He’s good; just don’t broadcast it
Fasten your seatbelts: Clippers TV announcer Ralph Lawler is about to get a long-overdue honor by having a part of Staples Center named for him.
Lawler has been the voice of the Clippers since the team moved from Buffalo to San Diego in 1978 and has called nearly 2,200 games, the last 1,715 in a row. He has worked with 15 coaches and in five home arenas, seen more bad basketball than any human being should have to endure, and has retained his enthusiasm for the game as a whole and the game he’s describing on a specific day.
He’d be a superstar in any other city but has been overshadowed in Los Angeles by the Dodgers’ Vin Scully, the Lakers’ Chick Hearn and the Kings’ Bob Miller, each a Hall of Famer in his sport.
Staples Center’s press room was named for Hearn, as was the street in front of the box office. The press box was named for Miller, and the broadcast booths on the upper concourse were named last season for Nick Nickson, the Kings’ radio voice.
There’s a Buss Stop lounge, for Lakers principal owner Jerry Buss, and the Cooke’s Corner restaurant in memory of Jack Kent Cooke, who owned the Lakers and Kings but sold them long before Staples Center was a gleam in Philip Anschutz’s eye.
As planned by Tim Leiweke, president and chief executive of AEG -- which owns the arena and a chunk of the Lakers -- Lawler’s name will grace the room where players’ families gather before and after games. Now known as the Green Room, it will become Lawler’s Lounge sometime this season.
Oh me, oh my.
“We were going to dedicate Suite 100 to him because of ‘Lawler’s Law’ about the first team to 100 points winning the game, but we don’t have a suite 100,” Leiweke said Friday. “And we kidded about maybe ‘Lawler’s Latrine’ because we knew he’d like the alliteration.
“We’ve had some great broadcasters here and we wanted to make an equal statement about Ralph, his place in this building and what he’s done for Southern California. We think this is an equal statement to him, with Chick and Bob.”
Lawler, in typical self-deprecating fashion, insisted he doesn’t crave public validation.
“It has never, ever occurred to me,” he said. “I think the Chick Hearn Court outside is positively sensational. The man earned it by longevity and what he meant to the fans in this city.
“Anything else is borderline silly, I think.”
He joked that if something were to be named for him it should be “the Ralph and Jo johns outside the media room,” for him and his wife, Jo. “That’s all I can think of,” he said.
Jo Lawler, who accompanies her husband to nearly every game, agreed that his ego doesn’t need puffing. “I don’t think Ralph is really interested in having anything named after him,” she said.
But it’s very much worth doing, and not only because it would represent the first acknowledgment of the Clippers’ presence in the building.
It’s important to recognize Lawler because he brought as much energy and illumination to the Clippers’ terrible teams as he has during their emergence as a force the last few seasons.
Hearn was the Lakers’ voice for nine NBA championships. Miller has seen the Kings go to the Stanley Cup finals once. For Lawler, the Clippers’ seven-game loss to Phoenix in the Western Conference semifinals last season was the deepest he has seen them go into the playoffs.
“People forget that he’s been doing Clippers games a very long time,” Leiweke said, “and, unlike Chick and Bob, who have highlights and lowlights, Ralph went a very long time with this franchise not being relevant.”
It’s also important to reward Lawler’s insistence that the players and the game are the stars, not him. He couldn’t imagine approaching it any other way.
“People don’t understand, when this club won 12 games or 17 games or 19 games, I was having the time of my life. I mean, I love what I do,” he said.
“I enjoy broadcasting. I enjoy the preparation. I enjoy getting up on game day. I enjoy going to practices. I enjoy talking to the coaches. I enjoy being around the players. I love the buzz in the arena. I get a little lift before each and every game. I just love it. That’s why I do it.”
He has done it through various illnesses and enough bad seasons to discourage a lesser man. His broadcasts were, very often, better than the team’s performances.
“It’s really more of a challenge to do a good job with a bad team,” he said, “and there have been some times that we had a bad basketball team, with the Clippers, and I’ve come out of the game thinking, ‘I really got it done tonight. I gave people a reason to keep watching or keep listening.’
“It’s much easier if you’re playing for a championship or playing for a division title or playing a big playoff game because of the ramifications to it. Much easier. But I love it no matter what. I just think it’s a great way to earn a living and it’s afforded my wife and our kids and me a nice comfortable living, and we can’t wait for the start of the season every year.”
This season is especially worth anticipating, because it’s the one in which Lawler will get his due.