Since their inception in 1970 as the Buffalo Braves, the Clippers have inherently and instinctively become the less attractive, less successful, headed-for-catastrophe “little brother” to the Lakers in what seems like every single NBA season that followed. That’s not nearly as much of an exaggeration as I’d like it to be.
As a die-hard life-long fan, it’s been a painful, painful thing to watch. It almost forces one to become a fan of good basketball, in general, regardless of the teams playing. Not that I’m complaining… especially not now.
The franchise moved to San Diego, where sailing was popular (among all the retired white yuppies), for the 1978 season (they came to Los Angeles in ’84, for those wondering, six years before my arrival in Los Angeles County) and changed the team name to “the Clippers,” which are fast-sailing ships. NBA players cut directions in traffic in a similar agile and energetic way (on the court, not the… well, probably the 405, too) to how those ships cut through the sea. Until this season, however, that description generally was amended for me and many other masochistic, tortured souls scattered about gaping sections of empty seats, only specifically applying to “NBA players not on the Clippers’ roster.”
Donald Sterling, until now, was the cheap, embarrassing and publicly racist owner among the NBA’s other mega-millionaire white dudes ever since he bought the team in 1981 and, to be honest, he probably still is after witnessing their security staff’s misfortune and misadventures when season ticket-holders, likely expected to be civilized, well-mannered people at most any time of day, brutally transformed into a primal tornado of slobbering, shoving, sharpie-prodding maniacs given the opportunity to breathe air in a 5-foot radius of mountainous, muscly, epitome-of-basketball-beastly Blake Griffin. You couldn’t help but feel bad for the guy looking from what wasn’t quite afar. He was so desperate to please the same people directly objectifying him. I suppose the blame can be distributed pretty evenly, but, as one friend put it, “They,” meaning the Clippers’ organization and fan-base, “aren’t treating Blake and Chris like the superstars they are.”
After grabbing a photo with one of my favorite Clippers in recent memory, Randy Foye, I immediately asked if he was starting instead of just about anything else, thinking I only had a moment to say something. I panicked. Totally blurted out what I was thinking at home earlier instead of just being appreciative or saying something meaningful given just a moment to pick his brain. He commented that everyone asks him that question to the assistant nearby.
“Of course they do,” I thought.
“My bad,” I said with a forced smile, though I did chuckle at myself as I turned around to watch the crowd around Blake again.
I feel that I easily could have realized what I was about to say would not be a great idea and known it was asking for information I could find from another source had I been in some kind of sane setting, just remained a civilized human being or didn’t skip two meals then consume numerous, high-sugar pastries and three cups of coffee not 30 minutes prior. Whatever it was, perhaps some simple compliments were in order after the standard “Thank you.” Maybe some excited fandom about him making a run to 6th Man of the Year or being able to play with such a great back-court. It just wasn’t happening at the time.
You would think there should be some level of respect that kicks in when one realizes that the superstar they are so desperately flailing to get close enough to touch or possibly obtain a signature from just watched them stage dive off a Science Center exhibit and surf through the crowd to do so. This was the first time I had witnessed celebrity status and its effect live. It would seem that part of the meet-the-team event was poorly organized. Surely the autograph and fan photo sessions would last far longer if everyone were capable of containing themselves until afterward. I’m sure people would do the same to Kobe — if it were even possible.
My point is: Becoming a fan of the Clippers by some freak accident, financial un-success or strange association in childhood has historically been a curse as one matures. Now that the best Clippers roster in history has been mostly assembled (by a huge margin — no other comes close and we have complete unknowns on our bench in the front-court), it’s early Christmas. It’s huge. It’s the Red Sox’ first championship. We never thought the day would come. We had given up on winning seasons. We just wanted to watch pro basketball for a cheaper price than the Lakers. Everyone in Clippers Nation just lost their minds after hearing the announcements of these free agent signings. We lost our minds at the Science Center for the season ticket-holder meet-the-team event on Friday and then again at the inter-squad scrimmage on Sunday. The best part is that it’s about to happen multiple times every game on those alley-oop dimes in Lob City, assuming they maintain relatively good health all season.
We can’t wait. Season tickets completely sold out. The Clippers have never done that. The fans are ready. The team seems like they know what they are getting in to in order to get ready. It’s just the organization that needs to step their game up now. This is a new Clippers team. Turned the corner, a new leaf, a page.
It’s totally on.
This didn’t happen at the Lakers’ scrimmage. Fans are excited, yea, but they are also worried on that side of the Staples Center. It’s a far different atmosphere. Lakers fans are notoriously hard to please and somewhat fickle as opposed to absolutely irrational and overcome with excitement. They are equal parts jaded and spoiled. Clippers fans, led by our hype man Clipper Darrell, got the wave going inside the cozy Galen Center. It went around. And around. And around…. around. We are giddy. We are ecstatic. Clippers fans will talk about how much we accomplished even if we get bounced out of the first round of the playoffs. If we win a playoff series, there might be riots just because our minds have been lost for the last time. There will be 10,000 new live-in patients at local mental hospitals. Our minds are not wired to handle success. Any amount. At all.
Is this the year of Sterling’s redemption? Has he already redeemed himself in the public eye? Will Eric Gordon haunt us? Will the Clippers win their first championship this decade? I can’t remember being this excited for a Clippers season.
This battle in LA is not just about the Lakers vs. the Clippers, but these professional athletes against the crazy likes of us, the general public. Fans can be some extremely strange, eccentric, violent, belligerently, incoherently, face-palming wasted, just over-the-edge insane, consuming people. Save the professional athlete millionaires from ourselves! Everyone just stay calm and civilized, even when in the vicinity of massive superstars of American culture, and we’ll all benefit from the mutual respect and admiration. I just don’t know if I can keep my head during the games after witnessing the last two preseason exhibition games against the Lake-show.