Clippers' feud with Clipper Darrell yet another sad chapter in franchise's history

Dan Wetzel
Yahoo! Sports

The man called Clipper Darrell says the worst thing the Los Angeles Clippers ever said about him – their de facto fan mascot – was the following:

"He is not actually a fan of the Clippers, but a fan of what he can make off the Clippers."

That came in an official team statement this week, and, yes, that one stung.

"This is hurtful man," said Darrell Bailey, aka Clipper Darrell. "They said I was never a fan."

The Clippers told Yahoo! Sports they actually "never questioned Mr. Bailey's role as a fan at games. This matter concerns Mr. Bailey's activities outside of Staples Center games."

Well, the statement is pretty clear, and whether you're on the side of the Clips' überfan or the franchise that is understandably trying to control its brand, one thing is beyond question:

This is the most Clipper-esque thing the Clippers have ever been involved with.

What other franchise would get into a public fight with their most loyal fan at the precise moment they finally become good?

"When they traded for Chris Paul, I cried," Clipper Darrell said.

Darrell has been a Clippers fan since 1994. Freshly fired and told by a boss he'd never amount to anything, Darrell watched a Clippers game on television and heard the same thing said about the franchise.

The connection was obvious. A love affair was born. "Ride or die," Darrell said.

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Through the years he's been the big voice in an often-empty stadium, the last believer of a team that lost and lost and lost, the colorful personality for a team whose history was so pathetic and drab.

Yes, Bailey received a few things for his Clipper Darrell persona. Eventually there were free tickets from the team, a measure of fame even in star-rich L.A. and an occasional promotional gig for being himself.

Bailey estimates he's made a grand total of $7,500 in 18 years of being Clipper Darrell.

Now, he and the team he loves are at odds over money. The Clippers are hot and suddenly Clipper Darrell is in demand – at least, a little in demand.

Yet everything has fractured. Darrell said the Clippers tried to curb publicity about him. The team denies it. Darrell said the Clippers don't want him using the term Clipper Darrell anymore. The team denies this and says it just wants control over his promotional appearances. Darrell said an executive has been unduly demanding. The team denies that. Darrell said this is over money. The team says otherwise. The team told the Los Angeles Times it offered him a $70-a-night job as a cheerleader. Darrell said it never happened.

It's a factual hall of mirrors, but one playing on websites, radio airwaves and the pages of the city's newspapers.

It's a back-and-forth that has most of the public squarely behind the 44-year-old auto dealer and father of four – and against Donald T. Sterling's organization.

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The entire soap opera is comical to anyone without a dog in the fight. This seems like one completely avoidable, unnecessary public-relations hit for a franchise that most fans already considered heartless.

It escalated quickly this week after Darrell said on his website the Clippers didn't want him using the team name anymore. The franchise responded by putting him on blast in a lengthy statement that ripped him with the not-a-fan line and ended with, "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."

Darrell was rocked for a couple days and now wants to fight back, claiming he deserved better, that he was just a simple guy and that the franchise has twisted everything.

Darrell spent two days saying nothing, claiming he was wounded. He broke his brief silence with this interview.

"I have to get this out," he said.

OK, so here's the latest from Clipper Darrell.

Darrell said the issue began when a reporter from Bleacher Report wanted to do a feature on him. He said the Clippers denied the website a media credential that would've allowed the reporter to talk to the players about him.

Clippers executive Carl Lahr "said, 'Who does it help?' " Darrell said. "I said, 'It helps both parties.' He said, 'No, it helps you. We don't need any publicity anymore.' All of a sudden Clipper Darrell is no longer needed."

The team's response:

"As a general practice, the Clippers do not credential blog sites. To do so is optional within NBA guidelines. It would be incorrect to state that this situation started with this matter.

"Mr. Lahr did not say that we don't need publicity anymore or anything like that. Assuming that this refers to the above-referenced interview request, that conversation did include an exchange concerning how doing the interview Mr. Bailey had sought out would benefit the team and Mr. Bailey, as opposed to it only being a unilateral benefit to Mr. Bailey."

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The team has suggested that Darrell offered to stop using the term "Clipper Darrell." Darrell denies this and says Lahr took an off-the-cuff remark seriously.

"I said to Carl, 'You're acting like you don't want me to be Clipper Darrell anymore, you want me to be Darrell Bailey," Darrell said. "Carl said, 'Oh, you'll do that? We'll give you two free tickets if you do that.' '

The team's response:

"That version of the conversation is not accurate, and is incomplete in terms of context."

Darrell said Lahr threatened to have lawyers draw up a cease-and-desist order. The team says, "No conversation … has ever included any reference to any form of legal action."

Darrell noted that through the bad years – and there were many – the franchise was highly supportive of him, putting him on the overhead scoreboard, featuring him in online ticket promotions and appreciated his popularity.

The team doesn't deny that, yet contends, "The relationship with Mr. Bailey evolved over time, but his willingness to adhere to the team's desire to participate in his commercial decisions, unfortunately, did not."

The team's stance: If you're going to use the term "Clippers" in promotions or appearances, then the Clippers should have a say over it. This is completely reasonable business practice.

Darrell says he isn't opposed to working with the Clippers. He said earlier this season he was approached about wearing a "Lob City" T-shirt at a game for $1,000 and ran the idea by Lahr. When Lahr asked him not to, he complied. He thinks, however, this strict adherence to some code of business has come about now that the Clippers are winning. Besides, being heavy-handed with him is ridiculous.

"Somewhere along the line, he stopped being a super fan and became a marketer," Lahr told the Los Angeles Times on Friday. "He got to the point where he wanted this to be a commercial enterprise."

Darrell scoffs at that. He doesn't think there is much money in this, and the idea he spent 18 seasons rooting passionately for arguably the worst franchise in all of professional sports so he might someday cash in, is ridiculous.

"It's not much of a business plan," he noted.

If you're already dizzy with this back-and-forth – and much of Los Angeles, where this is actually a big story, is – then that's the point.

It's profoundly ridiculous it's dropped to a level of spiteful comments, carefully worded statements and full-on attacks. When some of the Clippers players tweeted support for Darrell, the tweets soon disappeared.

The team, smarting from wave after wave of bashing in the local media and the endless stories of the franchise's decades-long run of terrible management and Sterling's own business practices (he's twice settled federal lawsuits in housing discrimination cases), would like to move on.

Darrell feels the same way, blames "a lack of communication" and says it never should've come to this.

In the end, we have one man against one franchise. For years, the man provided rare bits of entertainment for a moribund team. The franchise only recently became worthy of the public's attention.

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Yes, the Clippers have the right to control their name and logo. They also should've been smarter at finding a way to work with Darrell Bailey.

In 2008, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban approached Darrell at a Clippers game and invited him to come to Texas and discuss a potential role with his franchise. Cuban told Yahoo! Sports he flew Darrell down to Dallas and offered him prime seats for free if he'd take his act and become "Maverick Darrell."

"When a billionaire wants to talk to you, you go listen," Darrell said. "But, you know when you go somewhere you're not supposed to be and you get a guilty feeling about being there? I felt guilty, like I was betraying my team."

A team that would win 23 games that season, mind you.

Darrell said no. Cuban said the free ticket offer still stands. Even after this, Darrell can't accept.

"Write this down," he said, "Clipper Darrell said he will always be loyal to the 'Red, White and Blue.' "

Of course, he also later asked, "Can you still love a team and hate the organization?"

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