RISE OF A CHAMPION
At the start of the season, I talked about how this Clippers team reminded me a lot of Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins. They were young, talented and hungry for success. All they needed was a little guidance and mentorship to help set them on the right path, something they got from Doc Rivers. The regular season showed the growth and maturity of this team. The Clippers overcame injuries and midseason obstacles to finish the season with a franchise-record 57 wins.
But regular-season success wasn’t what this team was built for. After a disappointing end to last season, everything the Clippers played for this year was leading up to this postseason. This was their chance to finally silence critics and firmly establish themselves as a championship caliber team.
After splitting the first two games in Los Angeles against the Golden State Warriors, the Clippers now face an uphill battle to regain home-court advantage and win this series. But the true character of a championship team is defined in moments like these. And while the Clippers seemed like a young Bruce Wayne at the beginning of the year, they now resemble the seasoned veteran from The Dark Knight Rises, someone who showed how fear could be a source of strength.
In TDKR, Wayne had to confront the masked mercenary Bane, who pushed the Dark Knight to his limits both mentally and physically. Wayne was taken to an ancient prison across the world, located within a pit of despair and suffering. There, he was left to succumb to the hopelessness of his situation.
He tried to escape the pit several times by climbing up a wall and jumping to a nearby ledge. Each time, he came up short, falling to the ground only to be saved at the last second by a rope tied carefully around his waist. After each failure, he would train harder, thinking strength was what held him back. But an inmate finally pointed out the true source of his failure. It wasn’t a lack of physical strength, but rather a lack of fear.
As the inmate told him: “You do not fear death. You think this makes you strong. It makes you weak. How can you move faster than possible, fight longer than possible without the most powerful impulse of the spirit: the fear of death.”
Wayne came to find out that the only other prisoner to escape, a child, did so without the safety of a rope. The inmate tells him to do the same. “Then, fear will find you again.”
Only after embracing the fear of death and confronting it head on did Wayne finally manage to rise from the pit and return to Gotham. Years of training had led him to believe that fighting harder and being stronger were a direct result of suppressing one’s fear. However, he discovered that a fearful mind could be a catalyst for strength and awakening.
For the Clippers, facing the Warriors in Oakland is something they need to embrace in order to win. Oracle Arena has been the bane of the Clippers’ existence over the past few years, given that the team hasn’t won there since 2011. Oracle has been a prison of suffering for other teams, too. The arena is consistently named one of the loudest in the NBA.
Most analysts will say the Clippers need to play without fear Thursday night, but I believe the opposite. This team needs to play with fear inside of them. It isn’t a sign of weakness, but rather a source of strength. It can make a player run that much faster up the court, or reach that much further for a loose ball. More importantly, it can unite a team in a defining moment.
In the prison Wayne escaped from, there was a chant the inmates would shout every time someone attempted the climb: “Deshi Basara.” It means, “To rise.” Come Thursday night when Oracle Arena is rocking, the Clippers should view each scream from Warrior fans as a reminder to rise in the face of adversity. This is a chance for the Clippers to prove to themselves, and the league, that they are ready to take that next step.
In TDKR, Alfred once spoke of the pit in the desert, saying, “Sometimes a man rises from the darkness. Sometimes the pit sends something back.”
If the Clippers stay true to themselves and embrace this challenge, Oracle Arena may send them back to Los Angeles as a championship team on the rise.