He’s Grown Accustomed to Clippers



Pardon my smugness, but after tolerating months of abuse I have, at last, been vindicated.

See that? That’s hubris. That’s what you’re made of when you’re in your 30s. I was in my 30s when I wrote those italicized words in 1987. I was 39, and I’ll tell you something: Back then, everything was a personal challenge, a personal insult. Everything mattered, way out of proportion.

It’s not like that anymore. Now I’m 48, and midlife has blessed me with self-awareness, and I’ve got some preaching to do. Hang with me for a few hundred more words, brothers and sisters, and I’ll explain the differences between your 30s and your 40s. I’ll save you grief and guilt. I’ll save you time and I’ll save you the $24.99 you were going to spend for another one of those self-help texts at Crown Books.

I’m going to put the aging process in a term you can understand:


Those words of triumph up at the top I read to you? That was me, in this very newspaper, expressing my assurance that the Los Angeles Clippers were headed for redemption. I was smug because I had omnipotently turned the fate of a sports franchise into a personal challenge.


I had been taunted savagely for investing in a 14-game Clipper ticket package with my buddy, John. And yet in our second game that fall, we watched with 8,000 others as the Clippers fought back to beat Philadelphia, a team they hadn’t licked in seven years. I knew at that moment, I just knew, the way you do when you’re in your 30s and you know life is yours to conquer, that an unglamorous team playing in the unglamorous Sports Arena was on to something majestic. Destiny, Destiny was my cry, D-E-S-T-I-N-Y. And I shouted it to the world because I felt I owned the world, and it was mine to challenge.

Since then, the Clippers have gone to hell. They’ve broken everybody’s hearts, including mine. They’ve had exactly one winning season and made some of the most disappointing draft choices in history. The cruelest twist, to me, was the fact that their best team had the misfortune of getting into the NBA playoffs the week of the 1992 riots. They had to move a home game from the Sports Arena to Anaheim--where the Clips won, tying their first-round playoff series at 2-2--while the rest of us were, uh, distracted. (Do I need to tell you they lost the fifth and deciding game of that series?) By last year they had fallen back to 17-65. This year they got off to their best start in 20 seasons and promptly sank back into last place.

Now a man could be bitter about all this, especially a man in his 30s, and for a time I was. But age breeds wisdom and wisdom breeds forgiveness (and besides that, my wife got a steady job), so there I was, again the proud owner of . . . a package of Clipper seats. With my buddy, John. Fewer games (six), better location (eight rows behind the visitors’ bench).

Watching them lose.

In this case, blowing a fourth-quarter lead to Washington (their 11th loss in 12 games), with maybe 5,000, tops, in an arena that seats 15,000.

But it was all right.

Losing was all right.

Say it with me now:


Because this, I have finally learned after raging against it so long, is what you need in your 40s, Grasshopper: You need a constant. You need an anchor. You need something you can hold on to in a world in which your software and your modem are outdated the day the check clears and talk stations are the only car radio buttons that make sense anymore and your company’s employee benefit “menu” has more choices than the beer list at Barney’s Beanery and your kid is asking homework questions you can’t answer and the faces of people in your office keep disappearing and 30% of the obits are about people younger than you and--you know what I’m saying? Your 40s are when you have to start getting serious about your sanity as the world’s hoofbeat threatens to overwhelm you. The black cloak of a half-century of life is about to fall and it’s time to think about settling your accounts, figuring out what matters, doubling up the bets you can trust and taking the rest of them off the table. I never liked the mantra “change is good” in the first place, but I was always ashamed to yell what I really felt: “I hate change.”

Until now.

I hate change. I hate change!

And the Clippers, I realize, having fought against this conclusion for so many years, having insisted that the Clippers’ resurrection would parallel the renaissance of a new Los Angeles and silence the Media Elite’s flood/fires/quakes/riot chorus . . . the Clippers, I realize, are my spiritual brothers. Because they apparently hate change, too. They will always be there for me, losing.


I don’t need to win the old battles. I don’t need to make them personal. I need, instead, to go forward with serenity and purpose, to enjoy the flow of inevitable events, the way I enjoy the certainty that smog produces those wonderful red-streaked sunsets.

“It doesn’t matter if they lose,” I told John with a couple minutes left in a recent game and the score, 102-102.

He looked at me like I was nuts.

“I mean, look how close we are to the court,” I said. “The action, man! The feel of the game! That’s what counts. It doesn’t bother me anymore, the idea that the Clips are gonna lose.”

He looked at me again like I was nuts. Of course, he’s only 44.

Tick, tick, tick.