We’re looking to improve this year, and move forward.” Let it all go was the motto; they’re putting the past where it belongs and focusing on the future. Jordan is certainly focusing on the future, recognizing his role as their self-deemed “defensive anchor.” He understands how integral his contribution is in achieving their one and only mission, and unlike many other superstars in the league, DeAndre, as well as Chris and Blake, give nothing to individual success, only recognize individual responsibility, and how they can own it and produce for the collective future goal.

Image courtesy of Terra Kohut/Baller Mind Frame.

Image courtesy of Terra Kohut/Baller Mind Frame.

The humility within these elite group of athletes is almost scary in a competitive vein. The leadership of Doc Rivers has manifested itself into three of the league’s best players and further attributes to the fact that this team is ready to go right now.

Familiar faces and L.A. natives: Matt Barnes, J.J. Redick, and Jamal Crawford spoke much to the strength of their bodies and how their renewed health has allowed them to dedicate more time to conditioning in the offseason. Barnes in particular is completely healthy for the first time in recent memory. He mentioned passionately that he was, “100 percent ready, 100 percent healthy” almost immediately into one of his first responses.

J.J. Redick, in coming off of a leg injury, also expressed gratitude for his health, stating that his leg’s full functionality has been restored. So much so that he’s been working diligently on his dunk game the past few weeks. Why not add some more slam-action to the already explosive Lob City?

Crawford duly noted that his calf felt good and it was nice to see the three, young fathers completely relaxed and positive as ever. Matt discussed working on alternative forms of exercise like yoga and expressed a total appreciation for the culture itself. Interesting if the entire team were to engage in a method practiced ritualistically by the Seattle Seahawks, a beloved team of proud, new owner Steve Ballmer. This group was questioned more on how they felt about Ballmer and his ownership presence thus far. Barnes stated the agreed upon, unified feeling beautifully: “He’s rejuvenating the spirit of the franchise and the city, and really myself.”

And although these questions which rendered encouraging sentiment seemed to always manifest into Sterling inquisitions, the guys practiced DeAndre Jordan’s earlier method of handling the situation and turned all negative prying into motivational statements about the here and now. I think the team agrees with Redick when it comes to the, “Donald this,” “Sterling that,” mentions, and that’s simply: “I’m over it, let’s focus on this year. Let’s rock and roll now.”

Image courtesy of Terra Kohut/FLickr.

Image courtesy of Terra Kohut/Baller Mind Frame

Show and Prove

It was fantastic to hear from Hawes, Davis, Farmar, and Turk. The guys are all very excited and humbled to be playing amidst this special collection of talent. Everyone in this group recognizes the importance of making it work, fitting in and actively adding to the overall chemistry on and off the court. Big Baby summed up the general new guy-sentiment quite well when answering why it’s easy to be excited about playing for this organization. It’s about, “Knowing that there’s an opportunity here to do something great, to be apart of something that’s bigger than yourself.” From there he went on to say that, “Also, L.A. weather is awesome,” which anyone who enjoys sunshine and clear skies can agree with, one of the main reasons a place like Los Angeles so special to so many.

There was a very refreshing spirit amongst this group, especially after Hedo snuck on stage prematurely to crash the exisitng party. He was supposed to go on with Udoh and Douglas-Roberts, but no one seemed to mind; Turkoglu brought an even friendlier dimension to the panel and added tons of good vibes and great energy. He mentioned immediately that his experience when coming to the organization last January was that of acceptance and positivity, remarking that the “chemistry was great.” Hedo made it a point to instantly express his gratitude, especially in reference to head coach Doc Rivers: “First I want to thank Doc, for believing in me and that I could be a part of this great organization.” It all starts and ends with great leadership, and it’s incredible to see this alive and well within the Clippers organization right now.

Image courtesy of Terra Kohut/Baller Mind Frame

Image courtesy of Terra Kohut/Baller Mind Frame

New Swagger

One of the surprise highlights of Clippers Media Day was the enjoyable presence of Chris Douglas-Roberts. He took to the stage with Ekpe Udoh and outshined the 27 year old with a fresh wit and powerful energy providing intellectual analysis about the team’s mission and his personal goals for the coming year. I believe Douglas-Roberts will make a large impact by being a penetrative defensive weapon and spot-up shooter. At 6-foot-7, Douglas-Roberts brings not only a sharp basketball mind to the core group of guys, but a polarizing quality that creates energy in all the right places. He’s proven he can be highly effective from the perimeter and really embodies the sound work ethic this team is all about.

Udoh will surely add to the defensive prowess of the team and should be celebrated among fans, but there’s just something about Chris that generates intrigue and excitement naturally. Maybe it’s the phenomenal hair or the incredible shorts, but the guy is just a stunner. He’s got swagger for days and it’s undeniable. To conclude this point, go ahead and enjoy Douglas-Roberts’ response when asked whether his short shorts are for function or for style: “I just feel sexy in these, no but I feel better in these, I always wanted to wear them a little shorter. I don’t want to feel bogged down – I just think that’s played out. I think you guys want to see this.”

Image courtesy of Terra Kohut/Baller Mind Frame.

Image courtesy of Terra Kohut/Baller Mind Frame.

 Working the Rest In

C.J. Wilcox, Reggie Bullock, Jared Cunningham, and Joe Ingles are all new pieces with great attitudes and potential. Whether it’s the experience of playing in the Development League or winning a championship overseas, these players all have selling points that are easily identifiable and understood. The main thing with new guys and raw talent is definitely attitude and the Clippers have fostered an environment that encourages good character and ethical practice throughout all facets of life. Whether you’re as big as a Blake Griffin soaring above the rim for a one-handed jam or as new as an Aussie playing for the first time in the NBA, there’s no question you’re in good hands with the Los Angeles Clippers; a place where everyone is given the opportunity and encouragement to be great.

In the end, the most remarkable part of what went down at Clippers Media Day 2014, had to have been the calm flow and ease of access to primary information on what is arguably one of the best teams in basketball today. It’s not just access to information regarding plans for the season, offensive and defensive strategies, workout regimens et cetera, but more so an accessibility to a genuine feeling that lies within each player, a feeling embodied that makes this team special. A journalist couldn’t be luckier in a situation where the desired figures are prepared, practiced and poised, but are also kind, cool and authentic in their approach, passion and commitment to the game of basketball. It was an absolute pleasure getting to witness this undoubtedly strong group of men, experiencing the essence of what they’ve been able to accomplish in the last couple of years, and what they’re looking to accomplish in the very near future. With the guidance and leadership of some of the best in the game today, there’s no telling where the Clippers will eventually end up on their journey towards the trophy.

After finishing up the Media Day dance, one of the first notions that came to mind was, “Wow. This squad is the truth.” Not one, not two, not three, not four… only these guys would never proclaim something so outlandish, which proves all the more why they are extraordinary. As mentioned previously about this team – No fluff. No drama. No gimmicks. This team is for real.

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