Up until this season, fans of the Los Angeles Clippers have had little to root, what with the decades of losing, an owner who paid the largest out-of-court housing discrimination settlement ever (plus a whole lot of other incidents), and a general sense that the team only cared about making money. For 15 years, though, one man has devoted himself to the franchise with a passion that far outstrips his return on investment.
[ Related: Redemption for Clipper Darrell … maybe ]
Clipper Darrell, who wears a ridiculously awesome (or awesomely ridiculous) blue-and-red suit and once organized a fan demonstration to woo LeBron James to Staples Center, is quite possibly the loudest and most passionate superfan in the NBA. This year, with Chris Paul and Blake Griffin leading the team to legitimate championship contention, he's finally seeing results on the court.
Most teams, given this situation, would celebrate their good fortune with their biggest fans, and possibly even reward them for years of loyalty. However, the Clippers operate by different rules. And so, in a move that makes very little sense to any observers, they've asked Clipper Darrell to drop the team association from his name and stop doing interviews related to the franchise. From Marcus Vanderberg for FishbowlLA.com:
After Bleacher Report was denied media credentials while doing a profile on the man who has stood by the Clippers through thick and a whole lot of thin, Bailey [Darrell's last name] called team president Andy Roeser to get an explanation.
Carl Lahr, senior vice president of marketing and sales, eventually returned Bailey's call last week and informed him that the organization didn't need him doing stories or speaking to the media on behalf of the team.
"We got to talking and I said the way I feel, you don't want Clipper Darrell no more," Bailey told FishbowlLA Wednesday. "You want Darrell Bailey back. They said, 'You would do that?'"
According to Bailey, the Clippers offered him an additional free season ticket if he dropped the Clipper nickname.
"That's when everything went haywire and they said I was trying to make money off sponsorships," Bailey added. "If people are going to pay me to do some things, why not do it? I don't see any harm in it as long as I'm not hurting the brand itself. I'm going to high schools, charity events, I do it all. They told me at the end of the conversation that, 'We would like you not to be Clipper Darrell anymore and would like you to go back to Darrell Bailey.'"
Vanderberg also notes that Darrell wore all black to the team's Tuesday game against the Timberwolves to usher in his new era of fandom. Clearly, he's upset. In fact, Darrell posted on his blog about the disagreement, titling his post "I AM DEVASTATED!!!" Check it out after the jump:
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!!!! [...]
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. [...]
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!
UPDATE: The Clippers, for their part, have released a statement claiming no wrongdoing — legal, moral, or otherwise. It is full of phrases like "No good deed goes unpunished" and "He is not actually a fan of the Clippers, but a fan of what he can make off the Clippers." Stay classy, guys.
The economics of this decision are complicated. The Clippers have given Darrell tickets for years — although they sold his seat for a game last season with little explanation — and have received no direct economic compensation due to his involvement with the team. For the purposes of brand management, it makes some sense that they'd want control over his behavior, especially now that the "Clipper" name is associated with winning.
On the other hand, looking at this decision in business terms — which might be baseless, given Darrell's positivity — misses the point. Clipper Darrell might not have brought in measurable profits as a spokesman for the team, but his enthusiasm for the franchise was important to their identity at a time when their fans had little to cheer about. Ending their association now, when the Clippers are finally among the league's elite, comes across as a heartless act, the sort of thing a team does when they don't value their fans whatsoever. And while the offer of another season ticket is substantial, it also smacks of condescension. What Darrell really wants is to cheer on his team with the conspicuous passion he's exhibited for years.
The Clippers might have underestimated Darrell's popularity. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, the team's stars, even took to Twitter to voice their support for him.
There are few teams in the NBA that come close to the Clippers' level of on-court excitement. Still, because of the actions of their front office and the dark shadow of owner Donald Sterling's history of race relations, they remain hard to root for. Asking Clipper Darrell to stop being who he's been for years is just another example of what makes the franchise distasteful. Lob City is great, but the Clippers are still the Clippers.
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