Feeling all the feelings at Staples Center

LA ClippersKawhi Leonard (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
LA ClippersKawhi Leonard (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /

With the LA Clippers returning to Staples Center for the first time since acquiring Paul George and Kawhi Leonard, everything finally set in for fans.

So picture this. It’s mid-October on a typically beautiful Southern California night at the Staples Center, the first time in nearly six months that ball is in session.

It’s a time out during the fourth quarter. The score doesn’t really matter. The LA Clippers players’ are standing, some in warm-ups and some in uniforms, gathered around Doc Rivers and Sam Cassell, and now Ty Lue as well, going over Xs and Os on a small whiteboard. The fans are mugging on the DanceCam to Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance with Somebody”, dancing and singing along with the lyrics, hoping to spot themselves on the big screen. You look over toward the players and notice one very tall fan also singing along and bouncing to the beat.  Paul George.  In Clipper’s warm-ups. Singing. Let that sink in. In a night filled with firsts, bursting with emotional moments, PG13 is singing on our home court.

What a crescendo to an epic night filled with unique moments. As a Clippers fan since 1984, I am familiar with unique Clippers moments, and let’s be real, not all of them happy. So I looked upon this game with great anticipation, the first home preseason game of the 2019-2020 season.   And it did not disappoint.

Let’s start with the obvious highlight—despite information that seemed to change by the moment, Kawhi Leonard made his debut as a Clipper. The atmosphere was as electric as I’ve ever experienced. The building filled up early, an anomaly in and of itself for an LA crowd that tends to casually arrive sometime during the first quarter. Everyone wanted to see it with their own eyes, Kawhi on the floor pregame, running drills and taking shots. Even seeing it, it still didn’t quite sink in. Then the arena gets dark, we get the premiere of the new pregame hype video, stunning video of the new-look Clippers, fans cheering along with every word. It’s still a little hard to process seeing Kawhi, PG13, McGruder, Harkless, all fierce in their Clippers swag. The announcer’s voice booms through the starting lineup….a A little unconventional, Lou Williams is starting, but hey, it’s the preseason. The anticipation builds. The crowd on its feet as one. The cheering so deafening I’m straining to make out the words of the announcement we’ve all been waiting to hear. And then it starts….” in his eighth year, from San Diego State…..” The crowd goes wild. My goosebumps have goosebumps.  I’m not crying, you’re crying.  And Kawhi does not disappoint. Within a few seconds of the opening tip, Kawhi fed JaMychal Green for a wide-open three, and moments later scored his first points in a Clipper uniform with a steal, drive and deep pull up three.  Bingo!

It was a night full of emotions, replete with new surprises as well as the comforting feeling of being back with the Clippers family.  Seeing our team on the new court design, black Clippers logo on the center,  heretofore only glimpsed on images leaked ahead of the debut. Marveling at the apparently seamless fit of Terance Mann, feeling the new fierceness of Ivica Zubac at the rim, continuing to grow the love for Landry Shamet. Even in a preseason game that really only resembled an NBA game for the first half, most of the fans stayed late into the contest, enjoying Johnathan Motley, Patrick Patterson, Amir Coffey, and Derrick Walton Jr.,  a player who I admit I’d never heard of before last night, but I’m a fan now.

And for many of us, an annual reunion with the fanbase with whom we’ve spent the better part of 35 years. I have the privilege of attending the games with my 91-year-old dad, who ferociously attempts to help Doc with the game plan and call time outs from the stands when he thinks we need a change in the flow of energy. I’m surrounded by fans who have become family, the five-year-old sitting behind me, photobombing my selfies, celebrating his birthday in the seats that his grandparents first bought more than thirty years ago.  And meeting new friends, like Logan Rapp, my co-Clipperholics contributor, who joined us for the game and shared the moment we will relive forever when Kawhi walked out onto the new court for the first time.

Sometimes I wonder why Clippers basketball is such a force in my life. I mean, after all, it is just a game, right? These thoughts arise most often when I’m making the 11-mile drive from the westside of LA to the Staples Center that often takes more than 90 minutes. Let that sink in for a moment. And then I get to the arena.  Last night while waiting to meet up with my dad, I saw a little boy, maybe four years old, walking in with his mom, both in Clippers jerseys. He was so excited, he told me that his dad is a Lakers fan but he and his mom love the fun team, the Clippers. I told him he was a very smart man. He and his mom went inside, my dad arrived, we made our way to our seats, we reconnected with our ushers who have become friends, and the fans around us with whom we have traveled this decades-long journey.

Next. What we learned from the LA Clippers' preseason home opener. dark

I forgot about the traffic, hugged old friends, and felt the familiar camaraderie of the Clippers experience. Except for this time, this game, was unique, a little more electric, the feelings more acute. Regardless of what the months and years ahead may hold, October 10 will always be one for the books. Kawhi came home. Paul George sang and danced. The moments we will remember.