Where Hope Grows Like Fungus
Eye-rolling about L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterlings notorious lack of investment in his NBA franchise will have to be scaled back a bit this year: Game-day introductions to your 2006 Clippers are now accompanied by fireworks. Thats right. Fireworks. If youre going to argue that The Donalds stable mates at Staples Center might have chosen something more dramatic than a few Roman candles and industrial-sized sparklers, then brother, youre clearly not a Clipper fan. These folks are loving the show. Hell, more than half of them are actually in their seats when the player introductions begin for this home opener against the Atlanta Hawks. Whens the last time that happened at a Laker game?The largest cheer belongs to four-year Clipper vet and respected pick-and-shovel power forward Elton Brand, but special attention is paid to the teams two newest acquisitions: sharpshooting guard Cuttino Mobley and journeyman (and two-time NBA champion) point guard Sam Cassell. Indeed, as the crowd quiets for the national anthem, someone shouts loudly, We love you Sam Cassell! This is followed quickly by a slightly less loud, Yeah! Alien Head! Its probably not the nickname Cassells friends use, but its also probably more accurate than whatever his friends use. The Donalds investment in Cassell and Mobley is even more impressive than the fireworks. Along with Brand and the injured Corey Maggette, they give the Clippers four starters who can safely be considered respectable veterans which is at least three more than the Lakers can claim. The rest of the roster is stacked with intriguing young talent like Shaun Livingston and James Singleton. Anticipation in Clipperdom is running high. We beat the defending conference champions to open the season Wednesday night, says Keith, a four-year season-ticket holder who makes the rush-hour slog from Ventura for most home games. Keith became a Clipper season-ticket holder after discovering that, for the price of a 10-game package of Laker games, he could get an entire seasons worth of Clipper games, and in a decent section of Staples Center, to boot. His wife, Laura, a kindergarten teacher, has taken to trying to convert the Laker-fan spawn in her class each year.Carl, a seven-year season-ticket holder, took an even more circuitous route to Clipper fan-hood. I originally got em because it was the only way to see Jordan play when he came to town, he explains. And then they moved the team to the Staples Center, and I kind of wanted to check this place out. And then I kept em because of the All-Star Game being here a few years back. Somewhere along the way, they grew on me.Thats a familiar refrain among Clipper fans, and as the game gets underway, its clear that this years team has even more than usual to grow on you. Mobley is everywhere, crashing boards, diving for loose balls and making big dunks. Cassell runs the floor, directing traffic and setting up monster dunks for backup center Chris Wilcox. The Hawks, a young, raw team, can barely keep pace. The Clips are up 56-to-40 at halftime. When I suggest to Carl that hes probably seen a lot of peaks and valleys in his seven years watching the team, he corrects me: Ive seen some valleys, and Ive seen sea level. I wouldnt say Ive seen a peak yet.Halfway through the third quarter, an usher happily fulfills the request of a father looking to move his wife and three kids from the nosebleeds into Keiths and Carls section for the remainder of the game, once she has determined that the seats are vacant. The family watches the rest of the game like true fans should: rapt, cheering and exchanging high-fives with each Clipper basket.I ask the usher if she often allows seat changes. After making sure I cant read her name tag, she smiles and shrugs. Sure. Its not like its a Laker game.By the end of the third quarter, the Clippers have a 25-point lead, and no one in the section can remember the last time they blew out an opponent like this. The starters are benched for the fourth, and the rookies untested, undisciplined, and a hell of a lot of fun to watch manage to keep the lead in the double digits until the final buzzer: Clippers, 92, Hawks, 77. Were 2-and-0! says Carl. We aint been 2-and-0 in, like, thirty years!
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