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CHRIS ERSKINE

The Clippers can help you kill a couple of hours

And though they often perform in the shadow of the Sparks, they are inarguably one of L.A.'s top four or five basketball teams.

February 26, 2009|CHRIS ERSKINE

If you're ever able to snag a ticket, I highly recommend a Clippers game. They play almost weekly at Staples Center, and though they often perform in the shadow of the Sparks, they are inarguably one of L.A.'s top four or five basketball operations.

Yes, you can totally enjoy a Clippers game. Here's how:

Arrive early. I recommend five to 10 minutes before tipoff, to absorb the atmosphere and locate your seat. Often, there are many to choose from.

Come hungry. The Clippers feature a slightly salty traditional California cuisine: hot dogs, popcorn and soft drinks. The food is good, hearty, American fare. A little heavy and full of fat? No prob. I make a mental note to get my colon scoped on the way home.

Adopt a Clipper. This is a large part of making the best of a challenging season. So adopt a Clipper, shout out encouragement, pass him notes at the half. "Dear Mr. Davis, you are not making the most of the right side of the court." Or, "Dear Mr. Camby, you have the wingspan of the Spruce Goose. If you could just raise your arms a little on defense. . . . " Stuff like that.

And, finally, acknowledge that the Clippers are the Chicago Cubs of the NBA, a team of failed hopes and chronic frustration. Many of their disappointments are self-inflicted. Others are the byproduct of a beloved but cursed brand.

Hey, any team can have a bad forever.

The other night, we caught a Clippers game. The Warriors of Golden State were in town, coached by Don Nelson, a cotton-topped, NBA version of Tip O'Neill. Nellie never appears happy. As the game begins, he looks like a guy who just accidentally ate an encyclopedia.

"Go Warriors!" a fan shouts.

Indeed, Clippers fans seem to be outnumbered at first, and when the teams are introduced, a cheering contest between the two sets of fans is at best a draw. Then the game starts, and the Clippers set the tempo.

Baron Davis finds a seam and cuts to the basket for a fine left-handed layup. Next possession, he comes down and tosses the ball to a guy in the second row.

Poor Mike Dunleavy. Those Irish eyes aren't smiling. Dunleavy is one of those tightly rolled old school coaches, paternalistic and controlling, and I expect him to bolt out onto the court and Woody Hayes some player. Might be an opponent. More likely, it'll be one of his own guys.

He calls timeout. The Warriors score again. He grimaces, as if someone just retracted his spleen. His team fails to respond.

Here's the thing. Unlike the Lakers, the Clippers don't seem to bother with a lot of passing or movement without the ball. A Clipper understands that you don't get points for passing or running around like an idiot. You get points for scoring.

Still, in the middle of the first quarter, the Clippers go several minutes without a point.

Now, I have a soft spot -- actually, I have a lot of soft spots, the result of careless eating and a lazy thyroid -- but I have a particular soft spot for teams trying to dig their way out of a hole.

So by the end of the first quarter, I've begun several visualization techniques to try to "will" the ball into the basket for the Clippers. It works.

By halftime, the Clippers have regained their scoring mojo and lead this defensive gem, 275-273.

Hyperbole is overrated, as they say, but it's difficult to overstate the appeal of a Clippers game.

In the third quarter, weird but interesting things are really beginning to happen. When the Clippers have the ball, I seem to slip in and out of consciousness. I'm either very tired or suffering some sort of nacho-related blood disease.

"Beat L.A.!" I mutter and fortunately no one seems to hear.

Meanwhile, the refs have stopped the game to determine, I think, whether to declare bankruptcy. No wait, it's something about a foul. One shot or two? Three shots or four?

There's nothing like watching NBA refs at work -- small men in Sansabelt slacks. If they have hair, it's oil-slicked, like the Fonz. They might be the oddest authority figures in America.

Fortunately, when action resumes, the crowd is still into it. You've got to hand it to Clippers fans. They are not as stylish, perhaps, as Lakers fans, but they seem more appreciative of the experience.

You get more for your money at a Clippers game: cheaper parking, better seats. There are more families at Clippers games. Dyan Cannon is less likely to step on your toes and forget to apologize.

And, on this particular night, you get the amazing Philip Parks.

Up in Section 102, Parks is dancing like there's no tomorrow. During breaks in the game, he quivers and jolts, as if defibrillated. He started the game in a suit and tie and as the game progresses, he loses the suit and dons a T-shirt and cape.

I figure him for just another stockbroker going off the deep end.

Turns out, he is hired to pimp a real estate outfit, Westside Rentals, at sporting events around Southern California. He ends the game all sweaty and exhilarated, a fitting symbol for Clippers fans, who walk away this night with a well-earned win.

"I'm a staple at the Staples Center," Parks says while standing in the street at Figueroa and 11th in his cape, chatting up the fans.

When I last saw him, he was yelling at a bus.

--

chris.erskine@latimes.com

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