Jonathan Rhone stood in the lobby of the Sports Arena, a chef with faith in himself, and in anyone else with the power of positive thinking.
The occasion: a recent game between the visiting Utah Jazz and the Clippers, the Los Angeles basketball team whose reputation as losers is legend--12 wins this season, 67 losses, the worst record in the NBA. Surrounded by friends indifferent to the Clippers' fate, Rhone declared: "They need a chance, and they are going to get it tonight. Miracles do take place."
But in general, the announced crowd of 6,707 at the Sports Arena on a recent Wednesday night had little faith.
"I swear I got these tickets from my company," Jose Matamoros said. He hunched his shoulders and did a mild Rodney Dangerfield double take.
Would he have come otherwise? Matamoros, 27, issued multiple disclaimers: "No-no. No. The Lakers are my team."
Inside the arena, an uncomprehending innocent sat next to her mother. "Jennifer, my name is Jennifer," the 6-year-old said sweetly.
"And this is her first Clippers game, ever," said her mother, Vickie Gehrke, a woman with a wan smile and the anticipation of defeat in her eyes. Of course, that may not have been due to the Clippers. Gehrke had four kids in tow, two of them friends of her children, after a long work day.
"My mom's boss has season tickets," said David Gehrke, 11. "That's why we come."
"I like the Celtics," said his mother, a legal secretary.
And so it went in the search for loyal supporters of the home team.
Incredible. Could one stalwart chef be the only die-hard Clippers fan in the place?
Who is this Rhone? He elaborated: "My name is Jonathan Rhone. I'm 24, a chef for Vista del Mar," a residential child care center in Culver City. "And, I love 'em. What else do you want to know?" He turned to his friends and told them sotto voce: "I know I'm making the paper," then laughed like Falstaff.
Rhone explained his position in another interview days later: "I've been supporting the Clippers faithfully for a year." He is not a Lakers fan. He likes underdogs. "If a person applies himself to something and truly, sincerely works at it, he will achieve his goal." His mother told him so, and he believes it applies to basketball teams as well as individuals.
"My mother instilled in me the importance of (self) motivation," said Rhone, who comes from a family of cooks. She reared him alone. "Not having a true father around 100%, that made me more determined" to succeed, he said. And his mother was determined that he not be drawn to the street life that lured his stepbrothers into trouble.
"There was a difference between us," Rhone continued, "they were into a lot of different violent atmospheres. My mother didn't want me in that. She sent me to private schools, St. Brigid Catholic School and then to Holy Name. Then I went to public school, Washington High on 108th and Denker. It was a good school, yet there were a lot of drugs, violence and gangs in early 1982, though that's changed now. I had a friend who was involved with a lot of the gangs and that put me in the center of it. I had to eliminate him from my life. I went into my own social world."
His mother said, " 'Come and help me in the kitchen,' " he recalled. It was a common suggestion in his family. "My uncle is a professional chef. My grandmother is retired but she was a cook in an elementary school in Louisiana. And I have an auntie," who is a Muslim, "who has a fish restaurant," Rhone said. His mother is a cook for a convalescent home.
Rhone decided to study cooking at Los Angeles Trade-Technical College.
"I just knew I had to study hard and get a good education. I know how very difficult it is for my people to be successful in this world today," said Rhone, who is black. "Look at my mother, she is a professional cook but only gets the minimum wage. That's because of a lack of education courses she should have studied. But she had me at the age of 19 and then dropped out of school. Seeing that, I was determined to graduate. And she really pushed me to do it."
The Clippers, who play their last home game tonight and last game of the season Sunday, may need more than Rhone's faith and push.
"They need to buy some talent," Dan Roman said, sitting high in the bleachers the night of the Clippers-Jazz game. "They score a lot of points. But they always lose."
By half time that night, Clippers' center Benoit Benjamin had scored only two points. The team was playing well, but at half time the Jazz led 63-58. Rhone spotted the reporter he had talked to earlier and shouted: "Believe! There's going to be a miracle."
The Clippers came from behind to win, 111-101, to end their six-game losing streak.
Rhone had his miracle.