“Oh bloody hell”, I hear you cry. “Off on your travels AGAIN?”. Well, yes, I have been actually. Gets me away from everyone. “So what is this time? The local cup final in Malawi? A Palestine vs Jewish grudge match in Tel Aviv? Glasgow Celtic again?”. Er no…. “Wait, why don’t you write sometime about ground fundraising, or the Dons Trust or other things that we pretend we’re interested in?”. Well, I could do, but you’ll have to be patient. And anyway, those topics could be, well, boring..
In the meantime, I have something very interesting for you, which does have quite a bit of relevance to all that we hold near and dear to us. It’s actually about basketball, which is that game full of those 7 ft tall people who like bouncing the ball a lot. Confused? Don’t worry, you’ll figure it out
So, there I was in Los Angeles, about 5400 miles away from SW19, enjoying the local culture – saw a really good Jerry Springer style catfight at a subway station, being harrassed by people trying to get me to see a TV taping/give to charity/give to their drug habit – and whatever else you do when abroad, when I decided to get a fix of the local sports scene. I am a sports junkie after all.
Outside downtown Los Angeles, two blocks away from the stomping ground of one of the area’s most notorious Hispanic gangs (seriously), is a massive complex called the Staples Center. Yes, Staples as in the big store just opened in SW19 with crappy parking. Being inquisitive, I attempted to secure a ticket for one of the NBA’s most famous teams, the LA Lakers. I could have got one, though as the asking price was $100 (and not through a scalper – ticket tout to you – but through the box office) I decided not to bother paying Celski prices. However, a $10 for the other NBA team in LA, namely the LA Clippers was readily available. My credit card swiped, and I was off for an evening of cross checks, 3 point plays and shooting from the line. And no, that is NOT a reference to Peter Winkelmann either.
Now, it is very easy to sneer at US sport. Instead of clubs or teams, you get franchises. Talk of 4 year deals (in any sport) at $72m for a player is not that uncommon, although as I have watched probably more US sport than most of our fans, the good stuff is good. Anyone going to a Red Sox game, or a Blackhawks game, would at least appreciate the banter that goes on, and can be just as funny as some of the stuff concocted at our footy grounds. This, however, was an eye opener…..
The LA Clippers used to be known as the San Diego Clippers. They were formed in 1978, then moved to Los Angeles in 1984 as Los Angeles Clippers. Except that before 1978, they were formed in 1970 as the Buffalo Braves. Who moved to San Diego in 1978 to replace a team called the San Diego Rockets who moved to Houston to become the Houston Rockets. Follow me? I wish I was making this up as well. Anyway, Southern California seems to be the king of franchising as we know and despise : up until very recently, LA had two NFL teams, the Raiders and the Rams. Raiders franchised from Oakland, Rams from Cleveland. The Raiders went back to Oakland in 1994, the Rams to St Louis (also in 1994), a city who ALSO suffered from franchising, losing the Cardinals to Phoenix, who ironically was the city of the opponents of the LA Clippers of what you are about to read now. Got that? Good.
So, back to the SC, nabbed a hot dog from a vendor ($3), waltzed into the arena, having negotiated an airport-style metal detector thingy (thankfully not having to take my shoes off), and got onto the concourse. There were quite a few people there, it had to be said, but it was pretty buzzless. This about 30 mins before tip-off time. Settling down with a $17 beer and roast beef sandwich combo, I looked around at the people who had the same idea as me on this Saturday night. It’s safe to say that the two LA franchises are different : the Lakers have a predominantly glamourous fanbase, supported by people like Jack Nicholson, rich suburbanites and basically every hanger on going. The Clippers, er, don’t. They’re smaller but draw more of a clientele from the burgeoning hispanic and oriental quarters of the city. If the Lakers are Britney Spears, the Clippers are Claire Sweeney.
My ticket being $10, I was put in the highest of the high, with an ability to look down at a great height at the action. I really wish I hadn’t looked down, though a glass pane did help me a bit. No wonder I could never become a scaffolder. Game time approached, and to a half-full-but-getting-fuller arena, the two teams came out and stood for the national anthem. This was glamourous LA, so you would expect a top major celeb to come out and do the honours. Well, sort of – this guy with an electric guitar came out, looking like a college lecturer, the lights dimmed and he went into a Hendrix-style reproduction of the Star Spangled Banner. With all the accurate musicianship of Hendrix’s version, minus the irony. It stunk. I swear I could play better, and I’ve never picked up a guitar in my life. Then again, after the Kiss FM style hip hop being pumped over the PA, even feedback sounded better
The atmosphere built – well, sort of. I got given one of those free Clickstick thingys, the plastic thing that looks like a giant tampon and makes a bloody awful clicking noise when you bash the two ends together. You may have seen them. Anyway, I resisted the temptation to blow. The tip off commenced and we were treated to a first half of personal fouls, missed shots and occasional missed passing. In other words, it was crap. Beside me, a group of Oriental teenagers had a placard saying something (I think it was proclaiming how cool #3 was). You would think “what’s the point?”. The point was to come during one of the (many) breaks.
As the pics I took show, the SC has a TV camera, where during a break, it pans to random people on the camera. People react in the following three ways:
The Retard: Wave incessantly at camera like a complete idiot. Applies to 90% of victims
The Show Off: Involves some sort of dancing/comedy routine, which can be entertaining if done well and outright goofy if done not so well.
The Get-That-Fucking-Thing-Away-From-Me: Yes, some Yanks do do this. Trust me, when something similar happened to your humble and esteemed editor at Chicago’s United Center once, it is a guaranteed way of getting the camera off you (HINT: try drinking beer as well)
I’ve heard of crowd involvement but this is ridiculous.
In case you were wondering, the game at HT (after 2 quarters) was 61-47 in favour of the Clippers. I went for some more refreshments, and here’s where it gets a bit annoying. There were some – not many, granted, but some – wearing San Diego Clippers garb. Remember how you feel about seeing Franchise (our usual description) fans in their GIMP shirts? How the hell I resisted the temptation to ask them why they followed a team that moved 2 hours away northwards is beyond me. But then, deja vu travels all too well.
I slunk back to my seat, forgetting that the second half (third quarter) had started. So, worryingly, did many other people. The game itself picked up a little, some good moves and some impressive 3 point shots by the Clippers. But of course, there were the breaks in play, and we were treated to………… the Clippers Spirit Dance Team.
Can’t contain your excitement over them? Don’t worry, most people could. They’re cheerleaders basically, and OK they dance well enough, and you’d probably accept a shag off them (female ones, the male troupers in the ensemble weren’t nearly so appealing), but even that felt slightly second division. The PA guy tried his best, in his ABC Radio type manner, “the loveliest ladies in the NBA”. Quite. It felt like I was watching Franchise.
The game wore on, it was basically one sided to the Clippers, who eventually ran out 106-91 winners. Thing was, nobody was really bothered. The Clippers played well, even though I don’t think they’ll add to their zero championship and zero divisional winnings any time soon. Hell, they even had to resort to We Will Rock You over the PA.
Once the game ended, that was it. The players walked off, the cheerleaders clapped because it was in their contract, people went home like they’d just come back from shopping. That really was that. No buzz, no atmosphere, nothing. I knew I hadn”t wasted my time, but I really did expect more. OK, as I write this the Clippers are 2nd from bottom, and they were playing the bottom team, but in that case, I would expect at least some relief. Maybe that’s what franchising does – I get the feeling that the Clippers could move again tomorrow if/when they finally realise that they’ll always be crap.
I made my way back to my hotel by the airport, observing the lack of Clippers apparel being worn. Although the Clippers have been in LA for close to 20 years, they still look like a bunch of outsiders, watched as opposed to followed, with a permanent sense of looking over their shoulder to see where they’ll be playing next season.
All together now – where have we heard THAT before?