Back in my day, a USC student could walk to the decrepit Sports Arena with his friends, pay 8 bucks for general admission, and then claim one of the many empty seats near courtside to watch Michael Cage, Benoit Benjamin, Quintin Dailey and other forgotten names of that woebegone Clippers era take on Michael Jordan, Dominique Wilkins and other visiting NBA luminaries (yeah, I'm gettin' old). It was the pro sports equivalent of "slumming it." You watched the team you really cared about, the Lakers, on TV, occasionally shelling out for a "big league" game at the Forum.
More than 20 years later, and now playing in the same downtown arena as the Lakers, the Clippers now match their NBA big brother in amenities, and they have finally surpassed them in terms of coaching and talent. But watching a Clippers crowd on Tuesday, Nov. 4 passionately boo the Houston Rockets' Dwight Howard, the free-agent center who jilted the Lakers in July, I had to wonder: Do many of the Los Angeles-area sports fans who fill the seats during Clippers games still care more about the Lakers?
Doesn't it seem like truly passionate Clippers fans would cheer a player who shunned a crosstown rival?
I mean, would New York Jets fans boo an NFL star who abruptly abandoned the Giants? Would Mets fans take to task a guy who left the Yankees?
In the search for answers to the perplexing "why'd they boo Dwight?" phenomenon, you have to consider that, as a sports town, Los Angeles is a tricky place. It has a large, native fanbase, much of which grew up in the sprawling suburbs. These tend to be folks who root avidly for specific teams. They still have their No. 34 Shaq jersey from 2001.
But there's also a large, transient group, people who arrived from some place else not as sunny -- the group that seems to form the identity of the city, for better or worse, and which gets behind whatever local team seems headed for the deep rounds of the playoffs. They're casual Los Angeles sports fans. To them, Dwight dissed the city, not just a team.
Digging deeper, with Howard also alienating Orlando and the entire state of Florida before he arrived for his short stay in L.A. during the summer of 2012, there does seem to be a broader D12 dissonance brewing. Howard was, after all, booed over the summer during an exhibition in the Philippines.
Meanwhile, Q Scores, a research company that evaluates the public's reaction to celebrities, now ranks Howard as the least-liked player in the NBA.
Daniel Frankel is the founder and editor-in-chief of TitleTownNews.org, the voice of Southern California sports.
- Sports & Recreation
- Los Angeles Clippers
- Dwight Howard
- Los Angeles