Are the Los Angeles Clippers the New Lakers?
Long-suffering Hollywood supporters of the red and blue, including Penny Marshall and Billy Crystal, are suddenly benefiting from the team's hot surge.
The other L.A. basketball team, those perennially hapless Clippers -- who have netted a mere two winning seasons since moving from San Diego in 1984 -- is hot off a series of early wins during the recently commenced lockout-shortened NBA campaign. Led by four-time all-star guard Chris Paul, who was traded by the New Orleans Hornets in December, the team swept its fellow Staples Center tenant, the Lakers, in an abbreviated two-game preseason. (The two meet for real Jan. 14.) They went on to beat the Portland Trail Blazers on Jan. 1 in a game that saw the 2010-11 NBA Rookie of the Year, power forward Blake Griffin, tally 20 points and 10 rebounds as It girl actress Chloe Grace Moretz cheered. "Omgg sucha crazy … gameee!! So so so closeee!" she tweeted.
"It's exciting. The team was a stepchild for so long," says Penny Marshall, who counts herself part of a tiny contingent of long-suffering but die-hard industry fans.
The Lakers always have boasted an embarrassment of courtside star power, from Leonardo DiCaprio in one of his dark caps to Jack Nicholson grinning widely, but at least until recently Staples Center rolled up its red carpet when the purple and gold made way for the red and blue. The Clippers -- owned by Beverly Hills real estate mogul Donald Sterling -- have been able to count reliably on luring only Billy Crystal, James L. Brooks, Michael Clarke Duncan and Frankie Muniz. (Marshall holds season tickets to both L.A. teams.)
That might be about to change, of course, with the Clippers -- who had the third-worst record in the Western Conference last year at 32-50 -- boasting one of the league's most buzzed-about starting lineups. "I couldn't believe that Chris Paul is actually in a Clippers uniform," says Duncan of first hearing the news. "It's the most amazing thing I've ever seen. Him and Blake Griffin, with guys like [highly regarded center] DeAndre Jordan. It's about time the team got their due. Now it's just up to them to put it all together." (The team, which began as the Buffalo Braves in 1970, moved eight years later to San Diego, where it was renamed for that city's history as a harbor for clipper ships.)
For his part, Brooks -- who bought season tickets when the Clippers arrived in town and describes his veteran fandom as having "some perversity in it" -- is basking in the success. "After decades of misery, it's surreal," he says. "I'm not even on the team, and I'm getting a lot of congratulatory e-mails about what's going on right now."
Adds Muniz: "When you are a Clippers fan -- and I've been a Clippers fan since I was 8 years old -- you have to put up with the fact that every single person gives you crap about it. At least for the next couple of years, I won't have to answer the question of why I'm a fan."
Among the proudest are a quartet of top industry execs who for years have shared four season tickets in the third row, which they divvy up during an annual weekday breakfast at Junior's Deli. "There are a lot of travel schedules to deal with -- Sundance, Berlin," says Sierra Pictures head Nick Meyer, whose fan posse includes FilmDistrict CEO Peter Schlessel, FilmDistrict president of acquisitions and operations Adrian Alperovich and Lionsgate executive vp corporate development and strategy Brian Goldsmith.
So, how are they feeling about this season? "We're cautiously optimistic," says Schlessel, noting the Clippers' long-running "curse" of injured star players. (Most recently, Griffin was sidelined for nearly the entire 2009-10 season with a broken kneecap.) Alperovich, however, is confident: "I fully expect them to make the playoffs."
CLIPPERS LOWLIGHT REEL
- Worst season: 12 wins, 70 losses in 1986-87.
- 15-season playoff drought from 1977 to 1991, an NBA record.
- The injury curse also has hit Bill Walton (out 68 games in 1979-80 with foot ailments) and Norm Nixon (out the entire 1987-88 season with a ruptured Achilles' tendon).
- In 2009, NBA Hall of Famer and former Clippers exec Elgin Baylor filed an employment discrimination suit against Sterling, alleging racist behavior in hiring and payment.
- The top page of Google image results for "Clippers fans" turns up shots of spectators wearing paper bags over their heads.