Photos: Inside The Clippers' Open Practice With The Fans Who Love Them
Since the Los Angeles Clippers moved to L.A. from San Diego in 1984, they've been considered the red (white, and blue)-headed stepchild of the city's sports scene, particularly with basketball fans. The Lakers have won 16 NBA Championships; the Clippers, zero. Why would anyone choose to root for a losing team season after season, when they could easily rally around the longtime golden boys?
These days, that's an easy question to answer: it's because now, the Clippers are far and away the more dominant team in Los Angeles. And LAist recently got an inside look at the team's open practice, where we got to chat with its fervent fans and see the players in action.
The Clippers have made the NBA playoffs every year since the 2011-2012 season, reaching the conference finals three out of four times, while the Lakers have finished last in the Pacific Division for the last two seasons. Plus, the Clippers roster is stacked with some of the best and most exciting players in the league. Do you like slam dunks? Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan are good at them.
But a better team, and better games, has been reflected in the increase in ticket prices. According to the L.A. Times, Clippers tickets are now the most expensive in the league, and longtime fans are being priced out. JoLai Draper, a Clippers season ticket holder, told the Times' Bill Plaschke that in 2010, she paid $34 a game for each of her two seats, but this year, she'll be paying $60 per ticket. "Their prices have nearly doubled, but during that same time, my salary hasn't doubled, so I have to figure out a way to make it work."
But on Wednesday night, the Clippers opened up an hour-long practice to the public, free of charge at USC's Galen Center, before the regular season starts next week. For fans who can't afford to pay hundreds, even thousands of dollars per ticket to sit close enough to get spritzed by secondhand sweat, it's extraordinary access: a behind-the-scenes glimpse into what makes a team. The fact that it was just a practice didn't seem to phase people—if you like basketball, then it's really fun to watch people who are very, very good at it simply play it for what it is.
Jackson Harris, who was decked out in a color-blocked Clippers jumpsuit, has been a fan since the Clippers moved to L.A. in 1984. "My whole apartment is like, Clipper'd out, I spent about $1500 on all kinds of things; I've got the flags, I've got the jerseys," he told LAist. This outfit here cost $150. But dealing with Lakers fans hasn't been easy.
"I always get criticized, they always rub it in my face when they lose. They call them the 'Fakers', or 'Choke City,'" said Harris. "I dealt with it, but now I think they have a chance of winning." Harris' friend Tate, who didn't want to give us last name, was also decked out in Clippers gear admitted that he's a very recent fan, and used to like the Lakers. "I'm pretty much a bandwagoner," he told LAist. "I'll keep it real."
The proximity to the the court and to the players made even the most mundane exercises captivating; the opening stretches and light jogging held the crowd's rapt attention. After a dunk by rookie Brandon Dawson, the routine drills began; layups, passing, rebounding, jump shots. While these drills didn't have the electricity of a monster dunk performed in a packed Staples Center, there was something about watching the routine that was humbling. The weave—a drill that requires three players at a time to simulate a fast-break, passing the ball and "weaving" down the court—was almost hypnotic.
Fans who'd been to one of these open practices said that even though it was a pretty routine practice, it was actually really exciting. And while the hour was definitely punctuated by a few electric moments, especially when the intra-squad scrimmaging began, it was striking how quiet it was. During a game at Staples Center, the arena is juiced up with a constant stream of million-decibel sounds—Top 40, cheers, and programmed clapping—but during the practice, it was so quiet you could easily eavesdrop on the players conversations. As sports fans, we're often exposed to a slice of an athlete's personality via the rote, cliche-ridden post-game interviews, so it was amusing to observe the players' candid conversations; Wesley Johnson seems like a fun guy.
When it came to the crowd's reaction, the vibes were similar to watching neighborhood guys play a pick-up game at a playground court. Instead of a roar you might hear at a packed arena, the crowd's timbre was more of a low ‘Ohhhhhhh!’ whenever a sweet play was made, like this one, in which point guard Jamal Crawford executes a smooth crossover and makes the shot in an "end of game" simulation drill:
Khari, a 9-year-old fan who didn't want to give his last name, was sitting courtside right underneath the hoop in an area normally reserved for TV cameras and photojournalists. He said his favorite player was Blake Griffin (join the club, kid). During the practice, Khari, who was so excited he could barely sit down, constantly called out for Griffin and waved; after one play, Griffin came over to Khari and gave him a fist-bump. Khari flipped out (and I must admit, so did I). It didn't matter that Khari hadn't been watching Griffin rack up a double double, or score a game-winning shot; he got to watch him ball.