How I Became a Clippers Fan

Like many of you, I have enjoyed reading the stories of Clipper fandom in the 'How did we all become Clipper fans' FanPost over the last few days.  I feel a little badly for Citizen pipedreams, whose own Pirate-themed FanPost, posing a similar question on the nature of fandom, was soundly ignored.  But as Van Gogh and Galileo found out, genius is often misunderstood in it's own time.  I'm sure years from now we'll fully recognize the buccaneer-y brilliance of his post.  I for one appreciate the Pirate tie-in to the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

At any rate, Citizen Swagmeister33 posed a more straightforward question in a more straightforward manner and elicited a flood of responses:  "How did we become Clipper fans?"

I feel like I've shared my own Clipper story many times over the years.  But I realize that it's been somewhat disjointed, bits and pieces of the overall story spread in comments or posts here and there.  When I went to the archives looking for the paper trail, I found much less than I thought I would.  It's also possible that I've told parts of the story on Q&As and chats on other sites, since that's a time that I tend to step back and paint the bigger portrait.  

Of course, even if I've told the story before, many people haven't heard it.  ClipsNation continues to grow by leaps and bounds (July '09 was easily the biggest traffic month in the history of the site at over 230K page views, a more than 50% increase over last July's Baron-Brand bonanza), so there are probably more people on the site who've never heard the story than who have.

Rather than recap the whole sordid tale, you can start with the most thorough post I've written previously on the subject.  Back in December of 2006, when the Clippers were pursuing Allen Iverson the first time, I drew a comparison between Iverson to the Clippers and Barkley to the Suns.  Because the Suns had been my favorite team, there's quite a bit of Steve history tied up in that story. 

I had little choice but to be a Lakers fan growing up.  When my family moved to LA in 1969 I was 7 years old, and had probably never seen an NBA game; I had certainly never seen a live NBA game.  I don't have any NBA memories before the 69-70 season - for instance, Bill Russell retired in 68-69, and I am fairly certain I never saw him play. 

But as a first grader I watched the Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, Gail Goodrich, Wilt Chamberlain Lakers advance to the NBA Finals against the Knicks.  I was actually in the Fabulous Forum when West made that 60 footer to send Game 3 into overtime (although people often forget that the Knicks ended up winning that game).  My tee-totaler dad even bought a bottle of champagne to celebrate the Lakers title - that bottle sat in our refrigerator for years, causing a bit of embarrassment when grandma Daisy came to visit - proof positive that California was simply chock-full of sinners.  Two years later, the 71-72 Lakers of the 33 game win streak finally got that evil alcohol out of our house.

So yeah, I was a Lakers fan.  But I was a kid.  Then the Magic Johnson Showtime Lakers came along when I was in High School, and I loved that team even more than I loved the West era.  Despite my love of Pepperdine, I despised the 80s Celtics because they were the Lakers nemeses, even though the team featured former Wave Dennis Johnson.  Of course, the Showtiime Lakers were pretty easy to love.

But when I got my first real job in Phoenix, something strange happened.  I lived in Phoenix from 1985 through 1989.  When I first got there, the Suns were terrible.  After eight consecutive playoff appearances, Phoenix missed the playoffs three straight seasons after I arrived in the Valley of the Sun - winning 32, 36 and 28 games along the way.  But when they traded Larry Nance for Kevin Johnson, Mark West, Ty Corbin and the pick that became Dan Majerle at the 1988 trade deadline and then signed free agent Tom Chambers in the off-season, the team turned completely around.  They went from 28 wins in 87-88 to 55 wins in 88-89, and I was from that moment an underdog junkie.  The high of watching a team go from the bottom to the top was so much greater than anything I'd ever experienced watching the Lakers, who seemingly always either won the title or lost in the Finals, as if it were their birth right.  I knew I could never again be a Lakers fan.

The fact that the Lakers and Suns met in the Western Conference playoffs in consecutive seasons in 89 and 90 sealed the deal.  At the beginning of the 1989 Conference Finals, I believed I was still a Lakers fan - but it soon became abundantly clear I was not.  The Lakers swept the Suns that year, and with each game I became more and more upset.  Did we really need to see the Lakers in the Finals yet again?  Wasn't it somebody else's turn?

The next year the Suns beat the 63-win Lakers in five games - destroyed them.  Dominated them.  And I was so happy that it was pretty clear I was no longer a Lakers fan.

When I moved back to LA in the early 90s I tried to remain a Suns fan.  But there's definitely something about familiarity at work here.  Without watching them every game, it became more difficult.  Sure, I still loved KJ and Majerle and Hornacek and the guys I knew - but when the personnel starting turning over, the connection was lost.  Charles Barkley?  He hardly represented the Suns for me. 

At the same time, I knew I couldn't return to the Lakers.  Was I just being contrary?  Or had I realized something more profound?  I don't know.  But part of me likes to think that the high school kid who had rejoiced in those 80s titles just hadn't grown up yet.  Suddenly it just seemed too easy to be a Lakers fan.  I needed a rooting challenge.

(If there weren't so many UCLA fans on this board I might suggest that it might have something to do with going to college at a smaller school.  Following Pepperdine basketball over the years, I resented the myriad advantages of the Majors.  Cushy, home-heavy pre-season schedules, massive recruiting budgets, multiple tournament bids - the playing field was hardly level and it offended my sense of propriety.  The Lakers may have represented the major colleges to me, and I longed a Pepperdine to root for.)

Enter the Clippers.  They were there.  You could walk up to the window at the Sports Arena and get a ticket for any game.  And you could move down pretty much as close as you wanted for the second half, when the ushers stopped caring.  I actually kind of liked the Sports Arena.  It was old school - this big, barren, simple concrete oval.  I mean, the floor was the right size.  The seats had backs.  They sold beer.  What more did you need?  It's not like I was going to the games for the sushi. 

And by the way, the team started getting good about then.  Larry Brown took over in 91-92 with 35 games left in the season and led them into their first playoff series in LA.  They gave Utah all they wanted in the playoffs, forcing the series to a game 5.  The next season they made the playoffs again and I was hooked.

Of course it's been a rough ride since then: two playoff trips and only one winning record in the last 15 or so years.  I lived in France for a few years there, which probably helped, since it broke up a pretty bleak run of teams.  (Let's face it, that 1997 playoff team was terrible - it just so happens there were enough teams in the West that were worse that season, and of course the Spurs got Tim Duncan out of the deal, so don't get me started.)  The early part of this decade was of course full of promise.  Those teams were young and talented and fun to watch and there's no question that my fanaticism reached new heights during those years.  It helped that I could honestly make a case that they were a more interesting team than the Lakers.  I mean, sure, the purple and gold were winning back-to-back-to-back rings - but they were so boring.  Dump the ball to Shaq and let him overpower people.  Give the ball to Kobe and let him go one-on-one.  That wasn't a team - just two of the most dominant individuals putting points in the same column.  So I became not just a fan of the Clippers, but an advocate, and evangelist.  The emails I was sending to friends explaining why and how the Clippers were the team to watch eventually grew into a full grown blog habit.

Fandom is a strange thing - I don't pretend to understand it.  Why was I able to change my allegiances from the Lakers to the Suns to the Clippers twenty years ago?  Wouldn't it be great if I could do that now (or maybe if I could have done it in 1995)?  I mean, the one and only thing that has remained unchanged about the Clippers over the last couple of decades is Donald Sterling - and I'm certainly not cheering for him.  It would be so much easier in so many ways if I didn't root for the Clippers. 

I had always assumed that many Clipper fans were transplants - big hoops fans from other parts of the country who moved to LA with a predisposition to hate the Lakers who just adopted the Clippers by default.  So I was quite surprised to see so many LA stories in the thread.  In fact, we have many tales of Clipper fans who were raised in SoCal, and a few of Clipper fans who have no ties whatsoever to SoCal - and none of transplants.  I find that fascinating.  I still assume that there are lots of those people among the season ticket holders - NBA fans with the wherewithall to buy season tickets, who want to see the other teams, but who hate the Lakers.  (This is part of the genius of having a second team, even a bad one, in LA.)  But it would seem that those types aren't hanging out on this blog - or at least they didn't feel compelled to tell their story.

At any rate, now you know my story. 

Out of curiousity, take the attached poll.  What category do you fall into?

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