I know I'm a little late on this topic, but I feel like I have a pretty good story on how I became a Clipper fan. Last year in my English class, I was assigned a narrative essay. I could write about any topic I wanted, and I decided to tell the story of how I came to root for one of the worst franchises in professional sports.
Before you read it, though, note that this was written for an English teacher who knows absolutely nothing about basketball. While Clipper fans aren't necessarily the target audience, I think that many of you will find it enjoyable.
I am a Clipper fan. Yes, I root for Los Angeles’ other basketball team, a team that is the source of constant fodder in a town that only appreciates the glitz and glamour of the Lakers. The franchise has not even sniffed an NBA championship, yet I put my heart and soul into the team every year from late October to early May. The Lakers compete for championships year in and year out and I am constantly reminded of my favorite team’s inferior position in their own arena. Every once in awhile, I wonder why I continue to root for a team that has shown no commitment to winning and regularly gets embarrassed on the basketball court. The wondering doesn’t last long, though. I always go back to the night that I started supporting the Clippers.
I was in elementary school at the time, and sports already consumed my life. I got home from school and waited for my dad to get off of work. We had tickets to the Clippers’ game that night. There was no reason for me to expect that this game was going to be special. My father had taken me to plenty of Clipper games before, mostly because of the low prices for tickets, food, and parking. When my dad came home, he told me that the Clippers were playing the Sacramento Kings. After being informed of this, I was fairly sure that the Clippers were going to be blown out seeing as the Kings were one of the top teams in the NBA. I wasn’t a Clipper fan at the time, but I did like to watch good basketball so the prospect of a lopsided game was not particularly appealing. Nonetheless, a few minutes later, my father and I were off to the Staples Center.
We got there really early and met up with some of my friends and their families. I had been friends with most of these kids since preschool, and we related when it came to sports. We ate in the ridiculously overpriced restaurant at the arena. It was the first, and probably the last time that I’ll ever eat there. I was enjoying myself and talking to my friends about the impending blowout when a professional looking man walked into the restaurant. I thought nothing of it, until my father told me that it was Clippers’ owner Donald T. Sterling. I didn’t know anything else about him at the time, but I now know that he is the man to blame for the Clippers’ struggles. He is the twenty-seventh richest man in Los Angeles, yet he is a penny pincher in a field where millions are tossed around like fives. I heard that he tried to get out of paying for a hot dog at Canter’s Deli. He’s never shelled out any legitimate amount of money to sign or keep any notable player in a Clippers’ uniform. Thus, the Clippers have been a constantly shifting franchise since he took over in 1981, a team that is incapable of continuity. He’s a man who continues to make money off of a losing team based on the fact that he doesn’t put much money into the franchise to begin with. From the standpoint of a Clipper fan, this is enough to make me hate him. When you throw in the discrimination lawsuits, the sexual harassment cases and the advertisements for a homeless center that has never been built, I have a legitimate basis for hating him as a person. In short, Donald T. Sterling is a horrible human being. Fortunately for my sake, I didn’t know anything about him at the time. He was just an imposing figure standing by our table. For some reason, my friend’s dad walked up to him and started up a conversation. It was really funny watching him try to "act cool" around a real bigwig. The two did get to talking for awhile, though, and eventually Sterling walked up to the table my friends and I were sitting at. He asked us some basic questions, but we were nervous to say anything considering we were young and he was a stranger. After a little of this pointless conversation, he said something that got our attention.
"Kids, if the Clippers win tonight, I’ll let you go into the locker room after the game," Sterling said.
My friends and I exchanged astonished glances. At that moment, Donald T. Sterling was the nicest and most generous man on the face of the Earth. Of course, with the insights I have now, I realize that he offered this based on supreme confidence that the team he owned was going to lose. At the time, though, it made me root for the Clippers with all of my heart that night, hoping that the opportunity to go into an NBA locker room would come to fruition. Neither I nor my friends had any Clippers’ gear to speak of, so we improvised. I had a red sweater, my friend Zach had a white sweater and my friend Ben had a blue sweater. Together, these three colors made up the Clippers’ colors. We spent the whole game waving our sweaters in the air, no doubt distracting the people behind us, but we couldn’t care less.
I don’t remember any specific details about the game, but I can say that the Clippers played extremely hard. They were the classic underdog, playing a team that was much more talented than they were. I admired the effort that they put forth against long odds, and was so happy to see them earn a well-deserved victory. My friends and I were so excited that we were going to get to go into the Clippers’ locker room, but that was tempered somewhat by the nervous glances our parents exchanged. They had no idea how they were going to find Sterling, but they knew that there was no way that we were leaving without taking him up on his offer. I have no idea how, but my father tracked him down, and I remember that a confrontation ensued. In classic Sterling fashion, he tried to buy us off with crappy seats, but my dad would have none of it. There was no way that my father was going to let Sterling off the hook. My dad obviously made this clear enough that Sterling reluctantly led us down the bowels of Staples Center to the Clippers’ locker room. My friends and I marched the whole way like we owned the place. Standing at less than five feet tall, I felt bigger than the monstrous men I had just watched play. When we got to the locker room, Sterling had to explain to a bunch of people why he was taking a bunch of elementary school children into the locker room. Nobody was prepared for this.
When we got in, my friends and I all lined up in the middle of the locker room right over the Clippers’ logo. The players were just as shocked as we were. They stared at us, confused as to why they were looking down at elementary school kids in their locker room. I observed the environment of the men who were supposed to exemplify masculinity. The players I had just watched sweat and scream for forty-eight minutes on the basketball court were looking at their naked torsos in the mirror while they put on obscenely large diamond earrings. The most memorable part of this experience was the look that Clipper forward Darius Miles had when he saw us for the first time. He was coming into the locker room after taking a shower, and had nothing but a little towel to cover him up. When he saw us, he had this priceless look on his face as if he had just walked into a surprise party. I was speechless at the experience. Nothing crazy happened, but it was something that inspired awe in a young basketball fan. I looked up to these me, literally and figuratively. It was so special to be able to see what goes on behind the scenes, even if for just those brief few moments.
My fifteen minutes of fame lasted a couple more weeks. The Clippers had gone on a losing streak after their win against the Kings. The streak was even bad by Clipper standards. A writer for the Los Angeles Times who must’ve seen us in the locker room blamed the losing streak on Clippers’ coach Alvin Gentry for letting a bunch of kids into the locker room after that game. My father and I shared a laugh over the thought of my place in the Clippers’ long history of futility.
I have been bound to the team ever since that night, though, and no amount of losing will ever change that. Sports have always been an important part of my life, and the Clippers play a huge role in that. That night, the Clippers exemplified hard work. They showed that an underdog can come out on top, despite the lack of talent. I have been rooting for the team ever since, for better or worse, but mostly for worse. I still find a way to support them every time they play, even though they still manage to be bad every year. No matter how much the team suffers, I have and will always be right there with them. They haven’t given me much in return for my passion in terms of success, but they have given me an experience that I will never forget.