LA Galaxy player Sacha Kljestan is a big NBA fan, and his path to becoming a Los Angeles Clippers fan is a winding one.
The veteran midfielder, a native of Huntington Beach, spoke exclusively with Clips Nation last week about his Clippers fan journey.
It turns out, Kljestan started out on the other side of the LA divide.
“I grew up as a big Lakers fan,” he said. “I was a huge, huge Shaq fan. Shaq’s probably my favorite basketball player of all time. When Shaq left, I was done with the Lakers. I couldn’t believe that they gave the team to Kobe, basically, and Shaq went on his way. I followed Shaq for a year or two in Miami, then I just decided to support the Clippers which was my other local team.”
Kljestan joined the Galaxy this season. His return to where he grew up bookends the start of his career, when he played for the now-defunct Chivas USA, also in Southern California.
After deciding to root for the Clippers, he explained he would get tickets to Clippers games through a connection in the Chivas front office: “My wife and I would go to a bunch of games — this was when they were still terrible.”
“But then a few years later, got Blake Griffin in the draft, Chris Paul came over and that was really fun, and the tickets became a little bit harder to come by, so I started paying for them. My wife and I continue to go to a lot of games and ever since [I’ve been a fan].”
Kljestan played in Belgium, winning three league titles there, and periodically watched Clippers games on the other side of the world, commenting on his team on Twitter.
Clippers going for 12 in a row tonight. Lets go Lob City!!— Sacha Kljestan (@SachaKljestan) December 22, 2012
One of the benefits of moving back stateside was the ability to go to games in person again.
“I was in Europe for five years and when I came back I was in New York,” Kljestan said. “I knew a guy from the Knicks who got me tickets quite a bit, so I always made sure that when the Clippers came to town I watched the Knicks game.”
While playing for the New York Red Bulls, a chance marketing partnership allowed him to meet and get to know a Clippers star.
“I actually got a chance to meet Blake Griffin. He came and trained with the New York Red Bulls while he was playing for the Clippers. During his offseason, he did this whole thing where through his sponsorship with Red Bull he was training with different types of sports, and so he came with us and I got to know him a little bit and kind of became friendly with him and kept in touch with him for a couple of years after that. He’s been an awesome guy. I was very sad when he left the Clippers because he was probably my favorite Clipper for the past 10 years.”
Like all Clippers fans, Kljestan is not happy the NBA season is on ice, with his team being a contender. That said, as a professional athlete himself, he understands what it’s like to be sidelined for an indefinite period.
“Yeah, it’s a major bummer. For all of us fans, this was a great year, we were enjoying watching them play. Obviously the way they play and it’s been super fun to watch them. I’m sure those guys are 10 times more disappointed than I am. I know what they’re going through, our season just started but their season was getting close to the end and I think we’re just about getting ready to watch the NBA Playoffs. I feel for those guys because you never know what’s gonna happen the next season, how many guys are going to come back and all that. It seemed like a pretty special team so we’re all disappointed for not being able to watch the Clippers in the playoffs right now.”
So if the playoffs do happen, it seems quite likely the Clippers would meet the Lakers at some point. Kljestan was asked to handicap a series between the LA teams.
“My brother is a huge Lakers fan, was a huge Kobe fan. Ever since I’ve been a Clippers fan, he’s been a Lakers fan, we pretty much bet on every game. In the last five years or so the Clippers have had the Lakers’ number, especially even this year. I’d say we’d love to see them play in the playoffs.
“I would envision it going to seven games, but I would give the edge to Kawhi because he’s the closer and I think the Clippers would win,” Kljestan said.