to lose is to love

words: emmett rensin

art: benjamin marra

“Unless suffering is the direct and immediate object of life,” wrote Arthur Schopenhauer, then “our existence must entirely fail of its aim.” As always, our best basketball takes were stolen by long dead German philosophers.

 

“In early youth, as we contemplate our coming life, we are like children in a theatre before the curtain is raised, sitting there in high spirits and eagerly waiting for the play to begin. It is a blessing that we do not know what is really going to happen,” he writes.

 

I am not a child anymore, and while I am still eager, I know what is going to happen. The Clippers are going to lose.

 

I want to be optimistic about this new season, about this new team with perhaps one good knee between DeAndre and Blake. But Schopenhauer rebukes me again. “He who lives to see two or three generations is like a man who sits some time in the conjurer’s booth at a fair and witnesses the performance twice or thrice in succession,” he says, “The tricks were meant to be seen only once; and when they are no longer a novelty and cease to deceive, their effect is gone.”

 

I have seen now actively followed some ten seasons of the Clippers franchise and each one has felt like a generation. All potential, all promise, all early-on success before the tear and pain sets in, until the end comes not by way of some singular catastrophe, but in the inevitable culmination of defects. If only for that one shot, we’d move on in the playoffs. If only for that one injury, we’d have a better seed. If only for that one game, that one brutal week of travel, that one trade decision…But it is never just one thing. This year, Chris Paul is in Houston. The roster is unrecognizable. But the fundamental mediocrity is the same. The Clippers will fail slowly and inevitably. I have seen this trick before.

 

Still, I am not quite yet resigned. Perhaps that’s just because my expectations are terribly low this year. The Washington Post says we’ll miss the playoffs entirely. I’m not that dour but I’d settle for the eight seed. We blew up a team that won fifty games at least each year so that Chris Paul finally got to leave Oracle Arena for once in this decade without Warriors victory anthems blaring in his ears and all I want is to believe that it was not for nothing. I can watch my team become the Raptors or the , middle-of-the-packers resigned to middling status. I do not want to watch them become the Lakers. I already went through that as a child. I watched the Lakers become the Lakers in the aughts and I didn’t switch allegiances for this. There is hope. On opening night, the Clippers took the Lakers by 18. After two minutes of bricks, the first two points of our season came from DeAndre Jordan free throws and I do not know what kind of omen that might be.

 

If I try, I can even suspend my disbelief, believe through some fog of sporting optimism that the new Clippers will be better than the old. I can deny every indication to the contrary, reject every sign that at best the Clippers will hold on just long enough to disappoint again.  I know that I am wrong but please indulge me. I can imagine Milos Teodosić coming back healthy to make monster passes overhead, underarm, sideways, upside down—who needs CP3-to-Jordan lobs when any motherfucker can just go stand beneath the hoop? Maybe Wesley Johnson and Danilo Gallinari can create two dozen points a game between them; I can even imagine Gallo breaking and average 24 alone—who needs J.J. Redick now? Blake Griffin may be free at last, still unstoppable in the paint and sinking every fade away, but now at last hitting shots from the perimeter without that stupid gaping puzzle face he gets as he remembers that he can hit a three from time to time. I can imagine DeAndre sinking fully half his free throws.

 

They've done well so far, but the Clippers always do well at first. That's the trick

 

The Clippers have spent six years failing to live up to their potential. There are no expectations now. Chris Paul gets more press than his whole old team these days. Analysts will say it was a good year if we make the playoffs at all. But I can imagine the wailing and the gnashing of the teeth of Charles Barkley when it’s time for the post-game chat and the Clippers are going to the Finals this time.

 

“Hope is the confusion of the desire for a thing with its probability,” says Schopenhauer.

 

Like all moody, ostentatious boys, Schopenhauer admired Kant and Plato. It was from them that he inherited his faith in a world of becoming, never being. There was a world of being, all three of them maintained, but we were not of it, our minds could not grasp such things-in-themselves. Whether by imperfection of the body or by the insurmountable preconditions of space and time, we are bound to an existence that is only ever one step ahead of its own vanishing. For Schopenhauer, this was a wretched fact. In such a world, happiness is inconceivable, he wrote. “A man spends his whole life in striving after something which he thinks will make him so; he seldom attains his goal, and when does, it is only to be disappointed.”

 

For every disappointment, I have never yet been disappointed in the Clippers. But I believe this is because they have never got what they are striving for. What ruins a franchise so much as victory? What fun is Golden State now? Who really will ever thrill at the Cubs when they win another world series? I can imagine, in the faintest boundaries of the just technically possible, a moment where the world’s mouth hangs open, when Marv Albert can barely speak. The cameras track LeBron as he stalks into the locker room. In the parking lot outside the Staples Center, a crowd inhales at once in disbelief. The night bursts open, white, and red, and blue. The Clippers clinch Game 7, they’re the NBA champions, 2018 I can imagine it and I can feel how every year of waiting would halt suddenly in that moment; all of it, I would know, is for this. It wouldn’t be so much. There’s a champion every year. So what?

 

What I want is for the Clippers to fail, but not entirely. When I said I couldn’t stand to see them fall apart, I meant it. But I want the lifetime of a fandom in optimistic misery. I want to know that they will lose so that they still might win. I want those Teodosić passes, but I want them to fly out past the basket half the time. I want Blake to work his three-point game, but brick just when it would have mattered most. I want to miss Chris Paul and watch DeAndre get hacked and curse Austin Rivers when Doc lets him have too many minutes. I want only what has always been: the permanent possibility never reached. That’s all.

 

In life, Schopenhauer writes, “the first task is to win something; the second, to banish the feeling that it has been won.” Otherwise, he says, victory is a burden. I only want to win the four seed again. If the world is kind, a doomed trip to the Western Conference Finals this time. No transcendence, but no lottery either. I want the Clippers sinking, but I don’t want to see them drown.