Are You a Los Angeles Clippers Fan? ‘Clipped’ Could Be Triggering

These are trying times for Los Angeles Clippers fans like myself. Instead of watching our team compete in the NBA championship that began last week, we have to settle for the alternative programming we’re getting by way of FX on Hulu with the new series “Clipped.”

Perhaps it should come as some comfort to the Clipper faithful that the series chronicles what feels like a bygone era in the team’s history, even though the disgraceful end of franchise owner Donald Sterling’s reign occurred less than a decade ago. But there’s an unintended aftertaste to “Clipped” for Clippers diehards: While it reminds you how the organization has turned the page in so many different ways between then and now, there’s also a painful reminder of one particular holdover: the so-called team curse that still lingers.

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“People say the franchise is cursed,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers, played by Laurence Fishburne, tells his team in the first episode of “Clipped.” “There’s no magic power to defeat.”

The naïveté underlying Rivers’ words, of course, is that the Clippers are one of a handful of teams in professional sports who have experienced enough misfortune to lay claim to being under the spell of some kind of bona fide hex.

Little did Rivers know at the time that he was about to be engulfed in one of the most sensational tabloid scandals in sports history. Though he emerged perhaps the only heroic figure in a tale heavily laden with racism and sexism, the curse still eventually left its mark on him as he was never able to bring the Clippers the championship the team has never won in its 54-year history (Rivers was fired in 2020 and now coaches the Milwaukee Bucks).

Sad to say for “Clipped,” the curse may also extend to the “Clipped” casting department.

I’d like to say the lively script and nice period detail in the series perfectly revives the vibe of the Sterling affair in all its sordid splendor. However, “Clipped” is severely undercut by an ensemble that took me completely out of the story. They barely resemble the star athletes Angelenos remember well from the exciting high-flying era of basketball known as Lob City that this New York transplant fell in love with not too many years before it began.

I’m not going to name the actors who play Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and JJ Reddick in “Clipped” because it’s not their fault they’re so badly miscast. What makes matters worse is “Clipped” begs comparison with another recent, and frankly, better, retro b-ball drama in HBO’s “Winning Time” that found actors to inhabit truly unique, iconic basketball legends in Lakers stars Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and somehow did so superbly despite a much higher degree of difficulty (take a bow, Quincy Isaiah and Solomon Hughes).

Luckily, those Clippers players aren’t the series’ stars; Ed O’Neill and Cleopatra Coleman don’t have the burden of having to live up to recreating public figures the public truly knew all that well in Sterling and the woman who brought him down, V. Stiviano. They weren’t on “SportsCenter” every night before becoming household names.

Fishburne fares better capturing Rivers’ grouchy spirit but there’s another problem with his portrayal. The actor doesn’t even try to copy the coach’s sandpaper rasp, which is odd considering it’s Rivers’ most distinctive trait and the man just spent a prominent half-season in the broadcast booth as ESPN’s A team (to see a truly dead-on impression of Rivers, check out Jamie Foxx on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon in 2015).

An odd coincidence in “Clipped,” which debuted June 4, is how a current member of ESPN’s B team who replaced Rivers in the booth for the NBA finals — Reddick, a relatively minor figure in the Lob City era — figures prominently in a plotline early in the first episode just as he was generating real-life headlines in the sports world as a candidate to become the new head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers.

As the Clippers’ more successful crosstown rivals, the Lakers cast a large shadow over “Clipped,” which gives the team a permanent inferiority complex as it toils futilely in obscurity. Even in 2024, coming off a season in which the Lakers were eliminated from title contention before the Clippers, the former still seems to be getting more attention than the latter.

It’s part of why Clippers fans might feel a sense watching “Clipped” that the more things change, the more things stay the same. True, just about every vestige of the Sterling era has been wiped clean by the franchise’s current owner, former Microsoft leader Steve Ballmer, who has poured resources into the Clippers over the last decade to remake every facet of the team right down to a new arena, Intuit Dome, that will become operational later this year in Inglewood, Calif.

And yet, the curse talk is still hard to shake. Clippers star Kawhi Leonard has missed the past four post-seasons due to injuries that effectively derailed the team’s chances at a championship. The dramatic trade that brought him and co-star Paul George together in 2019 ended up sending another then-unheralded young Clipper, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, to Oklahoma City, where has somehow blossomed into one of the league’s best players. The team is overloaded with aging, expensive talent, little financial room to bring in fresh blood and no high draft picks until 2030.

So while watching “Clipped” makes me feel like wanting to send a thank-you card to Ballmer for investing as much as he has for cleaning up the franchise, I also want to tuck a sympathy card into the same envelope because he clearly hasn’t gotten the return on his investment yet.

And yet you can’t follow a team owned by the former Microsoft CEO and not be infected by his ebullient optimism. There were moments this past season when the Clippers showed they were clearly capable of playing among the best in the league, leaving the potential they can return to form. There’s a feeling as the team heads to Intuit Dome that yet another era is dawning, bringing fresh hope with it.

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