It’s impossible to believe any team has ever tried NOT to win a championship, but that’s exactly what three-time Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams seemingly implied when explaining how the Clippers blew a 3-1 series lead to the Denver Nuggets in the second round of the 2020 NBA playoffs. As everyone recalls, after a long delay in the 2019-20 season due the COVID-19 pandemic, a shortened close to the regular season to determine seeding and the playoffs all took place in the fan-less Orlando Bubble later that summer, with an extended stay in a hotel (several months for some teams), strict rules, and separation from friends and family.
It wasn’t easy for anyone, including Williams (who had to sit out the first two games of the seeding round for violating protocols), but that’s not the ultimate excuse he gave for the Clippers blowing the franchise’s best chance at its first championship. Instead, he claimed that, already not happy to be there, they started hearing rumblings that no one would respect that championship because of the circumstances, so they took their foot off the gas.
“We started to hear the rumblings that nobody is going to respect this chip so we kind of just took our foot off the gas”— NBACentral (@TheDunkCentral) November 13, 2023
- Lou Williams on the Clippers losing in the bubble
(h/t @Jacobtheclipper )
Williams has rightfully been roasted for this hot take, with most expressing disbelief that any team would purposefully lose a championship and calling it one of the lamest excuses ever. (And it’s not like Doc Rivers doesn’t have a horrid reputation for losing when his teams get to win no. 3 in a playoff series anyways.) Even more so, no one has ever claimed the 2020 title is illegitimate because everyone suffered through the same circumstances (fans included). The Lakers have proudly accepted the trophy, and some even used it as the reason Anthony Davis had finally surpassed Tim Duncan as a player (side note: he did not and never will).
That being said, if there is even an ounce of truth to Williams’ words that the Clippers let outside noise get into their heads and decided the stigma that would allegedly be attached to the 2020 championship made it not worth it, then all the more credit should go to the 1999 Spurs: the first team to win a championship under unusual circumstances.
Following a lockout, the 1998-99 season didn’t start until January, and the regular season only lasted 50 games before the playoffs began. After a 6-8 start, the Spurs would go on to win 31 of their final 36 games before running roughshod through the playoffs, including sweeping the middle two rounds and putting the 8th seeded Knicks away in five for their first championship. Unusual? Yes. Impressive? Also yes, but that didn’t stop figureheads like Phil Jackson from claiming the championship deserved an asterisk. Regardless, that didn’t get in the Spurs’ heads, and if anything, that championship may have been vital to keeping Tim Duncan a year later because without him, the Spurs don’t win four more (making all the asterisk talk null and void in the process). I’d say it was worth it.
Meanwhile, the Clippers are still desperately trying to get that elusive first title under the same aging, injury-prone core of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. They added Russell Westbrook to the mix last season and just recently traded all their depth away for an out-of-shape James Harden who thinks he is “the system”, and so far all they have to show for it is an 0-5 record and no sign that a 1999 Spurs-like turnaround is coming.
So if what Williams says is true, and the Clippers shied away from an unusual championship and have never truly recovered since, all the more credit goes to the 1999 Spurs for embracing it and actually building off championship no. 1.
Or, you know, it could just be the excuse to end all excuses, and Williams should forever be ignored from here on out (and possibly banned for life by the Clippers).