Star wars: Clippers, Paul poised to steal Lakers’ celebrity cachet

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Think Denzel Washington. George Lopez. Dyan Cannon. Jay-Z and Rhianna. Leonardo DiCaprio sitting next to Tobey Maguire.

Everybody wants Laker tickets. Everybody. Even, according to Miss MarshallChris Paul. “I actually sold him two of my Lakers playoff tickets [last spring] so his father and brother could come to a game,” she revealed. “I guess he won’t need that anymore. He is a doll.”

“It’s such cultural cachet,” Ms. Lane said. “A reality star, an established Academy Award winner, you see everybody at a Lakers game. It’s the one place where all of Hollywood mixes and mingles — movie stars, TV stars, rappers, young and old Hollywood.

“All of the Hollywood agents have courtside seats. That’s how they lure new clients in, how they praise clients they already have. It’s the cool thing to do.”

By contrast, the Clippers are the Mets. Second-class sports citizens. Over the course of 33 seasons in San Diego and Los Angeles — the club began as the Buffalo Braves — the Clippers have been to the playoffs all of four times, enjoyed three winning campaigns, drafted epochal busts such as Michael Olowokandi and generally been regarded as a rolling carnival of ineptitude.

Reviled by basketball fans for being tightfisted, team owner Donald Sterling also has embarrassed the NBA by heckling his own players and being accused of housing discrimination and sexual harassment; a decade ago, Sports Illustrated put a photo of three paper bag-wearing Clippers fans on its cover with the caption “The Worst Franchise in Sports History.”

“Sometimes I got to two games in one day, the Clippers in the afternoon and the Lakers in the evening,” said James Goldstein, a Southern California resident and longtime season ticket holder for both teams. “The Clippers seem like a minor-league operation. They have a completely different set of fans, because the tickets are inexpensive versus Lakers games. The upper deck is usually half-filled with children who are given tickets for free. It’s a different atmosphere. You feel it.”

Notable Clippers courtside celebrity regulars? Billy Crystal, 1990s sitcom regular Kadeem Hardison and Frankie Muniz, the former star of “Malcolm in the Middle.” There’s also Miss Marshall, who sits next to the Clippers’ doctor near the team’s bench.

“The years the Clippers were bad, I’d wander,” Ms. Marshall said. “I’d go say hi to the visiting team, then go in the back and lay down in the video crew room to take a nap.”

Game changer

Enter Mr. Paul. A dynamic scorer and playmaker, the 26-year-old is arguably the best point guard in the sport, the only player in NBA history to average more than 20 points and 10 assists in the playoffs.

After Mr. Paul informed New Orleans that he would not re-sign with the club upon becoming a free agent next offseason, the Hornets — currently owned by the NBA and looking for a buyer — arranged to trade him to the Lakers.

Led by commissioner David Stern and reportedly at the behest of small-market team owners who did not want to see Mr. Paul join the Lakers and exacerbate the gap between the NBA’s haves and have-nots, the league office vetoed the trade. The highly unusual move left the Lakers and their fans deeply frustrated while throwing the basketball world into a tizzy.

When Mr. Paul subsequently was dealt to the other tenant of the Staples Center — a move perceived by some as a face-saving move by Mr. Stern — longtime Clippers fan Darrell Bailey was overcome.

“I literally cried, man,” said Mr. Bailey, 43, known in NBA circles as “Clipper Darrell” for his support of the team, which includes attending 386 consecutive Clippers home games and driving around Los Angeles in a tricked-out “Clippermobile.” “It was tears of joy. To get an elite player like Chris Paul, this is fantastic. He’s a game changer.”

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