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Clipper-Bruins are fine, but the Clippers are not UCLA

I couldn't resist a companion piece to Citizen Zhiv's musings on the Clipper Bruins -- offering a slightly different perspective on the relationship between UCLA and Clipper fandom.

Kevork Djansezian

I've enjoyed Citizen Zhiv's pre-training camp series of posts as much as anyone. Perhaps more. Not only do I love reading Zhiv's eclectic and ebullient prose, the very fact that he's been writing has allowed me to rest up in the final weeks before today's Media Day, the opening of training camp, and the near non-stop pace that now awaits, hopefully well into next May and June. So thanks Zhiv, for lots of reasons.

But I find that I can't read about the Clipper Bruins without offering an alternative perspective.

Because from my own fandom experience, it seems that the Clippers, and especially Clipper fans, are diametrically different from UCLA and Bruin fans. I can't speak for everyone obviously; I can only offer my own perspective.

As I've said many times, I grew up a Laker fan. My family moved to Southern California in 1969, and a bottle of champagne languished in the family fridge from 1970 (when the Lakers lost in the Finals to the Knicks) until 1972 (when Wilt and West and Goodrich finally broke through to bring a title to LA, the first of many of course). That champagne bottle was more conspicuous than you might think, since my parents were tea-totalers and it was the only alcohol I ever remember being in that house.

But I eventually came to resent the sense of privilege and entitlement I sensed (and still sense) in the Lakers, and whole-heartedly embraced the underdog charm of the Clippers -- even when there was nothing overly charming about the team. And while the Lakers did plenty to put me off the advantaged and "storied" teams that are sometimes described as "dynasties", it was those UCLA Bruins that really soured me on the concept in the first place.

As with the Lakers, I'll admit that I liked the Bruins for a time. I was quite young for the last few Wooden triumphs, but I still recall Rowe and Wicks, and Walton's 21 for 22 against Memphis State (they'll always be Memphis State to me) in 1973. The Bruins were the team on TV (with games called by yet another legend of Los Angeles sportscasting, Dick Enberg) and they always won -- what 10 year old hoops fan in LA wouldn't have loved them?

But in the post-Wooden years my feelings changed. For one thing, the way Bruin fans treated Gene Bartow struck me as absurd. The guy went 51-10 over two seasons, with a trip to the Final Four -- and he was fired. Talk about a fanbase with a sense of entitlement.

Many of you also know that I attended Pepperdine, but you may not know that my Waves fanship predates my college years. The family has been associated with Pepperdine since we first arrived in California, and I attended Waves games throughout my youth. It was the contrast between the Waves -- the plucky mid-major with neither blue chip recruits nor TV exposure, playing in a 3,000 seat gym -- and the Bruins -- the privileged, All-School All American laden, on TV every Saturday powerhouse -- that first made me love underdogs (and by extension hate dynasties).

To the youngsters in the readership this is going to sound strange, but NCAA tournament games haven't always been played on neutral courts. UCLA's post-season run in the 60s and 70s was unparalleled to be sure, but it should be noted that they played a fair number of those games in Pauley Pavilion, which was something of a permanent fixture as the site of the West Regional for years.

In 1976, a Pepperdine team featuring Dennis Johnson and led by legendary Brazilian center Marcos Leite won a first round game against Memphis State (there they are again) to advance to the Sweet 16 (the field was only 32 teams at the time), where they met UCLA -- in Pauley Pavilion. The Waves lost 70-61 against Marques Johnson and Richard Washington in Bartow's first year as head coach. Three years later, the Waves again won their first round game -- and again found themselves facing the Bruins in Westwood. This time the final score was 76-71 in a game that Pepperdine led well into the second half before coming up short to Gary Cunningham's team. All five UCLA starters in that game would eventually become first round draft picks in the NBA -- on the other hand, Tony Fuller appeared in 15 games for the Pistons in 1981, the only member of the Pepperdine team to sniff the NBA.

I was in Pauley for both of those games -- part of the allocation of a few hundred tickets that Pepperdine received for the 10,000 seat venue. Is there a more distinct home court advantage in all of sports than that of college basketball? What might Pepperdine have done in either of those games on a neutral court? We'll never know, but we do know that a few years later the NCAA changed the rules of the tournament so that teams could not host first round games -- a change they made for obvious reasons of fair play. At any rate, the Waves found themselves eliminated from the tournament twice in the course of four years playing an away game in the same hostile arena -- as if UCLA didn't have enough advantages already.

In retrospect, it's hard to believe that my interest in the Lakers survived into the 80s. I guess the allure of Magic and the Showtime Lakers was just too strong -- or maybe it's simply that the Lakers weren't a full-blown dynasty yet. Regardless, in retrospect those late-70s March meetings between the Waves and the Bruins were always destined to make me turn away from the Lakers. The Lakers were the big-conference school and the Clippers were the mid-major. Everyone expects the big program to win -- where's the fun in that?

I don't hold any of this against Hollins or Barnes or Collison of course -- well, not much of it anyway. It's not as if there are any significant mid-major players on this year's Clippers to root for anyway. Willie Green hails from the MAAC (Detroit Mercy, go Titans!) and Brandon Davies comes from BYU (now a member of Pepperdine's WCC) but Green doesn't figure to play a lot and Davies is a longshot to even make the team. And I don't begrudge anyone who would like to root for the Clipper Bruins.

Still, I personally will always equate the Bruins with all the things I dislike in a fanbase. It's true that UCLA basketball played a fundamental role in making me a Clipper fan, but only in contrast, not by association.