For a long time, Los Angeles has been a Lakers town, but thanks to some of the NBA's brightest young stars, it's now the perennially ridiculed Clippers who have the better record — and much of the city's attention. That's especially gratifying for one die-hard Clippers fan.
Darrell Bailey, better known as "Clipper Darrell," has missed only one Clippers game in the past 11 seasons. "I was in the hospital," he says. "That's the only reason they kept me out."
Bailey drives a car painted in Clippers colors, red and blue. The hood is signed by every member of the team. He says he doesn't have a favorite.
"As long as you wear this red, white and blue uniform, I got love for you," he says.
His house has a mini Clippers court in the backyard. Inside, there's a red and blue living room-turned-shrine for displaying Clippers memorabilia and watching away games.
"You know, there's two places in life I can go that will give me peace of mind — the Clippers game and church," he says.
At a recent game he's dressed — as always — in his signature plus-sized half red, half blue three-piece suit, complete with a half red, half blue tie and one red shoe, one blue.
"It's going down tonight, baby, watch! Lakers-Clippers, baby!" he shouts.
He's walking into Staples Center for "The Battle of L.A." with a loud message for any Lakers fan unfortunate enough to be in earshot: "The Lakers era is over. It's Clipper time!"
It's been a heady couple of weeks for the Clippers and Bailey, after the team signed superstar Chris Paul to join last year's rookie of the year Blake Griffin.
"I don't drink nor smoke," Bailey says, "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."
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 27 years they've been in the city. The year Bailey became a fan, the Clippers won 17 games and lost 65.
"I got fired from a job and a guy told me I'd never amount to anything in life," Bailey remembers. "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.' "
Bailey's fortunes have improved with the team's. He now has a thriving 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 — he attracts attention wherever he goes.
"Clipper Darrell!" exclaims a fan, recognizing Bailey. "You mind if I take a picture of you?"
Bailey has prime seats for the game — five rows up from famous Lakers fan Jack Nicholson, sitting courtside. Not that Bailey needs to be so close; you can easily hear him yelling from the nosebleed section.
"Let's go, Clippers, lets go!" he screams at the top of his lungs.
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.
Some Lakers fans boo Bailey. Others cheer him on. A couple of 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's loyalty finally seems to have been rewarded this season, though not at last Wednesday's game. The Clippers lost a close one to the Lakers, 96-91.
With his voice nearly depleted from a night of yelling at the top of his lungs, Bailey 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, cheering on his team again.
"I'll be ready, baby. It's easy, it's easy."