Clippers fan Clipper Darrell cheers on his team during a game against the… (Andrew D. Bernstein / NBAE…)
Three decades ago, the Lakers had an unofficial mascot who got too big for his tuxedo.
He was an entertaining fan who became so popular, he eventually wanted money to continue being that fan. The Lakers tried paying him but couldn't pay him enough to keep him happy, so he stopped coming to games and eventually faded into anonymity.
Remember Dancing Barry?
He's about to be joined by Clipper Darrell.
The Clippers' unofficial cheerleader, the rotund dancing guy in a red and blue suit named Darrell Bailey, caused a stir this week when he issued a statement on his website claiming that the Clippers, "no longer want me to be Clipper Darrell.… I am devastated!"
In later interviews with several media outlets, he explained that the Clippers were cutting him loose because they didn't want him representing the team with advertisers or in the community without their approval.
"I felt powerless as a fan, as I was stripped of my identity," he wrote.
The Clippers then issued a statement calling his claims "absurd" and noting that they were concerned only with his "inappropriate use of the Clipper team name and trademark for his own unmonitored commercial gain."
It is Joe Fan versus Donald T. Sterling. It is lovable die-hard versus soulless corporation. Guess whose side everyone has taken?
The Clippers, as expected, have been pounded from here to the house that Clipper Darrell has painted in team colors. Folks used to ripping the team for past mistakes — yet stifled during this wondrous season — have happily resumed their catcalls, tearing into them for being arrogant, classless and just plain mean. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin have tweeted their support. One colleague even likened the Clippers to the overweight guy who loses 50 pounds and promptly dumps his girlfriend.
Really? Do we seriously need to go here? I hesitate to give even more publicity to a guy who is insulting the enduring grace of truly longtime Clippers fans by trying to become their paid spokesman, but enough is enough. Anybody who has been around the Clippers for the last few years knows the true story here, and no amount of timeout dancing can hide it.
First, the Clippers love having Darrell Bailey at their games. They love him so much, for the last couple of years they've given him a free ticket. Yes, while many others in the building are shelling out thousands for the hottest show in town, Bailey is given a prime lower-bowl spot for free.
The Clippers love that he performs at the games. They don't want him to stop his dancing. They don't want him to tone down his support. They appreciate that he has been a season-ticket holder for a dozen years, and they would be happy to have him show up at every home game and lead Clippers cheers forever.
"We love him in the arena, fans love him in the arena, everybody loves his energy and his passion," said Carl Lahr, longtime Clippers vice president of marketing and sales.
The problem is, Darrell Bailey also wants to represent the Clippers outside the arena. He wants to make paid public appearances on behalf of the Clippers and give interviews as a Clippers spokesman and essentially turn his rooting interest into a business interest.
Amazingly, the Clippers don't have a problem with that either. Although most teams would sue any fan who tried to capitalize on their name, the Clippers told Bailey they would not stop him from representing them, but would simply insist that he follow the same rules that apply to every other employee.
"Like any company, we would need control over him and his message," Lahr said. "He is using our name and our colors, and we would like control over how that is done."
Bailey, who did not return phone calls for this story, reportedly felt like this attempt at control was too stifling. So last week in a phone call with Lahr, he offered to stop being Clipper Darrell. Lahr told him that might be a good idea, but that he should think about it. Bailey never phoned back, and then Wednesday afternoon issued the statement on his website, stunning a Clippers organization that thought he was being treated fairly.
"Somewhere along the line, he stopped being a super fan and became a marketer," Lahr said. "He got to the point where he wanted this to be a commercial enterprise."
The Clippers say they actually offered their cheerleader a chance to be treated exactly like a Clippers cheerleader, with a $70 nightly salary but no unsanctioned interviews or appearances, and he refused.
"He's a really good person, but he told us he's in this to make money," Lahr said. "Once that happens, that changes the whole fan dynamic."
Everyone who believes this conflict would have never arisen if the Clippers had not become a hot ticket should realize the team has been having these discussions with Bailey for five years.
And everyone who thinks Bailey is simply a Clippers "fan" should understand that several years ago, he says, he flew to Dallas to explore Mark Cuban's offer that he become a Mavericks "fan."