When Shelly Sterling orchestrated the sale of the Los Angeles Clippers to threateningly boisterous ex-Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, she gained a great number of perks. While a record $2 billion purchase price would seem to be its own reward, Sterling also received two courtside seats for every home game, "owner emeritus" status and the quasi-Orwellian, official designation as "Clippers No. 1 Fan." All this for a woman who has a questionable racial history of her own and who sat next to her husband over decades of widely reviled ownership.
The problem with that final perk, apart from the obvious weirdness of naming someone a team's top supporter in a legally binding agreement, is the Clippers already have someone who is widely identified as their No. 1 fan. L.A. resident Darrell Bailey, aka Clipper Darrell, has fanatically supported the franchise through terrible seasons and recent successes alike with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind. In his trademark blue-and-red suit, Darrell leads chants and fan meetups with passion unlike anyone else around the NBA. He's the Clippers No. 1 fan, no matter what official documents say.
However, Darrell is not taking Sterling's challenge poorly. Instead, he's ready to share the title with her. From Ben Bolch for the Los Angeles Times:
“Being anybody’s No. 1 fan is earned, not given,” Bailey said in a phone interview with The Times on Tuesday, when asked about erstwhile owner Shelly Sterling’s self-ascribed designation as “Clippers No. 1 fan” that came as part of her sale of the team to billionaire Steve Ballmer.
“But it doesn’t even bother me, man. If Shelly wants to be the No. 1 fan, I’ve got 40 [Clippers] suits, so I’ll give her one and let’s have a party. I’m willing to share.” [...]
Bailey said he understood Ballmer giving Sterling the title of top fan. “For $2 billion,” Bailey said, “I would have wrote it on there” in the sale agreement. [...]
Bailey said he was thrilled by Ballmer’s introduction Monday at a welcome rally at Staples Center, where the new owner exchanged high-fives, fist bumps and chest bumps with fans.
“People were coming up to me after the [rally] saying, ‘Man, he acts just like you,’ ” said the high-energy Bailey, who is known for wearing half-red, half-blue suits and lilting side to side while yelling, “Let’s go, Clippers, let’s go!” during games.
“For me to have my own owner like a Mark Cuban is fantastic,” Bailey said, referring to the visible and highly proactive Dallas Mavericks boss. “I can see [Ballmer] coming into the stands and doing a ‘Let’s go Clippers!’ chant” during games.
I think we can all agree that an owner climbing into the stands to perform chants with an exuberant man in a blue-and-red suit would be incredible, so here's hoping Ballmer goes through with it. In fact, I think we should as much pressure on him to make it happen. Don't be a party pooper, Steve!
Clipper Darrell's openness to Shelly Sterling is admirable, particularly considering the franchise she was associated with once attempted to break his associations with the team he loves. Yet his act of reaching out is also a sort of challenge to Sterling's worthiness of the title. Even with the official designation, she has to live up to the name. Given the precedent already set by Darrell, she can only live up to it by wearing a ridiculous suit and yelling all game long.
It's your move, Shelly. Do the family name proud.
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