LOS ANGELES — He arrived, officially, as a Rocket.
But Chris Paul was back at Staples Center on an emotional Monday as something else, too. As a reminder.
A reminder of a more promising time for the Clippers.
Of an era when the organization had championship aspirations.
Of everything the team did – and, in particular, didn’t do – during Paul’s six seasons here.
Because, despite the progress those Clippers made, the steps came with pain. And for a group bouncing back from so far behind, in the end, the progress felt strangely like standing still.
That’s what history says, and history generally knows what it’s talking about. History should. It was, after all, there in person.
“You’re always judged by wins, and we won a lot of games,” Coach Doc Rivers said. “But we didn’t get it done.”
With Paul, the Clippers stopped being a punchline, a position cemented when Steve Ballmer took over as owner from Donald Sterling, the personification of a bad joke.
They mattered more than ever, filling the postseason gap vacated by the suddenly flailing Lakers.
They were taken seriously, year in and year out, for the first time after four decades of being dismissed as hopeless.
There’s nothing minor about any of that, not for a franchise that, all-time, had one recognizable face, and that was the one up in the stands, hidden under a paper bag.
So, when Paul was introduced before the game on this passion-filled night, he was warmly cheered without a peep of discernible dissension, this even though he asked the Clippers over the summer to trade him away.
Immediately after tipoff, he was booed whenever he handled the ball. But, by the time he made his first 3-pointer and was credited with his first three assists – and all that took barely three minutes – the boos had quieted.
Early on, the Clippers honored Paul with a tribute video that generated another warm reaction. From there, things played out like most NBA games do, until the final minutes, when…