A Clippers fan 'til the end -- almost
'Clipper Darrell' has become a Staples Center icon, attending almost every game
Former electrician is seen dancing at games in his customized Clipper-colored suit
Calls Clippers owner Donald Sterling a good man, but he won't support him blindly
Darrell Bailey had just been fired from his job as an electrician when he arrived home and turned on the television. Still in daze after he was told that he would he would "never amount to anything" by his boss, he heard a similar rant being echoed about the team playing on TV.
"I was at home feeling sorry for myself after getting fired," Bailey said. "Then I heard some announcer saying the same thing about the Clippers -- how they would never amount to anything and how horrible they were. That's when I said this is going to be my team and we're going to rise together."
That was about 15 years ago. Since then Bailey has transformed himself into "Clipper Darrell," a red-and-blue-suited dancing machine who has attended 340 consecutive Clippers games and counting.
It isn't hard to spot Bailey, 41, during Clippers games. While his ticket stub may claim that he sits in section 107, row 9, seat 21, Bailey can usually be spotted standing and dancing in the aisles next to his seat, chanting, "Let's go Clippers!" or, his personal favorite, when an opposing player steps to the free-throw line, "U-G-L-Y, you ain't got no alibi, you ugly!"
Now, normally a rabid fan wouldn't be such a novelty for a team, but when you're the Clippers and you advertise the opposition's best players in attempts to sell tickets and play second fiddle to the Lakers in your own building, this type of fan isn't just rare, it's unprecedented.
While Bailey has been a Clippers fan for more than 15 years, he has only been a season ticket holder since the 2000-01 season, explaining, "It's hard to get season tickets when you're out of work."
Bailey can't recall the first time he saw himself on the JumboTron at Staples Center. It near the end of his first season as a season-ticket holder and he loved seeing himself dance around in his Clippers jersey as the crowd cheered. "I remember they were playing my song, Get Ready for This by 2 Unlimited, and I had to get up and dance," said Bailey. "So they showed me and played it back in slow motion and the fans went crazy and they kept showing me at every game and it became tradition."
After a few radio appearances, Bailey, originally known by fans as "Dancing Man," became known as "Clipper Darrell" and was no longer simply some unknown crazed fan but a household name not only to fans but also to Clippers players and executives.
"The passion and commitment that he shows is amazing. He's there for every game," Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy said. "He does an amazing job of leading our crowd and keeping them in games. You don't see to many guys like that in the NBA."
The highlight of Bailey's fandom came just before the Clippers faced the Suns in Game 7 of the Western Conference Semifinals in 2006. He drove to LAX to see the Clippers off, simply hoping to shake a few hands before the team bordered their charter to Phoenix. Instead, Clippers owner Donald Sterling went over to Bailey, shook his hand and said, "Hi, I'm Donald, how would you like to ride with the team to the game?"
"I didn't have a place to stay so I wasn't sure what I was doing," said Bailey. "When we got there, Mr. Sterling said he had a room for me and invited me to a steak dinner at Morton's. I know what people say, but he's a good man. That was the best thing that ever happened to me."
While the Clippers lost to the Suns, ending their most successful season ever, Bailey redoubled his devotion to the Clippers in the offseason. He had already started wearing a custom-made suit, half red, half blue. "I got it in 2005 after the NBA said players had to dress up for games, so I said why not the fans?" he said.
After the '06 season, however, Bailey, who now owns a car-customizing service, took it a step further and customized a 1995 BMW 740i, turning it into the ultimate Clippermobile, painted in red, white and blue from the outside to the leather interior, with a Clippers logo and autographs on the hood and "CLIPERD" license plates.
"I would say that I get about 80 percent that wave and honk their horns saying right on," said Bailey, who spent about $13,500 customizing his car. "The other 20 percent are people that want to disrespect it, giving me the middle finger or the L sign. I get it. It's a Laker town."
Even Bailey's Los Angeles home, where he lives with his wife and four children, is painted in honor of the Clippers with a red, white and blue basketball court in the driveway with a Clippers logo plastered on the pavement. The front door is red and the living room is white and blue with Clippers logos plastered everywhere from the wall to the floor tiles.
"He probably would bleed red, white and blue," said Clippers forward Brian Skinner. "He's always been there no matter what. I've never seen a die-hard fan like that. You pick and chose your teams and he chose us and has stayed loyal."
Bailey's dedication to the Clippers has even caught the attention of opposing teams. Bailey says he's had the likes of Kobe Bryant and Denzel Washington greet him by name. But his most memorable interaction with the opposition came when Mavericks owner Mark Cuban offered him a job last year, a courting process that led to Cuban flying Bailey out to Dallas, giving him a tour of the facility before deciding that Clipper Darrell becoming Maverick Darrell would be as wrong as seeing Cuban root for the Clippers.
"Just to have a billionaire acknowledge me and offer me a job was an honor," said Bailey. "They're first-class, but Clipper Nation made me who I am and I could never work for someone and be a fan. I already worked for someone who controlled my life and I never want that again."
Bailey may be a Clippers fan until the end, but he won't blindly support the direction of the team after they trudged through what he calls the most disappointing season he can remember as a fan. As the Clippers were getting blown out by the San Antonio Spurs and Memphis Grizzlies late in the season, he could clearly be heard adding new chant to his new arsenal, "Fire Dunleavy! Fire Dunleavy!"
Even "Clipper Darrell," it seems, has his breaking point when it comes to the most infamous franchise in sports.