RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
For a very long time, L.A. has been a Lakers town, but thanks to some of the NBA's brightest young stars, it's now the long-ridiculed Clippers that have the better record and the city's attention. Last night, the Clippers beat the league's best team, the Thunder, 112-100. And it's all very gratifying for one diehard fan. And NPR's Ben Bergman went along with him to a game.
BEN BERGMAN, BYLINE: Darrell Bailey has missed exactly one Clipper game in 11 seasons.
DARRELL BAILEY: I was in a hospital. That's the only reason. That's the only reason that kept me out.
BERGMAN: Bailey - known around here as Clipper Darrell - drives a car painted in Clippers colors, red and blue, the hood signed by everyone on the team. His favorite player?
BAILEY: Don't have one. As long as you wear this red, white and blue uniform, I got love for you.
BERGMAN: His house has a mini-Clippers court in the backyard. Inside there's a red and blue living room turned shrine for displaying Clipper memorabilia and watching away games.
BAILEY: You know there's two places in life that I can go that will give me peace of mind. It's a Clipper game and church.
BERGMAN: Tonight, as always, Bailey is dressed in his plus size half red, half blue three-piece suit, complete with a half red, half blue tie and one red shoe, one blue.
BAILEY: It's going down tonight, baby, watch. Lakers-Clippers, baby.
BERGMAN: He's walking into the Staples Center for the Battle of L.A. with a loud message for any Laker fan unfortunate enough to be in earshot.
BAILEY: The Lakers era is over. It's Clipper time.
BERGMAN: It's been a heady few weeks for the Clippers and Bailey after the team signed superstar Chris Paul to join last year's rookie of the year, Blake Griffin.
BAILEY: I don't drink nor smoke. But I'm so high right now, I'm not coming down till June, baby. That's how I'm feeling about this team right now.
BERGMAN: To be an L.A. basketball fan and choose to root for the Clippers had been an exercise in losing, futility and frustration. They've only made it to the playoffs four times in the 28 years they've been here. The year Bailey became a fan, the Clippers won 17 games and lost 65.
BAILEY: I got fired from a job and the guy told me I'd never amount to anything in life. So I went home, plopped on the couch, turned the TV on. Clipper game comes on. They said the same thing about them. How horrible they was. How ownership was horrible. And I said this is going to be my team. We're going to ride and die together.
BERGMAN: Bailey's fortunes have improved with the team. He now has a business customizing cars. And he rents himself out to be fan-in-chief at parties, events, and college games. Here at the Lakers game - ever the celebrity haven - it is he that attracts attention wherever he goes.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)
BERGMAN: And keeps getting asked for pictures.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: You mind if I take a picture of you?
BAILEY: Yeah, come on.
BERGMAN: Bailey has prime seats for the game - five rows up from famous Laker fan Jack Nicholson, sitting courtside. Not that Bailey needs to be so close. You can easily hear him yelling from the nosebleed section.
BAILEY: Let's go Clippers. Let's go. Let's go Clippers. Let's go.
BERGMAN: Bailey attends games by himself. He says his wife has no interest in sports. He has an aisle seat, all the better for standing, jumping up and down, and cheering.
BAILEY: Ching a ling, ling, ling, ling. Let's go, baby. Let's go.
BERGMAN: Some fans boo Bailey. Others cheer him on.
BAILEY: Yeah, baby.
BERGMAN: A couple years ago, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was so impressed by Bailey that he offered to move him to Dallas and pay him to cheer on The Mavericks. Bailey considered it, but showing an allegiance that would be unheard of for most NBA players, he decided he couldn't leave his team.
BAILEY: Come on now. Beat L.A., baby, beat L.A.
BERGMAN: Bailey's loyalty finally seems to have been rewarded this season, though not tonight.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: End of the ballgame. Final score, Lakers 96, Clippers 91.
BERGMAN: Bailey's voice is hoarse from a night of yelling at the top of his lungs.
BAILEY: Can't win games like that, but you know, it's all to the good.
BERGMAN: But he says he'll be fine after his normal postgame regimen of Halls Cough Drops, chased down with lemon and honey water. He'll take some time to rest, but not much. Clipper Darrell has less than 24 hours until he has to be back in his seat for another game.
BAILEY: Oh, yeah. I'll be ready, baby. It's easy. It's easy.
BERGMAN: Ben Bergman, NPR News, Los Angeles.
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