Even as he nursed insomnia, the Los Angeles Clippers’ most passionate fan still seemed energetic.
Darrell Bailey has become known as “Clipper Darrell” for wearing a team-centric blue and red suit and yelling loud chants during home games since 2000. So after witnessing either franchise embarrassments or underachieving postseasons, Bailey sounded giddy over his favorite team’s unexpected Game 5 win over the Utah Jazz despite missing star Kawhi Leonard with a right knee injury.
“I couldn’t sleep at all. I am just so proud of these guys,” Bailey told USA TODAY Sports. “That’s what coaching is about – adjustments. They made the proper adjustments and guys believed in one another.”
So why shouldn’t Bailey believe in them?
When the Clippers play in a potentially decisive Game 6 on Friday at Staples Center, they will play without Leonard again. Still, the Jazz have listed star guards Donovan Mitchell (right ankle soreness) and Mike Conley (mild hamstring strain) as questionable for Game 6.
After showing they could overcome attrition in a pressure-packed environment in Utah to take a 3-2 series lead, the Clippers will try to do so against before an expected sold-out crowd in L.A. This will mark the first time Staples Center will open at full capacity (18,997) after statewide COVID-19 regulations were lifted on Tuesday.
“It will be the most fun Clippers game in franchise history,” Bailey said. “We are one game away from the Western Conference Finals, where we have never been. Everybody is going to be prepared.”
That includes Bailey, who plans to wear his customary red and blue three-piece suit after usually wearing a red and blue sweatsuit this season to match the coaches’ more casual attire. Bailey also expressed optimism he can cheer from his usual seat behind the visitor’s basket after switching seats this season near the home side because of the arena’s limited capacity.
“Just getting everybody to stay hyped, energetic and positive,” Bailey said. “I just want to give everybody that positive blood.”
With the Lakers losing in the first-round to Phoenix amid injuries to LeBron James and Anthony Davis, Bailey boasted to friends that “the Laker era is over” and that “it’s Clipper time.”
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Bailey hosted a viewing party for Clippers fans for Game 5 at an area bar, and those moments reminded him what he missed from attending Clippers games after the NBA suspended the season on March 10, 2020 because of the coronavirus outbreak.
“It was really hurtful. I cried many nights,” Bailey said. “There are two places I can go in my life and can forget about all of my problems. One is church and the second is the Clippers game. To have both taken away from me was very hurtful.”
Bailey suffered financially because of the pandemic. He said he “took a large hit” with losing his job as a car broker as well as reduced sponsors for his radio show and public events related to his Clippers fandom. Bailey also struggled emotionally when the NBA resumed last summer in a quarantined campus without fans.
“To watch them in the bubble and not be there to cheer them on, I couldn’t do nothing,” Bailey said. “I would’ve loved to get in that bubble.”
To maintain his connection with both the Clippers and their fanbase during the season restart, Bailey hosted viewing parties through the HotMic app. But Bailey strongly believes the Clippers may not have squandered a 3-1 series lead to Denver if he and other Clippers fans could have attended games.
As it has often played out in NBA history, the Clippers misfortunes coincided with the Lakers’ success. Bailey said that rappers Snoop Dogg, Ice Cube and Problem teased him after the Lakers tied the Boston Celtics for the most NBA championships (17). Bailey also wore Lakers gear and yelled out Lakers’ chants after losing a bet with hosts of an L.A. radio station that they would not win the NBA title.
Therefore, Bailey approved of the Clippers parting ways with Doc Rivers and promoting assistant coach Tyronn Lue. He coached the Cleveland Cavaliers and LeBron James when they won the 2016 NBA championship after overcoming a 3-1 Finals deficit to Golden State.
So when Bailey ran into Lue at a local barbershop shortly after the Clippers’ season-opening win against the Lakers, Bailey admittedly felt tempted to hug him. Instead, Bailey followed social-distancing rules and thanked him from afar.
“I greatly appreciate you,” Bailey recalled telling Lue. “You know how good that makes me feel to beat the Lakers.”
Bailey said he hardly felt comfortable initially going to Clippers games when Staples Center opened to a limited number of fans beginning on April 18.
He missed the first two Clippers home games amid concerns with both the virus spread and the various restrictions. But his concerns eased after talking to doctors that assured him he would be okay so long as he wore his mask, used hand sanitizer and maintained his distance from fans that wanted to take pictures with him.
Bailey said he has not yet received the COVID-19 vaccine, but said he has become increasingly open toward doing so soon. Nonetheless, Staples Center requires either fans to offer vaccination proof or a negative COVID-19 test taken within three days before entering the arena. They also have to wear masks and cannot eat or drink when they are at their seats.
“It’s hard for me to cheer because I have this mask on,” Bailey said. “I started getting headaches because you’re breathing in your own oxygen. So I just do a lot of clapping.”
Bailey has done that also to offset the reduced number of fans. During the Clippers’ previous playoff games Staples Center hosted about 8,000 fans, while featuring cardboard cutouts in empty seats.
For Game 6, though, Bailey expects a full arena with the Clippers determined to make history.
“We always had fighters throughout the Clippers history. We always had been a franchise that never gave up,” Bailey said. “Now we have a championship coach that pushed and is not afraid to make an adjustment. We have a complete team. I know we’re missing Kawhi, but I think we can do it. I really do.”
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