- The Washington Times - Friday, December 16, 2011

Penny Marshall typically follows a year-end script: home for the holidays, followed by a Caribbean vacation. Not this year.

A devoted basketball fan, the longtime actress and film director plans to stay in Southern California, the better to make use of her Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers season tickets during a compressed, lockout-delayed National Basketball Association season that tips off on Christmas Day.

Even more surprising? She’s particularly excited for the Clippers, a forlorn franchise that forever has been the Ice Station Zebra of professional hoops.

“It used to be that a team like San Antonio would come in for the weekend, play the Clippers and the Lakers, and I would sell my Clippers tickets and just go to the Lakers game,” Miss Marshall said. “Now, I’m not so sure. Now, you want to keep the Clippers tickets.”

This is the way the world ends: not with a bang, but with the most downtrodden team in NBA history potentially becoming a hotter Hollywood ticket than their elite, same-city rivals. In the wake of the Clippers acquiring superstar point guard Chris Paul in a much-publicized trade from the New Orleans Hornets, the question facing Los Angeles sports fans isn’t just whether Mr. Paul’s new club is a now a better basketball team than the Lakers.

It’s whether the Clippers can finally steal some of the Lakers‘ formidable celebrity cachet, too.

“If you look at Los Angeles culture, it’s very finicky,” said Laura Lane, a sports and pop culture writer for ESPN.com and Life & Style magazine. “One second you’re hot, the next you’re not. They love you when you’re winning. But if you’re not winning, they’ll go somewhere else.

“And they love fresh new faces and stars. That’s Chris Paul right now. He’s young. He was the coveted player in the whole league. And the Clippers were the team who got him. For Hollywood, especially young Hollywood, I think the Clippers could be the hot ticket now.”

Ms. Lane, a Southern California native, paused.

“I never thought I would say that,” she said.

A tale of two teams

To understand why the Clippers out-glamouring the Lakers would be the surest sign yet that the Mayan calendar predictions of 2012 apocalypse aren’t totally off-base — it helps to know a bit of basketball history.

The Lakers and Clippers play in the same city. They share the same arena, the Staples Center. They have similar official logos, down to a forward-sweeping font.

Otherwise, they’re pretty much “The Odd Couple’s” Felix and Oscar — or, to put it in baseball terms, the New York Yankees and Mets.

The Lakers are the Yankees. Basketball royalty. Winners of 16 championships, the franchise of legendary players such as Jerry West and Magic Johnson, Wilt Chamberlain and Kobe Bryant. Practically a civic institution, the Lakers are Hollywood’s favorite team, with games that double as star-studded, see-and-be-seen meet ‘n’ greets that go way beyond iconic diehard fan Jack Nicholson sitting in his equally iconic courtside seats.

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