T.J. SIMERS

Vinny Del Negro's dad is in his corner — on the court and off

Vin Del Negro raised his son to aim higher, and the Clippers coach did his father proud. Anyone have a problem with that?

As homemade gifts go this holiday season, does it get better than this?

"I never, never, ever said this in front of my son before," says Vin Del Negro, his boy Vinny sitting beside him.

"I'm very proud of my son."

It's a few hours before the Clippers will win a record-setting 12th-straight game on his son's watch, and old school is in session.

Vincent Augustine Del Negro names his middle child Vincent Joseph because "there's only one Vincent Augustine," he says. And amen to that.

Vin is now 76, married to Peg for 53 years, and much more easygoing today, he proclaims. And ready to smack anyone who disagrees.

He's explaining a life lived caring but never, never, ever letting on. The bleeps that punctuate his wonderful storytelling are better left unwritten here.

While Vinny doesn't always remember his dad being there, when he's a sixth-grader playing basketball against eighth-graders, his dad sneaks into the back of the gym.

When the kid needs a sponsor for his team, Vin finds an Italian restaurant that can't say no to him.

When Vinny scores 30, Vin wants to know why it isn't 40.

When it's Vinny's job to sweep a barroom floor, finding $1.25 as he does so, Vin wants to know why it isn't $1.50.

"That's what I put on the floor," Vin says.

When the kid is better served attending a boarding school with the rich kids, Vin works harder to make it happen.

The kid gets his number retired at the boarding school, then again at North Carolina State playing for Jim Valvano and finishes as one of the San Antonio Spurs' all-time top 25 players.

"He turns out fantastic, doesn't he?" Vin says. "His mother did a great job."

Now the kid has the Clippers playing better than at any other time in their existence, and Vinny's dad says, "I have to be careful what I say here."

Vinny laughs, because that's not going to happen.

"I'd like to sit down with Mr. Sterling," Vin says. "Everyone is afraid of him, but he's just a person. He's got a lot of money, but big deal. He wants to win and he's lost all these years.

"Now he's got somebody who has changed the culture around here, someone the players like, and Vinny should already have a contract extension of three to four years."

Well said, dad.

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