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Steve Ballmer Hopes New Uniforms And Logos Can Change The Fundamental Clipperness Of The Whole Situation

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 16: LA Clippers owner Steve Ballmer yells while the Oklahoma City Thunder shoots free-throws during a NBA basketball game on January 16, 2024 at Arena in Los Angeles, CA. (Photo by John McCoy/Icon Sportswire)
John McCoy/Icon Sportswire

The Los Angeles Clippers have announced under the auspices of ESPN's Zach Lowe that they have new uniforms and new logos, which seems an awfully big gun for such a small-caliber bullet. But I can't think of the logo without thinking of Steve Ballmer wedging a rice steamer onto his head at the top of the story. The Ballmer photo is in fact from a year ago, when he shouted about his new arena and the spectacular number of toilets it would have. It's almost as if an editor at ESPN was reminding Ballmer that he has an essential comedic essence that must always be honored even when the network is unabashedly carrying his water.

And that's what happened here, with all deference to Lowe and his well-earned rep as a basketball thinker. He yanked the curtain from the Clippers' new meh-powered rebrand (officially the first in a decade and the sixth since their birth as the Buffalo Braves) and explained yet again Ballmer's plan to stop being the little brother to the Lakers, a plan which is four decades old and to this date has still never had a happier day than the one Ballmer paid cash to relieve the team and the league of ghoulish slumlord and racial recidivist Donald Sterling.

It's a ridiculously improbable ask, to make a city with an obvious bias toward one team to fall in love with the other, and it's only really worked once: Manchester City over Manchester United, and even then Man U would be the bigger deal if all other things were equal, which they haven't been for much of the last decade. Every other time the little sibling has upstaged the larger one, the larger one has swiftly reasserted power, and there has rarely been a more uneven match than Lakers-Clippers. Even over the last 12 years, in which the Clippers have had a better record than the Lakers 11 times and have the second-best regular season record in the entire NBA behind Golden State, the Clippers are still about playoff collapses, owners overthrowing an owner, half-hearted rebrands, TOILETS! and Steve Ballmer channeling The Great Gazoo.

Ballmer's play, as much as it is, is "I'm going to have my own arena, and I have infinitely more money than Jeanie Buss, and LeBron can't live forever, and we need a new look." So far, he's in progress on the first, dead-on with the second, and probably right but not yet proven on the third, which leaves the fourth. And while Lowe spent 1,250 words telling us how actively Ballmer thought about a new name, color scheme, and logos, mostly what he found out was that most Clippers fans like the name and have been unmoved by the logo since the team arrived.

So he did the safe thing—largely stayed with the demographically safe red and blue (with a touch of black at the edges), as Comrade McKinney pointed out yesterday, is the scourge of sameness in Major League Baseball. Ballmer nudged the team's logo to make it look less bored-high-school-sophomore-in-the-back-of-geometry-class and got Lowe to out-Creamer Chris Creamer.

This feels, weirdly, like ESPN trying to guess that the Clippers are about to go all Man City on the Lakers, only without any of the hardware Man City has won. Even now Man U still gets more publicity win or lose, and one suspects that Sky Sports is just waiting impatiently for either Pep to retire or UEFA to drop the financial fair play hammer on the club so it can go back to its natural editorial stance of all-United-all-the-time.

Even with that scenario in play, this logo and color scheme is mightily underwhelming except as a comparison point to its ultra-dull predecessors. Even the Clips' gear in San Diego had more panache, and that includes the shorts that read out "CLIPPERS" in nautical flags down the side. Sterling made and kept the Clippers both bland and ignorable until he tossed in the personally detestable part, and Ballmer has been trying to find a way to crack the market for a decade now, when the only answer is still Man City's "win a bunch of titles and make the world's best players care about you.”

Ballmer has done a lot to change the Clippers while affecting almost nothing at all, but ESPN senses that they might at least be a better long-term bet than the Lakers because you never question a man who yells "TOILETS!" in a crowded room. This spits in the face of history, true, but it's a changing world in which we live, and Ballmer knew the job when he took it. That's why he wore that preposterous helmet.

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