The journey to Clippertown is complete
There was a time when the Lakers meant more to me than the Dodgers and Rams. From the time I first saw Jerry West hit that 60 foot shot in 69 to send the Lakers into overtime and eventual loss, they were my team. Without even thinking I can still name every starting member of the 1971-72 championship team including the subs like Flynn Robinson and John Q Trapp.
I saw them all, Wilt, West, Goodrich, Kareem, Nixon, McAdoo, Magic, Worthy, Scott, Coop, Rambis, Campbell, Shaq, Kobe, Gasol and hundreds of others. With Chick, I watched or listened to just about every game from 1970 until the day Chick died.
I rarely watched them at the forum because seats were out of my price range. So I purchased Clipper season tickets in 1990 when Bo Kimble was drafted number one by the Clippers. This allowed me to watch the Lakers twice a year, watch Bo Kimble become a star, and the prices were ridiculously cheap. $20 for ten rows, right of the basket at the old Sports Arena.
That didn’t work out as planned. Bo Kimble was a massive bust, but when Larry Brown took over the team in 1992 and led the team to the playoffs they quickly became my second favorite basketball team. Not many remember but back in 1992, that team led by point guard Doc Rivers took the eventual Western Champion Utah Jazz to the limit losing in five games. Included in that five-game series was game four played in Anaheim because of the Los Angeles Riots which closed down the Sports Arena. Game four was the best game in Clipper history in the 20th century.
Then, Magic Johnson got aids in 1992. What had once been a massive waiting list for Laker Season Tickets dissipated and so we got Laker Season Tickets. I kept my Clipper Season Tickets for a few more years but eventually, I dropped them as I couldn’t go to very many games. My focus was once again on the Lakers. We had great seats, about even with the free throw line, lower section. Those Laker teams never won a championship but they were fun to watch. The Eddie Jones/ Elden Cambell/ Divac/Sedale/Cedric Ceballos years.
Two things happened that would change things. The Lakers and Clippers moved to Staples Center. The Lakers took my great seats and plunked me behind the basket and more than doubled my price. What had been great seats became horrible seats. A Clipper rep called me the day before the season started and asked if I wanted to be a Clipper Season Ticket Holder again. I was doubtful but he comped me two tickets to opening night. The Clippers had just drafted Lamar Odom and I did want to see him. I hadn’t stopped watching the Clippers but I certainly wasn’t a fan as I had been in the brief Larry Brown era. I said yes, and that changed my basketball life around. Lamar Odom would score 30 points in his Clipper debut. My comped seats were next to where the Clipper Spirit would congregate, the seats were on an aisle, the press area was just to the front. The seats were fantastic, the view of the girls was fantastic, the rookie was fantastic. I was sucked in and signed back up.
It wasn’t all roses. That might have been the best game of Lamar Odom’s career. Only seven times in his long career would he score 30 points or more. The fact he did it in his first game was such a tease. The Clippers were horrible for years, and for many games, I didn’t have a lot of Clipper fans around me. The arena was often filled with more fans from the opposing team. That said the team was supported by a small but vocal group of fans who rallied around the Q/Maggette/Miles/Pike teams but only once from 1999 – 2010 did they make the postseason. I’m not going into those years, this is about the journey not the details.
While I was going to Clipper games, I was still at heart a Laker fan and enjoying the success of the Shaq/Kobe teams. Eventually, I got my Laker seats moved to a better location. The Shaq / Kobe feud left a bitter taste in my mouth, and as Kobe took over the team and dominated I wasn’t as into them. Then Chick died. Then Kobe was accused of rape. That changed everything. I stopped enjoying watching Laker games and instead focused my attention more and more on the Clippers.
The black cloud around the Clippers was always Donald Sterling. He was a despicable man, who tried to buy respect. One of the richest men in Los Angeles he was also a deplorable landlord and horrible owner. I was an open Clipper fan while he was an owner but he was still an embarrassment to me. When luck came the Clipper way and he was forced out for his racist comments little did I expect the team to be purchased by the richest owner in the league. Ballmer gets his own story, but I’m sure glad he’s the owner of the Clippers now and it did lift that black cloud.
I enjoyed Bledsoe/Gordon/Blake/Jordan long before Chris Paul showed up. I would have loved to have seen the team keep the Cleveland pick and grow with Irving instead of being handed Paul by the NBA commissioner. That is hindsight for sure since the Cleveland pick was just pure luck when it turned into the number one pick and Irving. That said even though the Clippers enjoyed their most success during the regular season under Chris Paul, I can’t say I really enjoyed watching him be the general of the team. He just wasn’t fun to watch for me. I started selling most of my tickets and would only go to about 10 games a year instead of the 20 – 30 I had been going before Chris Paul showed up. I know that is strange, here the Clippers were having the most success at any time in their history, but I didn’t enjoy the team as much as I’d enjoyed prior teams that didn’t have that success.
Chris Paul left last year. Blake during the year, and Jordan this summer. The team was completely rebuilt with the trades of Paul and Blake. I enjoyed the team last year even though they didn’t make the postseason more than the Paul years. A strange comment I know, it is just how I felt.
This summer LeBron James came to the Lakers. I still have my Laker season tickets but I haven’t been to a game in five years. I found a partner who buys them all up front. That is another story. I was wondering with James in town and the Clippers rebuilding if that would rekindle my old love of the Lakers. I started watching the games again, but have to say I couldn’t develop a rooting interest even with King James and a host of talented kids. Two weeks ago I went to a Laker event at their practice facility hosted by Michael Cooper. I never felt comfortable. Coop kept making disparaging remarks about the Clippers(they must be worried about them).
Last week I went to an after game Clipper event. The Clippers had beaten a talented TWolve team and everyone was in a good mood. It didn’t start out well, they gathered 100 fans in a room and provided no food/drink/entertainment for almost an hour while we waited for Montrezl Harrell to show up. Once he did though, I enjoyed the event and while I was sitting there, feeling very comfortable with other Clipper fans I thought about how much I love this particular team. This team had limited expectations entering this season but they are blowing the minds of the NBA establishment. They play hard, they are fun to watch, they have a budding star, and they have the Boban.
I can say for certainty now, that when I’m at Staples or at home listening to Ralph I’m as comfortable as I ever was watching the Lakers or listening to Chick.
It was a long journey that started with Bo Kimble making a left-handed free throw in honor of Hank Gathers, but eventually that long and winding road has brought me home.
I’m a Clipper fan. Yes, yes I am.