The Lakers, the Clippers and a Rare Fight for L.A. Basketball Primacy


Financial common sense, he said, has made Clippers fans of some of his friends.

The Lakers locker room was a Chateau Marmont, that stylish old stars and starlets hotel, for the elegantly attired. Kyle Kuzma, his hair dyed molten gold, peeled off his silk shirt and cashmere sweater and leopard-print pants Davis paused to whisper a joke to James, whose couture is rarely less than au courant.

The Lakers have stars to spare. Rajon Rondo, once a Celtic point guard and inveterate antagonist of all things Lakers, mans the backup point. Center Dwight Howard, whose egocentrism has caused him to cycle through six teams in the last eight years, ran around tossing up his arms in mock LeBron style, claiming the role of court jester.

No Laker paid him any mind.

The team took the floor against the Pistons with a Globetrotter-like spin and whirl, behind the back passes and soaring blocks. James, at 35 an ancient in the world of the N.B.A., lacks quite the old lift on his jump shot, so he has covertly aged by reincarnating himself as Magic Johnson and becoming the league’s best passer.

He came downcourt, putting the ball once, twice between his legs, and with a sleight of hand flipped the ball into the air to Davis, who, like a 6-foot-10 wide receiver, caught and tossed it through the hoop.

The joint went wild.

James took a seat with 21 points, 14 rebounds and 11 assists, and the Lakers cashed another win.

By then, my Los Angeles visit was near an end, and still questions nagged. Is this a proper rivalry? Could the Clippers and the Lakers ignite something as insanely tribal as the old Celtics-Lakers rivalry, that war of six decades’ vintage?

I put the question to Vogel. “You want to beat every good team,” the insurance adjuster told me.

Thanks a lot.


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