Thursday, March 1, 2012

Goodbye Clipper Darrell - Another Example of the Classless Clippers

I have always hated the Clippers. Living in Los Angeles for the better part of 22 years, regardless of my general subdued disdain for the team that consistently stains the otherwise pristine sports reputation of my fair city, there were always on the periphery of the daily newspaper or evening news. They'd creep in just below the fold, or on the concluding muffled sentence of a sportscaster's lips. I'd get little bits of news and notes on them no matter how hard I tried to forget their existence.

I tried to forget they existed because stories like today's always made me more upset than I had any reasonable cause to be. I've heard so many anecdotes regarding their idiotic front office or disgraceful owner Donald Sterling, that tuning it out was all I could do to keep my sanity in check.

Today, the team cut any and all ties with their biggest fan. And I couldn't be more upset.

Clipper Darrell, born Darrell Bailey, is the self-professed biggest Clippers fan alive. As the story goes, nearly 15 years ago Darrell, an electrician, was fired, with his boss throwing this parting shot at him: "you'll never amount to anything". Darrell went home feeling terrible, and in what I can only assume was and act of self-pitying masochism, he turned on a Clippers game. As Darrell heard the announcers running another lifeless loss from the Clippers, he heard them similarly say that the team would "never amount to anything". In that moment, he decided to be a Clippers fan, pledging that the two would "rise together".

Whether that story is true or not, I'll never know. But what is true is how Darrell's fanatacism over the next decade is nearly unmatched by any other fan in the NBA.

This is what Clipper Darrell looks like. 


This is what his car looks like. That he spent $12,000 to customize.


He has been to every single game since the 2000-2001 season. He has witnessed, either in his seat rows up from the basket or on his television at home, over 540 Clippers losses. He has seen countless rebuilding efforts, as well as over a dozen lottery picks come and go from the organization. In spite of all of the losing and pathetic play he's been privy to, Clipper Darrell has remained as enthusiastic as ever, cheering louder and longer than anyone could feasibly expect from him.

Earlier this week, the Clippers organization asked Darrell Bailey to discontinue the use of the "Clipper Darrell" name, as they interpreted it as an infringement on their copyrights. Darrell released a statement on his blog filled with sadness and confusion, rather than anger or spite. Through this all, he seems to maintain an unwavering allegiance to the team he loves so much:

Subject: I AM DEVASTATED

It is with great sadness that I must report to all those in NBA NATION that I have been told by Clipper management they no longer want me to be Clipper Darrell, a name that was given to me by the media because of my unwavering support and team spirit. I am devastated!!!!

I have been a season ticket holder for over a decade and a FAN for over 15 years and have dedicated a major part of my life to support the Clipper organization and it’s players no matter what the season’s outcome. Over the years (400 home games) I have gone to great lengths to show my appreciation and loyalty in my attire, the car I drive and in my very own home. I’ve taken seriously the mantra of being “Clipper Darrell” in performing community service, mentoring young children and my participation in outreach programs. I’ve appreciated the struggles of the team to overcome obstacles as I’ve done in my life. I felt vindicated for all the years we as Clipper fans have gone through trials and tribulations and NOW we have a team that can win it all. Yesterday was the hardest day of my life, I felt powerless as a fan, as I was stripped of my identity however, no one can take away my heart and the love I have for my team!

Hours later, the Clippers organization offered a rebuttal, through the OC Register:

“The Clippers have done absolutely nothing wrong or inappropriate as it concerns Darrell Bailey. His claims are absurd and unfounded. He has never been an employee or representative of the Clippers organization, and therefore cannot be terminated. The Clippers have never engaged Mr. Bailey’s services. When he has been in need, the organization has regularly provided him a seat for games. No good deed goes unpunished.

We have had multiple conversations with him concerning his inappropriate use of the Clippers’ team name and trademark for his own unmonitored commercial gain. We have spoken to him repeatedly about his desire to make public appearances in ways which improperly suggest that he is officially affiliated with our organization. In all cases and over a long period of time, he has consistently rejected our efforts to operate in consultation.

In a conversation with an authoritative and tenured Clippers’ executive last week, he was asked again to either consult with the team on all public appearances and/or commercial ventures, or stop undertaking those opportunities representing himself inappropriately. His response was an offer to stop representing himself commercially in that way and his offer was accepted in principle.

The next thing we heard was the baseless claims he has made today and the ensuing media rush to judgment.
We hold all of our fans in the highest esteem and we have been patient and generous with Mr. Bailey. He has not returned our support in an honorable way. He is not actually a fan of the Clippers, but a fan of what he can make off of the Clippers.  We are no longer interested in that kind of association with him, and that is why we accepted his offer to remove our team name from his stage name.”

In some ways, the Clippers are completely right. By using the Clipper's name, colors and logos, Darrell has procured promotional appearances, television guest spots and even spokesperson jobs by dressing himself, his family, all his possessions and his home in the red, white and blue. He is a minor celebrity in a city that has 10 on every block, just by the virtue of being ridiculously dedicated to a team that has done nothing to be at all deserving of him. However, the Clippers have a right to protect their brand, and certainly to restrict anyone that would use that brand for his or her own personal gain. As cold as it is, and as vile as that statement was, there's really no argument that Darrell Bailey can raise against the organization, business-wise. They offered him a place in the employ of the team, he turned it down, and now he must stop. It's as simple as that.

The question that I keep on circling over and over again is, why now? Why is 2012 the right time to restrict this man from using the team's name, colors and logos? Darrell, a season ticket holder for over 10 years and using the moniker for the same amount of time, has been making promotional appearances outside of the organization's control for years now. He's driven around in a car he dubbed "the Clippermobile". As even the Clippers point out, he's used all of this for his own personal gain, including relative fame and fortune. As you've read, this isn't a shock to the Clippers - they've been, from Donald Sterling on down, very aware of his activites the whole time. I fully understand the reasons behind how the events of today unfolded. But perhaps it's the timing of this all that appalls me the most.

The Clippers aren't just on a hot streak, or playing well for the time being; they're one of the best teams in the NBA. They're incredible. Blake Griffin and Chris Paul, two of the greatest basketball players on the planet, are Clippers, and just proved their popularity by being elected starters for the All-Star game. At 21-14, this is the best start in team history, and will likely go down as one of, if not their best season ever.

For years, the Clippers struggled with the idea that they were just a tenant in the Lakers' arena, rather than the reality of both teams having supposedly equal footing in the building. Their fans were, as my dad always said, people that couldn't pay for Lakers tickets. And he was right. Every Clippers fan was either someone who couldn't pay for the exorbitant costs of being a Lakers fan, a transplant that liked basketball but didn't want to root for the Lakers, or a local who didn't like how everyone around him or her was a Lakers fan. Essentially, there were no Clippers fans, just Lakers haters, in some form or another.

Moving forward to today, you see the tremendous success the Clips are having, finally. They are the hottest ticket in town. In contrast with the slow, plodding Lakers' offense, the Clippers are led by the dynamic Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan on the break, finishing with rim-shaking dunks off of feeds by MVP candidate Chris Paul. They make the Sportscenter Top 10 on a nightly basis and are, amazingly, one of the most watched and heavily attended road teams in the league. The Clippers have emerged from years of ridicule and bottom-feeding as the major market juggernaut they always should have been.

Clipper Darrell, for all of his positive and negative qualities, was the shining beacon of Clippers fandom during every lean year. For a franchise that hardly did anything deserving of such an intense following, they seemed to have at least one fan who genuinely cared about them. It was almost as if the Clippers were paying for a type of publicity that money couldn't buy. In not prosecuting Darrell over their capitalist rights within copyright infringement, it's almost as if they were compensating him by allowing him to continue using the Clippers name for his own personal gain. Nothing on the court would ever be able to promote the type of goodwill that Darrell provided, and the Clippers were happy to let him profit with their name as long as it benefited them.

When distilled down to his essence however, if I have to be honest, Darrell was a small-market sideshow. He's the type of guy you see in Milwaukee, or Cleveland or El Paso to drum up audience support. He's the attraction that the kids want to go see and keeps the crowd alive while the team is down by 50. During a decade of losing, Clipper Darrell might have been one of the only things keeping the paying customers in Staples Center enthusiastic and cheering. Quite frankly, nothing on the floor was doing anything close to that.

Now the Clippers don't need that type of manufactured excitement. They have the real exhiliration emanating from the floor. They don't need a guy dressed in a ridiculous red and blue suit, parading around the arena, leading the crowd in cheers. The crowd does that on its own. They don't need him driving around in a self-made Clippermobile, waving red, white and blue flags that might have had a singular presence in every neighborhood he went to; now there's thousands more Clippers jerseys and flags flying around town. They don't need Darrell on street corners rocking team gear, or drumming up fake enthusaism for a team no one cares about, because that work is done for him. What Clipper Darrell always provided for this team, was the perception that someone gave a shit. That they mattered. And now they do.

The Clippers needed Clipper Darrell for so many years. Now that they have a real fanbase that does everything that he brought to the table, they've divorced themselves from him as soon as they possibly could. It's like the team knew that they had the stink of such a small-market gimmick on them for years, and in the first moment that they could, they washed themselves clean. The callousness of this organization, and the classlessness by which they run it is absolutely disgusting to me. I've written before about the lows that this team could sink to - this is a franchise that has cut countless great players for the sake of making a few extra dollars, and traded away future All-Stars because of misguided evaluation. Their owner has been accused and settled in court cases regarding racial discrimination, as well as trying to weasel their way out of guaranteed contracts they signed years earlier. They've given their loyal fans the worst possible product money can be saved with. They are a disgrace to the NBA and the sport that I love. But in my years of unintentionally following the Los Angeles Clippers, I have never been so upset as I am right now.

I mean this with the most amount of sincerity possible; Clipper Darrell remains the only facet of the organization that I ever approved of. I've heard him on countless radio shows, and even seen his ridiculous ass around town, and nothing would suggest to me that he's anything less than completely serious about his dedication to the Clippers. Yes, he may have kept up his act beause of how lucrative it's been for his life, but the thought of supporting a fandom of the Clippers in any monetary way shows how dedicated he must have been to begin with. Like any big business, the Clippers used whatever advantage they could to keep their business running, and now that they don't need that advantage, they are all too eager to disassociate themselves with it. Too bad that this time, it was the only part of the organization that had any real heart.

YOUR...Los Angeles Clippers. The worst run organization in professional American sports. 

1 comment:

  1. One word: laches.

    That Clips statement sounds like a CYA attempt with the references to "multiple conversations" and "[speaking] to him repeatedly" to show people they had been trying to reign him in for awhile. Your point is dead on - the Clips didn't care what people thought until their new-found success demanded they pay attention.

    The law doesn't always look kindly on such opportunistic assertion of rights, and I'd be interested to see what the shakeout might be if Clipper D tried to push the issue.

    Keep up the good work, team MAMBINO!

    ReplyDelete