Growing up in Los Angeles as a sports fan is kind of weird. It’s arguably the #1 or #2 market in the United States (depending on your opinions on live theater and the Strokes), but it’s also a city where fans show up to baseball games in the third inning and sit courtside not for the view or intimacy, but rather to be noticed or wear sunglasses indoors. Also, L.A. sports fans are the first to turn their backs on their “favorite team” when things look bleak. There’s a lot of talk here in Los Angeles about fandom, but not a lot of follow through. And I’m all about the follow through.
It’s important to understand that I was raised by two working-class parents in the city of Calabasas, California, where the Kardashians now live, film their reality show and kill innocent children in exchange for fame (or however they continue to appease the Dark Lord). It’s a very rich area where many of my classmates had last names that were the same as the food in my cupboard. My father was a car salesman and my mom ran her own coupon magazine, and both supported my own athletic attempts wholeheartedly, even though I was Jewish and, because of that, knew nothing would come of it. But even with unachievable dreams to play professionally one day, my father and I loved going to sporting events together. Like a really cute bank commercial, we’d try and attend as many games as possible as a duo, rooting for our favorites – but sadly, one L.A. team’s home games just weren’t possible for us.
Most people growing up in Los Angeles in the late ’80s were all about the Lakers, specifically Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the Showtime era, and for good reason. They were unstoppable, quite possibly the greatest team ever, and their games came with a ticket price that rivaled our house payment. I knew one kid whose parents had season tickets. They also had a tennis court and a Porsche. His father never really explained what he did for a living, until one day we found closets full of porn tapes and realized his occupation was “home video distribution.”
His type of spending just wasn’t in line with my family’s capabilities, so when I really got the bug to see live basketball in third grade, my father responded with tickets to see the Lakers’ ginger-headed stepson, a squad that moved here from San Diego in 1984 (like the most annoying bro in your office): the Clippers.
The Clippers were to Los Angeles basketball what Chris Kirkpatrick was to ‘NSync. They were easily ignored, not very good and had dreads. Okay, they didn’t have dreads, but they were dreadful (PUN!) In 1987, the Clippers actually racked up the second-worst regular season record ever. And luckily for me, that was the first season my father took me to see them in person.
Truth is, I never even noticed how awful they were. They were the only team to root for in my universe. My dad once paid $3 for two tickets and he still felt bad when the Clippers lost by 20. But I’d continuely force him to take me to a dozen or so games a year, undeterred, cheering blindly for a victory. One kid from my middle school was the Clippers’ Ball Boy and I worshipped him like the Last Emperor, even though he probably got the job by just getting to the arena early and asking politely. I despised the Lakers and all the home video distributors who could afford to see their consecutive wins. I cheered for Loy Vaught, Benoit Benjamin, Bo Kimble, Lorenzen Wright, Michael Olowokandi and Marko Jaric – each worse than the next. The only way these guys could be household names is if you lived with them.
So when the Clippers finally started to execute with the fan in mind, I didn’t know what to do. They traded for superstar Chris Paul, nurtured young dunker Blake Griffin and encouraged tall monster DeAndre Jordan to become one of the best big men in the league. Then we hired one of the greatest coaches of all time in Doc Rivers, and the dynamics of L.A. basketball quickly changed. The Clippers became fun to watch and, according to Vegas odds, more likely to win the NBA Championship than the Lakers. We became the team everyone was watching. This would be like if Chris Kirkpatrick married to Jessica Biel.
But being a Clippers fan is like watching one of those shitty Paranormal Activity movies. When it’s been quiet for a while, and things seem to be going okay, you know something crazy is about to happen. We’ve had bad luck – which now seems like the owner’s karma – like when Blake Griffin injured himself before his rookie season. Or we trade for spectacular players like Elton Brand, Baron Davis and Marcus Camby, only to have them play like the Monstars just stole all their talent as soon as they put on a Clippers jersey. We also had a long-term coach named Vinny Del Negro, who I’m still not 100-percent sure knew he was the coach. I have to live with the idea that when things show any sign or hope of greatness, they will get bad again. But if we’re being honest, isn’t that life?
I don’t expect anyone to understand what being a Clippers fan is like, or more importantly, what it was like this specific year. It’s like if Eeyore played basketball. It was no surprise to me, after watching a mismanaged and underdeveloped team for decades, that the ownership turned out to be evil. The Sterling tapes hit right as we finished our most victorious season ever, and that dichotomy just makes a lot of Clippers sense.
I had always heard stories of Sterling’s racist business practices and even if I never supported the man, I supported his wallet. I ignored the issue, hoping it wasn’t true or that it would just magically disappear. It obviously did not. And in all the Sterling insanity, people forget this team hardly ever had a healthy roster. The moment we get to oust the worst owner in sports, classic Clippers irony kicked in, and we lost some heartbreakers and experienced some questionable calls in the playoffs. It’s no M. Night Shyamalan ending, it’s how it’s always been.
Next year I wholeheartedly expect to make the Western Conference Finals, and then right before we score the winning basket, the power will shut off, only to have the lights come back on and reveal that the Spurs have won by 2. It’s just in our DNA. But we’ll still play hard next season. And the season after that. We won’t give up or let that monster – or the bride of that monster – keep ownership of this piece of shit we love. We’ll live to see another day. Trust me.
My dad passed away right before the Clippers became a successful team. But even with him gone, at the end of every Clippers’ victory, or the start of any embarrassing franchise debacle, I can hear him ask me, in his most caring voice, “How do you love these idiots?” And I still don’t really have an answer for him outside of the same one I gave him when I was eight: “Go Clips.”
Jensen Karp accidentally found himself with a million-dollar record deal at age 19 under the moniker Hot Karl on Interscope Records, where he released songs with Kanye West, Redman and Will.I.Am. Since then, he opened Gallery1988, created the Get Up On This podcast and produced a recent live read of the Space Jam script, starring Blake Griffin as Michael Jordan and DeAndre Jordan as Charles Barkley.