Darrell Bailey is the exception. He has given himself over, body and soul, to what is widely seen as not only the worst basketball team but also the worst sports franchise in history. Better known as the voice and face of Clippers fans worldwide, Darrell has been the unofficial, yet oh-so-official, mascot of the team since some Clippers fans were in diapers. He is, simply, Clipper Darrell.
Darrell and I arrange to meet at the Trader Vic’s near the Staples Center in Downtown Los Angeles. He arrives in predictable garb—leather Clippers jacket, hat, and pants. Over a pupu platter, he chronicles his life of fanaticism. “It was about 21 years ago. I had just been fired. I was at a low point in my life. I was watching TV and the Clippers game came on, and they said the same thing about the Clippers—how horrible they were, and how they would never amount to anything. And I said, ‘This is my team; we’re going to rise and die together.’”
Darrell slowly transitioned his life into one of fandom. Until the last two seasons, the Clippers were consistently one of the worst teams in the NBA, with a notorious season of only nine wins. But for Darrell, battling low morale was part of the fun. He was committed to getting the team’s small group of fans excited about the game. Sometimes he was the only thing at a game worth seeing. With tragedy on the court, he brought comedy to the stands, and over time he became Clipper Darrell.
After drafting Blake Griffin and acquiring Chris Paul, the Clippers are now legitimately a good team. Concurrently, the Lakers are hitting a low-point during a transition period, ushering in a new fan base that’s bringing life to the Clippers. The newfound success comes with strings attached. “The loyal [fans], the ones who were here from day one, are getting priced out now…It started as fun to come out here and cheer our team on, but now it has become a business.”
In 2012 the Clippers decided they wanted to dissociate themselves from Clipper Darrell. They accused him of trying to profit from their name, conveniently forgetting the many years they put him up on the Jumbotron so their fans would have something to cheer to. The fallout turned into a widely covered spectacle in the sports world.
Mark Cuban, renegade owner of the Dallas Mavericks, offered Darrell a position if he would bring his special brand of energy and commitment to Texas. “When Mark sent me out to Dallas, I felt guilty. I felt like I was cheating on my wife. When I turned down his offer to be Maverick Darrell it was because—well, you can always have the money, but I wanted the satisfaction. Would Dallas fans love me as much as Clippers fans do? That’s what it comes down to for me. You have to be happy with what you do, and if you’re not happy, you can’t do it. I can work anywhere else, but I’m happy here in Los Angeles. I drive, I live, I bleed red, white, and blue.”
Photographer: Jenny Hueston at jennyhueston.com. Special thanks: Dara Siegel for iheartreps.com.