With the 2010-11 NBA season literally hours away, Clippers fans are growing more and more restless by the minute – and for good reason. There’s a different feeling in the air, one that has been bolstered by the arrival of Vinny Del Negro, Eric Gordon’s eye-opening summer and the long-awaited return of a healthy, hungry Blake Griffin. From long-time season-ticket holders to the newly initiated, Clipper Nation is abuzz about the prospects of this young, talented squad. No one, though, has moved closer to the edge of his seat than Darrell Bailey.
“It’s like a whole new situation over here,” said Bailey, a car customizer and married father of four.
Chances are if you’ve made it out to a few Clippers games, you’re already familiar with Bailey, who is lovingly known by fans as “Clipper Darrell.” How did Bailey earn his nickname? For one, he attended 386 consecutive Clippers home games. For another, it took a trip to the hospital to break that streak.
“I tried to get out,” said Bailey, who was sent in with high blood pressure on the night of a game against the New York Knicks on April 4th, 2010. “I talked to one of the nurses. I said, ‘If I was your husband, would you let me leave?’ She said no.”
Until that night, Bailey had not missed a single home game since he became a season-ticket holder in June of 2001. After being released from the hospital, he came back to attend all four of the team’s remaining home contests last season.
It might come as a surprise to some, but this kind of allegiance to the blue and red isn’t something Bailey inherited at birth. The start of his fandom began a mere 16 years ago, when he had just been fired from his job as an electrician and told he would “never amount to anything in life” by his boss.
“You know how when you get fired you feel sorry for yourself? I went home, laid up on the couch, turned the TV on. Clipper game comes on,” Bailey said.
His boss’s words were still ringing in his ears. It was then that he heard a similar criticism being leveled at the team playing on the screen.
“The announcers were talking about the Clippers, how awful they were and how they wouldn’t amount to anything, either,” Bailey said. “I thought, this is going to be my team and we’re going to ride or die together.”
Since then, Bailey has become a Staples Center fixture and the Clippers’ most vocal supporter. Come to a game and you’ll see him standing – he rarely sits – in a shiny blue-and-red suit by his seat in Section 107, dancing and chanting, “Let’s go, Clippers, let’s go!” When an opposing player steps to the free-throw line he’ll unleash his personal favorite: “U-G-L-Y, you ain’t got no alibi, you ugly!”
Bailey’s fandom goes beyond the arena. He drives around in a customized BMW painted half red, half blue, with a Clippers logo and players’ autographs on the hood. He even has a Clippers-themed room in his Los Angeles home and owns a dashiki adorned with the team logo – courtesy of a couple friendly Lakers fans that discovered the colorful garment during a trip to Mexico.
“That’s my favorite piece now. I’ve got it hanging on my bedroom wall because it reminds me of the loyalty and the passion that I have every day,” Bailey said.
His love of the Clippers has not gone unnoticed. Bailey’s favorite moment as a fan came in 2006, when Donald Sterling asked him to fly on the team plane to Phoenix before Game 7 against the Suns in the Western Conference Semifinals.
Even opposing players have caught on. Bailey remembers running into one of the NBA’s biggest stars outside a hotel one night last season, when the Cleveland Cavaliers had come to town to play the Clippers.
“Everybody was waiting for their cars to get pulled up at the valet. LeBron James pulls up. As he’s pulling up, he’s hanging out the window and he’s yelling, ‘U-G-L-Y, you ain’t got no alibi, you ugly! … Once the car stopped, he jumped out and started doing a little dance with it,” Bailey said, laughing.
But now, with the Clippers set to tip off against the Portland on Wednesday night, Bailey has turned his full attention to the players who have brought him his fondest memories.
“We have a new coach, a new team, a new GM,” he said. “That brings a whole new attitude. That’s my new saying … Baron [Davis] is ready. Everybody’s 100 percent going into this season and getting excited.”
How excited is Clipper Darrell, on a scale from 1 to 10?
The answer came without hesitation: “15, baby, 15.”