INSIDER: CLIPPERS NEWS CONFERENCE A SYMBOL OF UNITY
Six palm trees line the northwest corner of the Clippers’ training center along Centinela Avenue. They are roughly the same size, each towering more than 20 feet above the sidewalk below.
The trees are representative of Los Angeles; symbols of the city’s heritage and glamor. They serve as protection from the sun and Santa Ana winds sweeping into the valley.
They also form a line of uniformity much like the massive news conference the Clippers held inside their nearly six-year-old building Wednesday. Six teammates, some familiar some less so, sat on the second row of a wide stage on the practice center’s court. Together.
The idea was simple. Wednesday was unlike any other Wednesday in Clippers history. A celebration and a message all at once.
Chris Paul was back, agreeing to re-sign with the Clippers, the second professional team he’s ever known, almost instantly. But Paul was flanked by Matt Barnes, the Clippers’ sparkplug who rode a career year in 2012-13 to the lengthiest contract of his life. Ryan Hollins was there, too. The hometown center, who joined the Clippers last summer and earned an opportunity to remain in Los Angeles and reunite with Darren Collison, another Los Angeles-area product who blossomed into one of the more decorated guards in UCLA history a half decade ago.
J.J. Redick, the sharp-shooting guard, and Jared Dudley, the versatile wing, both of whom were acquired via a three-team trade earlier in the morning, rounded out the cast on the stage. It was a day once thought to belong solely to Paul, the superstar. But instead it was shared with five of his teammates, who are expected to make the Clippers, already coming off a 56-win season, even better.
“The fact that we’re having this press conference and all these guys are on the stage tells you we’re trying to build a team. And a serious team,” Clippers Senior Vice President of Basketball Operations and Head Coach Doc Rivers said.
The idea of unity seemed formulated by Rivers, who successfully banded the 2007-08 Celtics together en route to the NBA championship using a motto of Ubuntu, the southern African humanist philosophy that is characterized, in part, by togetherness.
"This press conference is special," Paul said. "It was me along with five other guys. There's no one person that's more important than the team and I absolutely mean that."
“It kind of shows you the togetherness that this organization is trying to bring,” Dudley added. “I think it starts with Doc and how he’s trying to bring his style to the organization.”
The style has meshed with the idea of team that Vice President of Basketball Operations Gary Sacks and other members of the front office have preached. It’s about the team and continuity and family and pieces fitting together.
“It shows the level of commitment that everybody has,” Sacks said nearly an hour after the unprecedented news conference had turned into a miniature media day, “not just to themselves but to the team and that’s huge.”
If the arrival of center DeAndre Jordan in 2008, superstar Blake Griffin in 2009 and Paul two years later is like sunlight glinting through the blades of a palm outside of the facility, then Wednesday’s ambitious news conference was a though the sun had shifted, illuminating everything.
There were live hits from national media outlets, a studio show on the team’s flagship Fox Sports Prime Ticket, a conglomerate of satellite trucks seemingly stacked into the small parking lot and driveway on the south side of the building, and a bulk of cables like snakes pumped from a nearby generator.
The attention around the Clippers has never been brighter and neither have the expectations, as evidenced by Wednesday’s turnout. If nothing else, the culture that is so often talked about is still adapting. It will continue that way, according to Rivers, until they get on the court for the first time. They will likely not holler “Ubuntu” as they exit team huddles; that was the Celtics’ thing. But Rivers and the Clippers will be unwavering as a unit. Perhaps, like the palms, standing firmly together.