Clipper Darrell, known among non-fans as Darrell Bailey, is a superfan that lives and breathes the Los Angeles Clippers. He wears a red and blue suit, drives a red and blue car and lives in a red and blue house. Rarely is there a Clippers game lacking his lighthearted heckling and cheering—in fact, he’s only missed one home game in more than 14 years. He’s not without his share of controversy, however. The Clippers almost put an end to his well-loved shenanigans before loyal players and fans stood up for him to ensure that he’d dance another day. We caught up with the outspoken unofficial mascot of the Clippers to talk about the team’s championship chances, hanging with basketball players and his attempt to buy the team after Donald Sterling’s ban.
BALLnROLL.com: How did Darrell Bailey become Clipper Darrell?
Clipper Darrell: Years ago I got fired from a job and they told me I’d never amount to anything in life. I went home, plopped onto the couch and turned the TV on. Clipper game comes on. They said the same thing about them, how they’d never amount to anything in life. I said, “This is going to be my team.” And after that game, I became a Clippers fan. I started following the team and listening to them on the radio—they didn’t get too much TV time. Once I could actually afford season tickets, that’s when I became a season ticket holder, in 2000 when they acquired Darius Miles. My first game, they played “Are You Ready for This?” by 2 Unlimited, and I got up and started dancing in the aisles. The cameraman put me on camera and played me back in slow motion. The crowd went crazy. Every game from then on, every time they played that song, the cameraman looked at me and I’d get up dancing and having fun. And it went from there.
BnR: How’d your unique look come about?
CD: Every year, I had a jersey on. In the ’05-’06 season, that’s when the suit came about. That’s when the NBA said, “Hey, players: y’all can no longer where jerseys on the bench, y’all going to have to wear suits.” And I said, “Oh, shoot. If the players got to do it, why not the fans?” So that’s when I went downtown and bought me two suits, two shirts, two ties, and took it to the tailor (Santiago, at Eighth and Los Angeles). I went upstairs and I told the tailor, “Hey, can you cut them in half and put them together?” He looked at me like, “Are you trippin’ on me, sir?” I said, “I’m very serious.” That’s what he did, and he’s been my tailor ever since.
BnR: What do you think about bandwagon fans, or fairweather fans that can’t handle the ups and downs of their favourite team?
CD: You know what? I always say the more the merrier. People know know who you are, people know if you’re a bandwagon fan or not. But I think everybody has a little Clipper-itis in their hearts, they just gotta start winning so people to come out!
BnR: Your brand has spilled over into your personal life, and now it’s your identity. What do your employers and significant others think about your Clippers fandom?
CD: Oh, they love it. My kids love it because they get to go to different events with me, they get to meet a lot of different people, a lot of celebrities, a lot of players, stuff like that.
BnR: Do the athletes know who you are?
CD: I host a lot of events with athletes—DeMar DeRozan, to Nick Young, to Blake Griffin, CP3—and I have had interactions with LeBron James, Kobe Bryant. The guys call me by my name, they don’t just say, “Oh, that’s the guy.” They say, “That’s Clipper Darrell!”
BnR: What’s your most memorable moment hanging with players from the NBA?
CD: This is a funny one. It was a couple years ago, and LeBron was still with Cleveland. He’s driving as I’m coming out of the hotel. LeBron—he’s driving up in a Cadillac Escalade—he saw me, so he’s hanging out the window, right? And he’s doing my cheer—”U-G-L-Y you ain’t got no alibi, you ugly!”—he jumps out of the truck and starts doing my dance. It was so hilarious. It was one of those moments you wish you could have filmed. It was a priceless moment. He embraced me, and his manager at the time was like, “We need to bring him out to Cleveland with us!” We started laughing and talking. That was one of my big moments.
BnR: How do you balance regular life and the Clippers, or are they sort of one and the same?
CD: Out of 14 seasons that I’ve been going, I only missed one home game. My whole schedule goes around them. My family knows it. If they’re planning something, they always look at the calendar and they don’t plan it on a day a Clipper game comes on! [laughs]
BnR: If you’ve only missed one game, whatever happened must have been pretty serious. You seem more the come-hell-or-high-water type.
CD: I was having chest pains, and I was in hospital. And I was still trying to get to the game, but the nurse told me, “Dear, you know you can’t leave.”
BnR: Switching gears to the team’s recent play, how’d the team’s recent series win make you feel, and was there a moment in there that you’ll carry with you into the future?
CD: Man, my stomach had butterflies. I was a nervous wreck. It was crazy, but you know what? Clipper Nation came out loud and proud. That arena was rocking. When ‘Homa State came out, I said, “Uh oh, we’re in trouble.” But then, I always say these guys believe in themselves, and they always pull it out at the end. Always. There’s something about the Clippers—the camaraderie this team has and the love and affection that each player has for one another. When could you ever say “Clippers” and “championships” in the same sentence? Now—now we can.
BnR: You bring up camaraderie on the roster, but could you consider the fans a sort of sixth man in the series?
CD: Oh, definitely, man. All races come together, baby. They’re the sixth man and cheer their team onto a victory.
BnR: In the second round, we see the Clippers facing off against the Oklahoma City Thunder and Kevin Durant, the NBA’s newest MVP. How tough of a series is this going to be?
CD: I think the Clippers will beat them in six. It’s going to be hard, but I think it’s going to be four games and two. It’s going to be a battle. I mean, believe me, [the Clippers] went back to the drawing board today [following the Clippers’ 122-105 win over OKC] and they’re doing film sessions. OKC isn’t the kind of team you can hold your head down and say, “We got this.” No. They’re going to come back fighting. But we’re fighters, too.
BnR: Speaking of fighters, Chris Paul had a monster Game 1 at the start of roun two, netting a career-high eight three-pointers. How do you feel about his performance?
CD: Man, I loved it. When you see a person’s hot, just give him the ball. Let him shoot it. Even Blake [Griffin] was setting picks for him, doing whatever it took to keep [Paul] hot. And that’s how you play team basketball. If Blake is hot, give it to him, let him go. When he cold, hey—Jamal Crawford came in and did his thing, J.J. [Reddick] came in and did his thing, DeAndre [Jordan] did his thing.
BnR: In your many years watching the team, how does this game stack up against some of your other noteworthy Clippers memories?
CD: The best game that I’ve ever seen was being a part of Game 7, in the 2006 playoffs. The owner, [Donald Sterling], put me on the team plane, put me up at the Ritz Carlton and had dinner with me and the whole team. That’s any fan’s dream, to be able to do that. To hear what is going on now [referring to Sterling’s alleged racist remarks], it kind of hurt my feelings. I feel like [Sterling] laughed in my face. We broke bread together, we spoke many times after that, and then to find out this? It really bothered me. It still bothers me to the day.
BnR: How are other Clippers fans taking the racist comments Sterling allegedly made, and what’s the general vibe among them?
BnR: Can you tell us more about what happened when the team tried to “fire” you back then?
CD: In 2012, when they acquired Chris Paul, they tried to say that they no longer wanted me to have the name “Clipper Darrell.” I called the president, and the vice president of marketing calls me. He said, “Darrell, how does it benefit us for you to do these interviews?…”—I’ve been doing interviews for years, and suddenly they have a problem?—
“…you always try to represent us.” I said, “Man, you can talk to anybody that interviewed me, and if anybody said that I work for [the Clippers], I confront them. Face to face.”
BnR: So they thought you were trying to act like an official representative?
CD: It was a way for them to try to eliminate me. Chris Paul, DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin all had my back, tweeting out “save Clipper Darrell.” And Chris Paul said, “We got you.” The media was on my side, along with the fans.
BnR: It must have been very touching to receive support back from the guys you’ve been cheering on for so long.
CD: Yeah. It was really hurtful for [the vice president of marketing] to do that, but then to see my players have my back was priceless. It was a priceless moment in my life. You see a tweet saying, “we want Clipper Darrell,” “we’ve got you, Clipper Darrell” from Chris Paul—that meant a lot to me. That’s why to this day those guys mean everything to me, because they’d be happy to do that.
BnR: We see that you started an IndieGoGo campaign to attempt to crowdfund the purchase of the Clippers and put the team into the hands of the fans. Was that a serious petition, or more of a statement?
CD: $600 million is a lot of money, that’s a boatload of money to raise. What I wanted to do is make a point that these fans love the Clippers. I was thinking about how the Green Bay Packers did it—their fans own a portion of the team. Why not the Clipper fans? People say that I’m crazy for doing it, but if you get the proper media attention and you do it the right way, I think it could work out. I could have raised a few million—$600 million? That’s a long way off.
BnR: Unfortunately, you had to close the account due to a technicality.
CD: You know what cheers me up, though? I get love from the whole NBA. Players from other teams show me love, fans from other teams show me love. When I go to other arenas, I’m taking pictures with fans [of others teams]. Oh, you’re Clipper Darrell, can we get a picture? That’s a good feeling. I’m not one of those guys that curses, is boisterous, or whatever. I just like to have fun at the games and get my fans riled up for us to win a game. That’s what I’m all about.
BnR: How else has your fame worked out for you?
CD: I’m a community-based guy, I do a lot of motivational speaking talking to kids a lot, and once a week, sometimes twice a week, I go out with a radio station, Power 106, and help them raise money for schools. Some schools need to buy bleachers for their gyms, so what they do is they run a celebrity basketball game. I go out and get in the crowd and have fun with the cheerleaders there, and [ the fans] get a memorable evening.
BnR: Last question: are the Clippers going all the way this year?
CD: You know what, first of the season, I woke up and said, “This team’s going to be 60-22 in the Western Conference finals.” After the All-Star break, I’ve seen the chemistry. This team is going to go all the way. Yes, we can win it all.