Jeff Smith 6 p.m., Feb. 27
A Clipper what?
This can NOT be happening. When James Bond said "never say never," I thought he was kidding. Now I'm not so sure.
Against a vow I made decades ago, I'm becoming a fan of the Los Angeles Clippers.
In 1984, I was one of the blithering maniacs eager to form a human shield at the North County line and NEVER allow Donald Sterling back in San Diego. I didn't jab his voodoo doll with pinking shears, though the notion had an appeal.
Why? Because Donald Sterling BETRAYED San Diego. Not just by lying, though he could short circuit a polygraph; because he gave local basketball junkies hope.
Back in the late 70s, I went to as many Clipper games as I could. I cheered when coach Gene Shue put a winning team together (43-39 that first year), mostly from castoffs.
I was there the magical night Lloyd "World B" Free scored 49. He fouled out with maybe two minutes left. But instead of sitting down, he circled the Sports Arena, slapping every hand in the front rows.
He stopped the game, but so what? The refs weren't going to rain on one of San Diego sports' most emotional parades (ranking up there with the first time the wave, after 10 or 15 tries, all begun in centerfield, made it down the third base line and all the way around the Murph in '84).
Sterling bought the team in 1981. The Clips had a few off years, previously, but here was this real estate tycoon with a House Beautiful in Malibu promising to build a lasting franchise in SD.
After failed attempts by the San Diego Rockets and Conquistadors, our love was here to stay.
And serious pro basketball. Sterling promised to pay a player double what other NBA teams would.
He talked the talk, then signed Bill Walton.
But Walton had a lingering injury and often couldn't play. And Sterling began downsizing, trading away obvious talent, including a young Byron Scott, and said in public he wanted the team to finish last, so they'd get the #1 draft pick. The NBA fined him. But not near enough.
He even began talk about moving the team to Los Angeles, even though the Lakers - with Byron Scott drilling trips from deep - were on a roll.
Then the Clippers moved to LA. While others shot Patty Hearst's famous curse at Sterling ("death to the fascist insect!"), Bill Walton, class act, took the blame. He even forgave Sterling for doing business as usual.
So for years Los Angeles has had not only two professional basketball teams, they play in the same ARENA.
Since the "Lake Show'' has become the Lame Show, I did a "Sterling." I broke my vow and began following the Clippers: Chris Paul breaking down every defender, Jamal Crawford the reincarnation of offensive genius George Gervin, Blake Griffin learning how to shoot, and their bench, many ex-Lakers, always injecting verve.
Most of all: watching their eerie innocence. They play as if new to the game, more like a college team than pros with duties sculpted in stone. They sometimes make college mistakes, but share the ball freely. And unlike most of the NBA's mouthpiece-grinding smiles, they genuinely root for each other.
Me a Clipper fan? I guess James Bond was right. "Never" has a shelf-life after all.