Fans Share in New Era at STAPLES Center
By Khalil Garriott
Photo: Varon Panganiban
LOS ANGELES—Forgive Jermaine Williams for using the word “great” a half-dozen times during a 2-minute interview. The longtime Los Angeles Clippers fan hardly could contain his excitement after witnessing the dawning of a new era Monday at Staples Center.
Williams was one of 4,500 fans who flocked to the downtown L.A. arena for the Clippers fan festival, highlighted by the introduction of Steve Ballmer as the team’s new owner. Williams, who has stuck with his favorite NBA team during many forgettable seasons, is excused for relishing in the delight of a fresh start.
“It feels great,” said Williams, a fan of the Clippers since the early 1990s. “Coming out of there, it made me feel comfortable with the whole Clippers staff, coaching and ownership after everything that happened. It just feels like we’re going into a winning situation all around.”
The man of the hour, Ballmer stole the show with no shortage of memorable sound bites, a booming voice turned hoarse and histrionics evident of a lifelong hoops junkie. It’s premature to say he won over the Clippers faithful with his maiden performance, but he sure succeeded in taking a striking first step.
“He seemed really fun and really ready for the team to win,” said Rachel Rodriguez, who attended the festival with her husband and two children. “He’s interacting with the fans and getting us ready. He seems really energetic and excited.”
Rodriguez, who became part of Clipper Nation 17 years ago by way of her Lob City-loving husband, said the event gave the fan base “a lot of energy and happiness, and makes you ready to move on.”
For Orange County resident Addi Nasr, with young son Evan in tow, the drive to L.A. was worth it once he saw first-hand Ballmer’s vision for the team. Nasr has loved the Clippers since the 1986-’87 season—ironically, when the team featuring Michael Cage, Benoit Benjamin and Mike Woodson posted a 12-70 record.
“I’ve taken a lot of abuse from the fans of the other team (in Los Angeles),” he said. “It was an opportunity to meet the new owner and see what he’s got in store for the team. The future looks bright.”
As red- and blue-clad supporters roamed the Staples Center concourse—a rare sight for a Monday afternoon in August—they were given free snacks, photo opportunities with Clippers cheerleaders and information on purchasing ticket packages. A special bonus was the chance to see star players up close. Eight current Clippers sat on stage and three spoke briefly, including All-Star point guard Chris Paul, Williams’ favorite player.
“C.P. is a natural-born leader,” Williams said. “He held it together during the playoffs and what they call ‘the clutter’ (a reference to the previous owner). Seeing him up there, it was just great.”
Williams is one of many Clipper fans who believe Ballmer adroitly can steer the ship heading into next season.
“I actually followed Steve Ballmer when he was with Microsoft,” he said. “The energy that he brings is great, and his enthusiasm and business mindset—everything was definitely right on point. I think he’s definitely the right guy for this team.”
A promotional video of Clippers highlights on the big screen elicited roars from the thousands of fans in attendance. Ballmer took select questions submitted by fans online, and some diehard supporters—including “Clipper Darrell”—were interviewed on camera by media outlets.
“I was shocked,” said coach Doc Rivers, who expected about 100 people to attend. “That was awesome.”
A passionate fan base clamoring to see the new owner came out in droves. Ballmer’s eccentricities—and there are plenty—rubbed Clippers faithful the right way.
“He’s got this aura of enthusiasm,” Nasr said. “He’s such a dynamic personality. If that translates to the players and the staff, it’s only going to bring good things.”
While Williams and Nasr target winning the NBA’s cutthroat Western Conference, Rodriguez buys into Ballmer’s mission of being the last team standing next season.
“I’ve never been to anything like this before, and I felt like it lifted us up and made us more energetic, and ready for the season.
“We’re ready to win, and we’re excited to win the championship,” she said.