INSIDER TRAVEL BLOG: MEMPHIS
4/29/13 | Eric Patten Follow @ericpatten
Four days in Memphis.
The playoffs are such a unique experience not just in the obvious notion that the stakes are higher, but you effectively set up camp in a city for a period of time much longer than the regular season. Having been to the Blues City twice in the regular season and off and on for about two weeks in the 2012 playoffs, four days did not seem as long as it could have.
Memphis has plenty to eat, especially if you want to avoid any dietary advice. While the players are measured in the food they consume, especially during the season, a number of other members of the traveling party visited two of the more famous local eateries (Gus’s Fried Chicken and Charlie Vergo’s Rendezvous).
Both places proclaim world renown and it’s understandable why. Rendezvous is one of dozens of rib joints in and around the city that are worthy of recommendation. There are usually disagreements over which one is the best, but it’s certainly never frowned upon to visit Rendezvous, which is located in an alley not far from FedEx Forum. That’s where a number of us went Wednesday night after we arrived.
The players went to dinner together as a group elsewhere. “It’s always fun to be around the guys,” Jamal Crawford said. “We’re around each other a lot anyway, but to be in that setting and talk about the year and talk about funny stories was really cool.”
Another difference from the playoffs and the regular season is the focus of everyone involved. There were no excursions to see Memphis’ numerous historical sites and there, of course, were no off days. The team had shoot-around Thursday before Game 3, practiced Friday and played Saturday afternoon before coming home. That doesn’t include breakfast meetings, heading to the arena for extra shooting or therapy.
The food and, on Wednesday and Thursday, warm sunshine that preceded two days of gloom and scattered rain were both highlights of a trip that ended with the Clippers coming back to Los Angeles tied two games apiece with the Grizzlies. The environment in the arena was much expected, considering the hostile atmosphere during the seven-game series in Memphis last season.
There were the yellow towels that in Game 3 had the word “Believe” in navy blue and in Game 4 read “Grit” or “Grind.” There were taunts and boos. There were Chris Paul fat-heads adorned with baby bonnets and pacifiers. And several mock Clippers t-shirts that read: “Los Angeles Floppers.”
The in-arena operations for the Grizzlies played “California Girls” by Katy Perry as the backing music when the Clippers players were introduced and segments during timeouts were just as pointed, including “Slap a Clipper Fan,” a video of a man wearing a Clippers t-shirt being slapped by the Memphis mascot, Grizz.
The point was evident. The Grizzlies fans don’t like the Clippers.
On the quiet flight back to Los Angeles, another point emerged. At least Clipper fans have a chance to respond in Game 5.
CLIPPERS AT TOP OF MERCHANDISE SALES
4/10/13 | Eric Patten Follow @ericpatten
For the second consecutive year, the Clippers are among the most popular jersey and merchandise sales in the NBA.
Blake Griffin and Chris Paul are in the top 10 as teammates for the first time after Paul jumped from No. 15 last season to No. 9 in 2012-13. Griffin dropped one spot from No. 9 to No. 10. The only other set of teammates in the top 10 are reigning MVP LeBron James (No. 2) and Dwyane Wade (No. 7). The top spot belongs to Carmelo Anthony for the first time. Last season’s No. 1 jersey seller was Chicago’s Derrick Rose, who fell to No. 5 despite not playing this season due to an extended recovery from a torn ACL.
The last time the Clippers had two players in the top 10 was April 2002 when Darius Miles (No. 7) and Lamar Odom (No. 8), who is coincidentally back with the team, both cracked he list.
In three NBA seasons Griffin has never finished lower than No. 11 in jersey sales. Paul’s best finish was in 2008-09 when he was No. 3 as a member of the Hornets. That was a year after the six-time All-Star point guard finished second in MVP balloting. He was third last year, but did not see as substantial of a jump.
The Clippers also finished in the top 10 in overall merchandise sales for the second consecutive year, coming in at No. 8. They were in the same spot a year ago, just months after the acquisition of Paul and the emergence of Griffin as a bona fide superstar after his magnificent rookie season.
TOP 15 MOST POPULAR NBA JERSEYS (2012-13)
1. Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks
2. LeBron James, Miami Heat
3. Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
4. Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers
5. Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls
6. Deron Williams, Brooklyn Nets
7. Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat
8. Rajon Rondo, Boston Celtics
9. Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers
10. Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers
11. Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers
12. Dwight Howard, Los Angeles Lakers
13. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
14. Amar'e Stoudemire, New York Knicks
15. Paul Pierce, Boston Celtics
TOP 10 MOST POPULAR TEAM MERCHANDISE (2012-13)
1. New York Knicks
2. Miami Heat
3. Los Angeles Lakers
4. Brooklyn Nets
5. Chicago Bulls
6. Boston Celtics
7. Oklahoma City Thunder
8. Los Angeles Clippers
9. San Antonio Spurs
10. Philadelphia 76ers
INSIDER BLOG: NCAA TOURNAMENT BY THE NUMBERS
3/21/13 | Eric Patten Follow @ericpatten
With the so-called second round of the NCAA tournament imminent, there are nine Clippers players with their schools still alive.
That’s tied with Boston and New Orleans for the most players on any roster in the league. Among the 17 playoff contenders remaining in the NBA, Memphis, Chicago, New York and Miami have eight players with teams in the tournament.
In all likelihood so many players with alumni-related rooting interests makes filling out an unbiased bracket a futile exercise. Any chance Grant Hill would pick, say No. 2 seed Miami (FL), to advance further than his Duke Blue Devils? Or is DaJuan Summers going to predict top overall seed Louisville to win it despite his Georgetown Hoyas owning a No. 2 seed on the opposite side of the bracket?
Matt Barnes and Ryan Hollins are represented by UCLA with Chauncey Billups (Colorado), Jamal Crawford (Michigan), Blake Griffin (Oklahoma), Hill (Duke), Summers (Georgetown), Ronny Turiaf (Gonzaga) and Maalik Wayns (Villanova) all having schools among the final 64 teams.
Turiaf, who was the West Coast Conference Player of the Year in 2004-05 at Gonzaga, is the only Clippers player with a No. 1 seed in the tournament. Boston has three players whose schools are No. 1 seeds: D.J. White (Indiana), Terrence Williams (Louisville) and Paul Pierce (Kansas).
But Turiaf is not the only Clipper who may see their school stick around for a while. Duke and Georgetown are both No. 2 seeds and Crawford’s Michigan squad is a No. 4. Of the nine players with teams in the tournament, only Griffin’s Oklahoma Sooners are a double-digit seed (No. 10).
Here is a look at league’s top 17 teams and how they fare as far as players with schools in the tournament (sorted from most to least):
Barnes (UCLA), Billups (Colorado), Crawford (Michigan), Griffin (Oklahoma), Hill (Duke), Hollins (UCLA), Summers (Georgetown), Turiaf (Gonzaga), Wayns (Villanova)
Green (Georgetown), Melo (Syracuse), Pierce (Kansas), Randolph (Duke), Sullinger (Ohio State), Terry (Arizona), White (Indiana), Wilcox (Maryland), Williams (Louisville)
Allen (OK State), Arthur (Kansas), Bayless (Arizona), Conley (Ohio State), Davis (UNC), Daye (Gonzaga), Leuer (Wisconsin), Randolph (Michigan State)
New York (8)
Anthony (Syracuse), Copeland (Colorado), Felton (UNC), Kidd (Cal), Martin (Cincy), Novak (Marquette), Wallace (UNC), White (Cincy)
Anthony (UNLV), Battier (Duke), Chalmers (Kansas), Haslem (Florida), Howard (Michigan), Jones (Miami), Miller (Florida), Wade (Marquette)
Boozer (Duke), Butler (Marquette), Cook (Ohio State), Deng (Duke), Hinrich (Kansas), Noah (Florida), Rose (Memphis), Thomas (SDSU)
Granger (New Mexico), B.Hansbrough (Notre Dame), T.Hansbrough (North Carolina), Hibbert (G’Town), Plumlee (Duke), Stephenson (Cincinnati), Young (Pitt)
Burks (Colorado), Carroll (Missouri), Foye (Villanova), Hayward (Butler), Tinsley (Iowa State), Watson (UCLA), Williams (UNC)
Blake (Maryland), Clark (Louisville), Duhon (Duke), Hill (Arizona), Jamison (UNC), Morris (Michigan), Sacre (Gonzaga)
Lin (Harvard), Anderson (Ok State), Brooks (Oregon), Garcia (Louisville), Parsons (Florida), Robinson (Kansas), White (Iowa State)
Dunleavy (Duke), Gooden (Kansas), Henson (UNC), Mbah a Moute (UCLA), Przybilla (Minnesota), Redick (Duke), Sanders (VCU)
Golden State (6)
Barnes (UNC), Curry (Davidson), Green (Michigan State), Jefferson (Arizona), Lee (Florida), Rush (Kansas)
Harris (Wisconsin), Horford (Florida), Jones (Duke), Korver (Creighton), Mack (Butler), Tolliver (Creighton)
San Antonio (5)
Blair (Pitt), Bonner (Florida), Green (UNC), Leonard (SDSU), Mills (St. Mary’s)
Brewer (Florida), Iguodala (Arizona), Koufos (Ohio State), Lawson (UNC)
Humphries (Minnesota), Stackhouse (UNC), Taylor (Kansas), Williams (Illinois)
Oklahoma City (2)
Collison (Kansas), Westbrook (UCLA)
INSIDER TRAVEL BLOG: STOP 8, PHILADELPHIA
2/13/13 | Eric Patten Follow @ericpatten
To some extent, the trip to Philadelphia was as though everyone was biding time. Much of the enthusiasm to see the city, which is both beautiful and rugged, had dissipated with a flight home finally on the horizon.
It was not a true back-to-back situation in the City of Brotherly Love, so despite the desire for everyone to return to their own beds in L.A. the final visit on the road trip felt less like a pit stop than Washington, D.C. a week earlier.
The game in New York started at 1 p.m. EST. The flight from the Newark airport to Philadelphia, according to our captain, was 22 minutes. We spent more than double that time waiting on the bus to leave Madison Square Garden.
Once we got to the team hotel, after a commute from the airport that took about 30 minutes without traffic, everyone settled in then went out to eat. Since I had New York-style pizza in SoHo, I figured it was apropos to eat a cheesesteak in Philadelphia. Willie Green, who played seven seasons with the Sixers, suggested Larry’s. Other names on the roughly devised “best cheesesteak” list included Gino’s and Jim’s. Out of the three, Jim’s was closest so a handful of people went over there around 8:30 p.m.
The restaurant was a quick cab ride away. Inside, there is a griddle with meat, onions and peppers simmering. After placing your order the cook spreads cheese wiz or provolone or American onto a 10-inch roll then flips it face down on the griddle, sliding the meat underneath the bun with a spatula. After that you can add other fixings like onions or pepperoncinis. There’s even a pizza steak with marinara sauce. The sandwich is anywhere from $9 to $13 depending on what items you put on it, but it is well worth it.
Philadelphia certainly embraces its historical roots. It is one of two former American capitals that the Clippers visited in succession. Benjamin Franklin’s presence is ever present, even in the least obvious places. The privacy door hanger in the hotel, for example, included one of Franklin’s virtues: “Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.”
About 26 hours after arriving in Philadelphia, the Clippers, even without Chauncey Billups and Caron Butler, looked healthy, wealthy and wise against the Sixers. They did not shoot-around on game day, which is typical when they play on consecutive nights. Several players got to the arena early to get shots up, though.
It was a dreary day in the city, which meant a number of its massive structures and historic sites were concealed by a low-lying fog. Visibility was poor on the way to Wells Fargo Center, which sits in a sports complex about five miles from downtown. Lincoln Financial Field, the Eagles’ stadium, seemed to pop up out of nowhere as the bus drove towards the complex’s exit on I-676.
The Philadelphia fans are known for being rowdy and relentless and once Monday’s game got going, it was immediately apparent. A group of people dressed in everything from white afro whigs to colonial hats and wacky t-shirts. They were constantly chanting and booing and heckling. They were like a smaller version of the former group called “Squad 6” in Milwaukee.
As the game got out of hand fans seemed to turn on the home team, merely anticipating dunks by the Clippers—they obliged with 11 on the night.
It was a phenomenal way to end the trip. However, it was evident in the locker room afterwards that everyone was ready to go home. Head coach Vinny Del Negro paced through the group a couple of times and jokingly yelled, “Let’s go” to get everyone to hurry and get dressed. When Blake Griffin was asked by a reporter if he was ready for the trip to be over, he interrupted and said, “I can’t wait.”
I couldn’t have agreed with him more.
INSIDER TRAVEL BLOG: STOP 7, NEW YORK
2/11/13 | Eric Patten Follow @ericpatten
The reports coming out of New York and the entire Northeast were dire. On Friday night after the Clippers-Heat game ended in Miami, there were questions about whether or not we would get to New York when originally planned.
The snow and ice, which hammered the Atlantic coast from New York to New England, had already delayed the Knicks from leaving Minneapolis Friday night. So, the plan to stay overnight in Miami before departing was looking better and better.
We left Miami shortly after practice, arriving at the Newark airport a little before 5 p.m. EST. There were no problems landing and several people agreed that the thick blanket of snow that had been pushed to the side of the runways and streets was not much different than any typical day after a heavy snowfall.
Despite the cold, there was definitely a sense of relief that all thoroughfares appeared open. Our trip across the Hudson River to SoHo went smoothly and we were out of the bus and into the team hotel before the sun had set on Manhattan.
New York always presents something to do or something going on. Broadcaster Michael Smith went to the theater to watch “Rock of Ages,” a few people went shopping, and I went with Brian Sieman to John’s Pizzeria a few blocks from the hotel.
Of course, there is a reason it’s called the city that never sleeps. But I got the feeling that considering we were on day 12 of the trip, most people were in fact interested in sleeping.
The game the next morning meant a 10:15 a.m. bus to Madison Square Garden. When it arrived at the arena, the bus backed into a driveway below the building and everyone had to either walk up a ramp or take an elevator to get up to the arena floor. The building itself, which opened in Feb. 1968 in its current location, is majestic. The house lights are low, making the arena floor appear like a Broadway stage and the escalator towers that take you from one level to the next look out onto Seventh and Eighth Avenue.
Inside, even with renovations that exceed $1 billion, it is still a process to navigate the hallways at the Garden, especially for a first-time visitor. When making my way from the Clippers locker room to the press room, I passed the hockey staging area (there was a Rangers game that night), a group of kids practicing a dance routine for an in-game timeout and a bunch of drums stacked up for a halftime performance group called the “New York Sticks.”
The in-game atmosphere is pretty special. The fact that it was a national television game may have helped, but I’m in agreement with Chris Paul, who said after the game that there’s just something about the Garden. The Knicks incorporate famed streetball court Rucker Park into their player intro video, which only adds to the nostalgia of New York basketball.
The locker room postgame was crazy and cramped. There must have been 100 people in there counting reporters and players. You wouldn’t see as many people’s feet get stepped on in floor seats at a rock concert. It seemed like the Clippers players were hardly bothered, particularly after one of their best wins in the last month.
Less than two hours later we were touching down in Philadelphia, home was on the horizon.
INSIDER TRAVEL BLOG: STOP 6, MIAMI
2/9/13 | Eric Patten Follow @ericpatten
Jumping from Orlando to Miami was the trip’s easiest leg.
It meant not taxiing the runway for 45 minutes before flying another two hours-plus, not adapting from one climate to another and not arriving at the team hotel near dawn.
This particular hotel was located on the Miami River where several multi-million dollar yachts were moored nearby. Miami is surrounded by water and excess. There are skyscrapers in areas you wouldn’t expect, beaches and causeways everywhere, and even American Airlines Arena rests on edge of the Port of Miami.
We took the bus to the arena on Thursday morning for practice. One of the nice things about this stop of the trip is that we were staying three nights in the city. It gave the team a chance to practice twice (Thursday and Saturday) and everyone in the traveling party a chance to settle in.
After the almost two-hour workout, the bus took everyone back to the hotel. Several people decided to walk, which made sense considering it was close to 80 degrees and the hotel was less than a mile away. There are three distinct places within the area where people spent time, Mary Brickell Village, downtown and South Beach. There are number of spots to eat and shop, including the Village. When you’re walking around there is a chance you may find people selling palm leaves that have been twisted into the shape of a rose. You can also see old churches dotted between majestic high-rises, streets lined with palm trees and, of course, historic Biscayne Boulevard.
One downside to all of the water in and around the city is that it can cause delays when boats pass through. On the way back from shoot-around Friday, the team bus was forced to wait close to 20 minutes for a drawbridge to close. The always energetic, and hard-to-keep still, Dave Severns hopped off the bus and walked back to the hotel.
The players typically rest during the time between shoot-around and the game and it was no different Friday even with an 8 p.m. tipoff. The first bus to the arena left at 5:15, giving everyone about three and a half hours between then and shoot-around.
Miami has always had a reputation for being a sort of blasé sports town, at the very least having a rather fair-weather fan base outside of the Dolphins. However, considering the Heat’s recent success , the Clippers being in town and the game airing on ESPN, Friday night had a big game feel to it. When the Heat are introduced, all of the lights go out in the arena and from the blackness the bass line to the White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army” pulsates. As a number of hypnotic images appear on the video board the crowd, on cue, provides a backing track of noise. “Whoa. Oh-oh-oh. Oh. Oh.”
Crowd participation throughout the night also included the wave and, of course, screaming “Dos Minutos” at the two-minute mark of each period.
The game itself was full of a different kind of whoas as the Heat cruised past the Clippers by 22 points. The Clippers practiced again Saturday before departing for New York. The best news to come out of the game was that everyone remained healthy. The best news to come out of Saturday, though, was that the flight would not be delayed due to a mass of snow and ice in the Northeast.
Welcome back to the cold.
INSIDER TRAVEL BLOG: STOP 5, ORLANDO
2/7/13 | Eric Patten Follow @ericpatten
There is definitely a reason people from the colder parts of the country flock to Florida during the winter.
The Clippers experienced that firsthand Tuesday after spending the opening week of their eight-game road trip in icy Minneapolis and Toronto and near-freezing Washington, D.C. They landed in Orlando and even though it was near 1 a.m. the temperature jumped more than 40 degrees.
The team hotel was close to the arena in downtown. When you walk in there is a bizarre sculpture of a lady wearing top hat holding a red sign pointing to an in-hotel art gallery. That sculpture is one of many around downtown. For example: There are two in front of a movie theater nearby that resemble a tribute to the lost city of Atlantis.
During their day off a number of players went to an optional workout at the arena and then spent their first day in the sun since leaving Los Angeles on Jan. 29. There is a pizza place nearby that a few people ate at during the stay. It’s funny because everyone seems to have their favorite culinary haunts at every stop, whether it is a hole-in-the-wall pizza joint or 5-star restaurant.
They were back at the arena the following morning for shoot-around. Much was made of the timing of the game, considering veteran Chauncey Billups was lost for the season with a torn Achilles on the same court on the same date a year ago. He was a limited participant in the workout and afterwards sat courtside wearing a Colorado Rockies hat. He called it “crazy” when the media members posited the coincidence.
By the time we were back at Amway Center, which is one of the most pristine sports venues in the country, tipoff was about three hours away. In the hallway that leads around the interior there are several sketches of current and former Magic players. One of them auspiciously absent: Dwight Howard. During the All-Star game last year there was a similar drawing of Howard that has since been removed. There is still drawing of Jason Richardson, who was shipped to Philadelphia in the Howard trade, affixed to the wall outside of the media room.
Orlando is a haven for former athletes, and a lot of them showed up courtside Wednesday. The group included: Jason Williams, the flashy former Sacramento Kings point guard; Justin Rose, the No. 4 golfer in the world; Ken Griffey Jr., the surefire first-ballot Hall of Fame outfielder; Mike and Maurkice Pouncey, the Pro Bowl linemen; and Chris Leak, the 2006 national title-winning quarterback for Florida.
Griffey chatted with Grant Hill at halftime and Williams was greeted by Chauncey Billups and Matt Barnes during pregame introductions.
While the weather and arena were certainly nice, perhaps the best part of the stop in Orlando… getting reintroduced to winning. Now it’s time to head further south and try to keep it up against the defending champs.
INSIDER TRAVEL BLOG: STOP 4, WASHINGTON, D.C.
2/5/13 | Eric Patten Follow @ericpatten
The stop in Washington, D.C. was more like a layover.
We arrived in the nation’s capital late in the second quarter of Super Bowl XLVII, but a long bus ride from Dulles International Airport to the team hotel ensured we would see only the final seconds of Beyonce’s halftime extravaganza. Of course, the bus driver had the game on the radio, which alternated from fuzzy to inaudible as went through tunnels or other areas where the line of sight was broached.
A number of players watched the game together, and there was a good deal of trash talk before the game and while we were on the plane between the 49ers fans (Matt Barnes, Ryan Hollins and others) and the fans of other teams who preferred the Ravens and Ray Lewis (Caron Butler—Packers, Chris Paul—Cowboys, Jamal Crawford—Seahawks, etc.). Barnes said he thought some of his teammates were rooting against the 49ers more than anything.
The next morning, Barnes, Hollins and the group of 24-hour Ravens fans did not have shoot-around, which is customary for a back-to-back game. There was a morning meeting at the hotel, but otherwise nobody needed to leave the area until around 4 p.m. EST when the first bus left for Verizon Center. Unfortunately, because of the quick turnaround between games one of the most obvious places in the world to check out the sights was practically nonexistent. Except for Assistant Coach Marc Iavaroni, who visited a few monuments well before Monday’s game.
We passed the Watergate Hotel when we arrived and the White House on the way to the arena. And, of course, the Washington Monument jets above the D.C. skyline, but otherwise this leg of the trip in many ways consisted of the inside of a hotel and a few neighborhood blocks.
Verizon Center is one of the nicer arenas in the league, and likely boasts one of the league’s most pristine video boards. Although the screens in Toyota Center, Amway Arena and Staples Center are remain the grand standard. There was something cool about hearing the national anthem in Washington, D.C. A young boy sang it with vibrato in his voice as if he were a grown man.
The crowd was somewhat sparse, but a local reporter said that the 16,000-plus fans in attendance were actually more than usual. That’s unfortunate considering the rich basketball history of the area with Georgetown’s past success and some of the great Washington Bullets teams of the past. Banner in the rafters included Wes Unseld’s retired jersey and the 1978 world champions.
The in-arena entertainment consisted of humorous videos, like one where Bradley Beal and Jordan Crawford named as many brands of candy as they could in 30 seconds, and remotely controlled, air-filled vans that hovered around the perimeter of the arena pregame. The Wizards also use a siren sound effect during certain events such as a blocked shot or free throw miss by an opponent. My ears are still ringing.
It is off to Orlando where it’s supposed to be about 40 degrees warmer (FYI: we’re back on Fahrenheit after a couple of days in Canada). There is still a week and four stops left on the trip, including two former U.S. capitals.
INSIDER TRAVEL BLOG: STOP 3, BOSTON
2/4/13 | Eric Patten Follow @ericpatten
When the Clippers arrived in Beantown from Toronto early Saturday morning, the team bus passed Boston Common, where the Massachusetts State House and its luminous golden dome overlook the city as if it were on a pulpit.
The history in and around Boston is palpable.
Freedom Trail which leads its way around the city, beginning in the Common, was near the hotel. Two blocks up Tremont Street from Granary Burying Ground where Samuel Adams, John Hancock, Crispus Attucks and Paul Revere, among others, are buried.
But it was hardly time for sight-seeing, especially considering the Clippers practiced at noon Saturday at Boston University a few miles away. When the bus arrived at BU, it parked in front of the fitness and recreation center.
The team walked through the center near students working out and taking instructional classes. Upstairs there were four courts separated by large red curtains as the players made their way down the hallway to court No. 4, a number of students would look up from what they were doing and notice guys like Blake Griffin or Chauncey Billups were walking by.
One guy walked into the hall from court No. 1 to talk on his phone, only to notice DeAndre Jordan then Griffin then Billups walk by in succession. He immediately went from talking to taking pictures.
The practice consisted of almost 45 minutes of film and another 1:15 of court time. As word got out that the Clippers were practicing on campus more and more students tried to sneak a glimpse. To prevent practice from being disrupted, the fitness center staff setup a stanchion at the opposite end of the hallway. When the team exited the facility, they went down a flight of stairs and met the bus on a side street. Still, there were about 25 students waiting at the back door, screaming and waving. The best reaction was when they were yelling at Ronny Turiaf, he turned, grinned and gave them his famous “Turiaf twirl.”
After practice everyone went back to the hotel and was free for the evening. Caron Butler went to a nearby movie theater to see “Stand Up Guys,” the new Al Pacino movie. Butler is big into movies, particularly thrillers and action flicks. No word yet on what he thought of it.
On game day the Common was blanketed in flecks of snow, and two children were shuttling a hockey puck back and forth on a nearby pond. The drive revealed two things: first, the city is beautiful when it’s snowing and second, there is seemingly either a Dunkin Donuts or 7/11, and sometimes both, on every other corner in downtown Boston.
At TD Garden, the bus actually backs up a steep, narrow ramp before unloading. Broadcaster Michael Smith said in good weather the bus driver will drive pretty fast up the ramp, which is probably a little frightening. Despite TD Garden not holding the same mystique as the old Boston Garden, there is still a sense of nostalgia in seeing the banners and retired numbers in the rafters.
The atmosphere inside was vibrant, well before game time. A kid that was no older than 5 years old was holding a “Beat LA” sign and posing for a picture behind the Celtics bench. Another youngster, whose mom said was 6 years old, had “CP3” and Clippers logo shaved into his head. Chris Paul, who remains out with a bruised right kneecap, greeted the boy before the game and introduced him to some of his teammates in the locker room area.
A couple of noticeable things about the in-arena presentation: the introduction video did not have a single highlight of Rajon Rondo, who was diagnosed with a torn right ACL earlier this week and was not with the team Sunday, and the Celtics did not use “Shipping Up to Boston” during any timeouts or pregame festivities.
In the second half, the video board was showing fans in the stands and zeroed in on a man wearing a Ray Lewis Ravens jersey. Of course, the Patriots lost to the eventual Super Bowl champions in the AFC title game. As expected he was greeted with hearty boos.
The team left Boston before kickoff but takeoff took a little longer than it would have normally because of a snow-covered runway. We still made it to D.C. in time to see the entire second half from the hotel with the halfway mark of the eight-game road trip less than 24 hours away.
INSIDER TRAVEL BLOG: STOP 2, TORONTO
2/2/13 | Eric Patten Follow @ericpatten
You know it’s bad when the flight attendant waiting at the top of the jetway warns everyone to be careful due to the wind. Or when the bus driver that same night says, “Yeah, a few buses have tipped over because of [the wind].”
Needless to say, the few steps from the plane to the tarmac were a little frightening. Shortly thereafter, customs was a breeze, pun slightly intended. What figured to be an exhaustive process turned out to be one of the easier parts of landing in rainy Toronto.
We arrived at the hotel around 3:53 a.m. EST. Clippers radio broadcaster Brian Sieman had set an alarm to count down whether or not we would make it to the downtown hotel before 4 a.m. In many ways he was right, but technically he was wrong. Either way, it was still late.
The team had a voluntary workout nearby later Thursday, but no official practice. A number of people ventured out during the evening. Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan went to the Maples Leaf’s game at Air Canada Centre, a few blocks from the hotel. Most people in the traveling party simply went out for dinner, more so because it was lightly snowing and in the 20s, or negative-7 degrees Celsius if you need it, than anything else. Sieman jokingly said, “It’s colder than a Mountie riding bareback in Saskatoon on a four-kilometer hike.”
He would later use the line in his pregame sound check Friday. I’m not so sure the radio engineer found it as funny as I did.
For a better indicator of how cold the city gets, I noticed a sign near the hotel that read: “Danger Falling Ice.” We can safely assume we’ll never see that in Playa Vista.
The next day’s shoot-around was filled with local media members waiting to talk about Eric Bledsoe. Toronto’s post-shoot-around media was filled with questions about the arrival of Rudy Gay and whether or not the newly acquired star swingman would make his debut. There was no concrete answer until later, but that didn’t halt the questions. The Clippers finished around noon and made their way back to the hotel, where about 30 fans, who had braved the cold were waiting behind a sectioned off area near the driveway.
When we got back to Air Canada Centre before the 7 p.m. EST tip, “I Love Rock and Roll” by Joan Jett was playing on the arena speakers. It was to allow rehearsal time for the Raptors Dance Pak, but it was still fitting for what promised to be a bit of a rock concert kind of game with the Clippers in town and Gay’s eventual debut.
The Raptors have an in-arena DJ called DJ Agile, not dissimilar to DJ Dense at Clippers games. The difference is this guy is stationed near the tunnel next to the visitor’s and sits at a booth that has a red psychedelic image that pulsates behind their secondary claw logo.
He also hosts on-court competitions during the timeouts, including a singing competition where two gentlemen were presented different lyrics to songs that they were forced to sing without musical accompaniment. The first contestant sang, poorly, “I Want It That Way” by the Backstreet Boys. His voice at various times sounded like the squeaks sneakers make on the hardwood. He was booed heartily. The next guy got off easy. He was asked to recite the theme song to “Fresh Prince of Bel Air,” which he could practically speak his way through.
One of the best parts of the game, admittedly there were few, came during pregame warmups. Griffin finished off the layup line with a between the legs dunk where the bridge of his nose was nearly at the level of the rim. A fan behind me looked at the person next to him and in a hurried, excited voice said, “OK, we can go home now.”
We left the arena shortly after postgame media availability ended. The flight to Boston is slightly less than an hour, but the trip through customs can sometimes be time consuming. Much like our arrival, it was not. Before that there were about 20 fans awaiting the team’s departure at the entrance to the airport terminal where the bus dropped us off. Some were autograph seekers, others wanted to take pictures with their cell phones and still others just wanted to giggle and yell names of players they recognized.
The sendoff from a 25-point loss could have been worse. We are headed to Boston where that song from “The Departed” will surely be cued up on Super Bowl Sunday. Regardless of how long the trip is or how lopsided the game in Toronto was, no one here is ready to say they want to go home now.
INSIDER TRAVEL BLOG: STOP 1, MINNEAPOLIS
1/31/13 | Eric Patten Follow @ericpatten
The snow in Minneapolis was not the problem. It was the wind and cold.
There were times when it was enough to sting the nose, although that sort of complaint is probably expected when you’re spending two days in the Twin Cities in the middle of winter after flying in from Los Angeles. Still, when the Clippers walked outside of the team hotel around 10:30 a.m. local time to board the bus for shoot-around at Target Center, the first light snow began to fall and nearly everyone who walked the 15 feet between the door and the steps on the bus were taken aback.
Blake Griffin wore a scarf wrapped around his face. Ryan Hollins covered his face with hands. And Jamal Crawford, when asked about it later just shook his head.
The temperature was 14 degrees, without factoring in wind chill, on game day. But the night before, when the team arrived in Minneapolis in the evening after a nearly four-hour flight into a headwind, it was almost 16 degrees warmer; still freezing, but only slightly colder than the San Fernando Valley can get this time of year. There was plenty of fresh snow piled on yards and sidewalks, but none actually falling. Downtown was quiet, for obvious reasons.
It was a Tuesday night and the weather presumably doesn’t permit a bustling nightlife after the workday ends. There are skyways around the city that lead pedestrians in something like a maze around the city. The nice thing is they are heated. The not so nice thing: they can be somewhat confusing for a newbie. Either way, it is a convenient way to get around town and not freeze to death.
Around the arena and nearby there are several bronze statues. Sid Hartman and George Mikan are on the arena’s premises, Rod Carew is across the street in front of Target Field and Mary Tyler Moore a few blocks away in front of Nicolette Mall.
Target Center is a few blocks from the hotel, but at this time of year practically everyone on the trip will take the bus to get to shoot-around and on game day. The first bus left around 4:15 p.m. for a 7 p.m. tipoff. We were in the arena 10 minutes later.
As fans started coming there were still an inordinate number of Kevin Garnett No. 21 jerseys, including a pair of kids each wearing one as they waited to greet Wolves players near the arena tunnel. The in-arena entertainment includes a lot of howling and growling, but also a fair share of comedy. When rookie Alexey Shved makes a basket, the song from “Head of the Class” plays with the text “Shved of the Class” emblazoned on the video board. When Nikola Pekovic does something noteworthy (scores, blocks a shot, bumps someone), the public address announcer would say, “Nee-cola” in the same cadence as those Ricola throat lozenge commercials.
The Minnesota leg of the trip ended with the Clippers moving to 34-13, or with one down and eight to go, and a mad dash to the bus after everyone’s postgame media obligations were completed. Despite the 96-90 victory, it is only the beginning of what promises to be long night. The flight to Toronto is an hour and 45 minutes, plus we lose an hour, go through customs, de-ice before takeoff and bus to the hotel.
MATT BARNES REMAINS CONNECTED TO BAY AREA
01/02/13 | Eric Patten Follow @ericpatten
OAKLAND - Matt Barnes knows the Bay Area and Oracle Arena well.
He’s from Sacramento, has family on his own and his wife’s side in the area, and spent two years as a player with the “We Believe” Warriors six years ago.
“I remember some of the best times of my life were with this fan base,” Barnes said in the locker room Wednesday prior to the Clippers-Warriors game. “I couldn’t take a nap today. I was so excited about the game. I’m ready. This is my favorite place to come back and play at.”
Barnes has about 40 friends and family members in attendance with about half of them in a suite and the rest in the stands.
“I’ve got a handful people that came out from [Sacramento], but a lot of my family is from out here and my wife’s family is out here, so it’s a little mix of both,” Barnes said.
Barnes is enjoying one of his best seasons as a member of the Clippers, averaging a career-high 10.6 points per game, including running off a streak of nine consecutive games in double figures off the bench. His energy, versatility and two-way ability have made him invaluable and it’s something the Warriors know well.
He played a similar role with Golden State in 2006-07 when the team upset the Dallas Mavericks as the No. 8 seed in the 2007 playoffs. After winning 50 games, and missing the playoffs, with Barnes on the roster the following year, the Warriors have been lottery bound. This season has been a revival of sorts with Golden State just 3.5 games behind the first-place Clippers in the Pacific Division.
“It’s special because it’s good to see what the Warriors have done with their team,” Barnes said. “It’s good to see them doing well and, you know, we’re doing well, too, so we’ve got to kind of keep our eye on the Warriors because they’re right behind us.
PLAYERS GET EARLY CHRISTMAS PRESENTS
12/21/12 | Eric Patten Follow @ericpatten
Christmas came early for Clippers players at Friday morning’s shoot-around.
After being led by Chris Paul in their usual “Clippers on three: 1-2-3-Clippers,” the team broke into individual stations on the court to shoot free throws. Shortly thereafter, Clippers staff wheeled out a cart with custom gifts from the organization for each player and Head Coach Vinny Del Negro.
Del Negro called the group over and Vice President of Basketball Operations Gary Sacks spoke briefly, thanking the 14 members of the roster for their contributions through the early part of the historic first two months of the season. Then they started passing out the presents.
Each player was given a canvased action portrait of themselves. The artwork was commissioned and is 1-of-1, meaning it is original, unduplicated work.
Reactions ranged from shock and surprise to immediate appreciation of how each piece captured players’ likeness. Jamal Crawford said he will “definitely” hang his on the office wall of his Seattle home and Chauncey Billups, when handed his canvas, said, “Man, that’s nice.”
Crawford said he has received gifts from past teams he’s played on during the holidays, but never anything like this. “It just shows how much of a family we are,” Crawford added.
Check out photos of some of the artwork and the team passing out pictures during shoot-around before the Clippers-Kings game Friday:
|CLICK HERE FOR PHOTOS »|
CLIPPERS HAVE NIGHT AT THE MOVIES ON ROAD
12/17/12 | Eric Patten Follow @ericpatten
A rainy off day in Rochester, Michigan turned out to be the perfect opportunity for Clippers players and team personnel to take in a screening of Tom Cruise’s upcoming action film “Jack Reacher.”
Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, Jamal Crawford, DeAndre Jordan, Eric Bledsoe, Ronny Turiaf and Willie Green got a first look at the flick about a homicide investigator working on a case involving a trained military sniper. It opens nationwide this week.
“The movie was cool,” Jordan said.
While Bledsoe said his favorite part was the end, including a memorable appearance by Robert Duvall. “The old man…he was real funny,” Bledsoe added.
Jordan, Bledsoe and the rest of the group, which included team personnel and a few traveling media members, was bussed to the theater a few miles away from the team hotel in Rochester. The Clippers arrived in Michigan in the early morning Sunday following a 111-85 win over the Bucks. They had an optional practice at 11:30 a.m., but then had most of the afternoon and evening free.
At the theater, the group picked up popcorn, Mike and Ikes, Sour Patch Kids, M&Ms and other goodies before the movie. And afterwards Paul was among those shooting hoops on a Pop-a-Shot in the lobby.
It is nothing new for players to spend time together off the court. They play cards, hang out and eat together, so when it came time to see a new movie during their off day it seemed almost like a no-brainer. “I feel like it definitely builds chemistry,” Jordan said. “And it’s not like, ‘Aww man, I have to hang out with these guys.’ It helps us to have a better relationship on the court because if we’re all so close off the court.”
Small forward Caron Butler was unable to attend the screening Sunday, but heard good things. “I heard it was a great movie,” Butler said at Monday’s shoot-around. “And I will be watching it once I arrive back in Los Angeles.”
A HISTORY OF BIG 3s
11/13/12 | Eric Patten Follow @ericpatten
The Miami Heat are without question the most well-known Big 3 in basketball. The San Antonio Spurs’ trio of Manu Ginobili, Tim Duncan and Tony Parker is more accomplished but they may only have a season or two left together. Ray Allen’s move to Miami in the offseason blew up another modern Big 3 with Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce remaining in Boston as two-thirds of the Celtics group that won the 2008 NBA title.
WILLIE GREEN RESPONDS TO BARKLEY
11/12/12 | Eric Patten Follow @ericpatten
Clippers guard Willie Green has played for four teams in his 10-year NBA career, and Charles Barkley has no idea which ones.
Barkley, who famously has misidentified Green’s team for three consecutive years in TNT’s pseudo game show “Who He Play For,” did so again on opening night, guessing that Green played for the Charlotte Bobcats.
Of course, Chuck prefaced his answer by saying, “He’s out West I’m going to guess…”
On Thursday Green was on the road “out west” in Portland and got a chance to respond to Barkley. Prior to the Clippers matchup with the Trail Blazers, TNT sideline reporter Stacy Paetz interviewed Green in the hallway outside of the Clippers’ locker room.
She asked him what it says about Barkley, who has long professed a desire to one-day take a job as an NBA general manager, that he cannot identify the starting shooting guard on one of the best teams in the league, and if he would want to play for a team that Barkley oversaw.
The good-natured Green offered a perfect response: “I don’t think I’d want to play for him. He’d probably forget I was on the team.”
The interview did not air on the Oct. 8 edition of TNT’s Inside the NBA, but something tells me Barkley was still shown what Green had to say.
Here’s a look at Barkley’s “Who He Play For” mishaps over the years, including a time notation of when he incorrectly guesses Green’s team.
2010: (Green at 2:10)
2011: (Green at 3:28)
2012: (Green at 2:00)