LAS VEGAS — Part of the charm of Summer League is the bizarre intimacy baked into the event. With so many lulls in competitive play, the Thomas & Mack Center can quickly bounce between deafening chants for Tacko Fall, and dead air ripe for shouting at the All-Stars sitting courtside. A break in the first quarter of Saturday’s Lakers-Clippers game brought one of those silences, and Darrell Bailey took his shot at The King. He did not miss.
“I’m coming for you, LeBron!” Bailey shouted at James, his voice echoing from across half court to the baseline. James could only shake his head, a wide grin stretching across his face. Clippers head coach Doc Rivers chuckled from the opposite sideline. Signing Kawhi Leonard and simultaneously trading for Paul George will do that to a man tasked with leading their huddles.
The league’s newest superpower naturally dominated the conversation on UNLV’s campus Saturday afternoon. The confluence of both a literal earthquake postponing all of Friday night’s remaining contests in the Thomas & Mack Center and the Clippers’ volcanic late-night transactions created another “Where were you when?” NBA moment. One executive said his staffers were kicked off a craps table for disrupting gameplay with incessant phone use. They were all following the news as it unfolded on Twitter.
Bailey was fast asleep in Los Angeles when former NBA player Tony Farmer, a close friend, began ringing and ringing and ringing his phone. “ I said, what’s wrong?” Bailey told SI.com. “And he told me what happened.” Bailey says over 500 people have since contacted him to celebrate the Clippers’ marquee evening. I felt like I was a player for a second,” he said. “Cheering for the team this long of a time, man, it’s long a dream come true for us.”
Known affectionately as “Clipper Darrell,” Bailey has long served as Los Angeles’ unofficial superfan, prancing and cheering and whooping and hollering from Section 107. He’s had tickets for 26 years. In 2005, when the NBA instituted its business attire dress code, Bailey surmised he should abide by the same rules. “I went downtown and bought two of everything: Two suits, two shirts, two ties and told the tailor to cut ‘em in half and put ‘em together,” Bailey says. Clipper Darrell was born. Each season he accrues two more suits and currently holds around 12 full, half-red, half-blue ensembles in his closet.
Bailey had little basketball experience before adopting the Clippers. He played football and baseball as a child. After dropping out of community college, he cooked at Carl’s Jr., aided children with disabilities, and later was fired from selling devices at a cellphone and pager shop. The boss guilty of his axing offered an explanation that still stung his ears upon tuning into the Clippers’ game later that evening. The broadcast jeered Los Angeles’ downtrodden second team. The Clippers were never expected to compete for anything of substance, just like his former employer discredited Bailey’s own future. Fan and team were simply an underdog match made in heaven.
With Leonard and George, the Clippers’ days as a dark horse are mercifully over. “Championship, baby,” Bailey cooed. “This is the best Clippers team ever assembled. Defensively, you can’t even compare it to no other team. We finally got what we wanted. We got a strong team with a strong defense, a strong offense, that plays as a team, that’s gonna win as a team and lose as a team.” As Los Angeles telegraphed its aggressive pursuit of Leonard all season, Clipper Darrell’s confidence in the front office never wavered. “I believe in Jerry West. I believe in The Logo,” he said. He knew of Leonard’s notable hushed nature, and long saw a seamless fit with LA’s pacified franchise. “It’s just all about telling the people what you expect from ‘em, what they expect from you, you know what I’m saying?” Bailey said. “[Leonard] don’t want his business out in the streets, fine. You see how everything happened. Nobody knew nothing. And PG was a surprise. That was just icing on the cake.”
The cherry on top of that icing, of course: Leanord’s arrival sequentially devastated the Lakers’ own free agency plans. “I’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly, ok?” Bailey said. “To me, we’ve always been second to the Lakers. But now, we can put a dent in the LA market. And I’m happy to hear that. I’m happy to say that.” Clipper Darrell is prepared for an increase in ticket prices and insists that won’t quell his piebald identity. He makes a modest salary as a car broker and now sells advertisement space on his precious suits, like a local fast food restaurant, Tom’s Jr. “I’m just gonna enjoy this high right now, man.” Bailey said. “I don’t drink or smoke, but I’m high off what just happened to this team. I’m gonna take it one game at a time when the playoffs come. I’m gonna have fun with it, man. But once we win a championship, I’m partying for seven days and seven nights.”