Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Christmahanakwanzika with the Clippers 

Posted by Sasha at 2:16 PM ET

I went to a Clippers game a couple of days before Xmas and watched them get stomped by the Raptors. It was a dismal end, but the Clippers’ Spirit Dance Team and Fan Patrol were on hand to provide some badly-needed cheer. I took lots of photos, though, which I’ve uploaded to my gallery on flickr for your viewing pleasure.

This was the last home game before Christmas, so there was lots of holiday action on tap. The Clippers Spirit wore their holiday best. There were 12 dancers on deck: Shannon, Melissa, Chelsea, Lynae, Nicole, Nikki, Teresa, Jacqueline, Recee, Brilane, Brittany, and Whitney. Lauren, Ashley, Harmony, and Jessie had the night off. (If I eavesdropped correctly, the rotation is such that each girl has every 4th game off. I suspect however, that there are plenty of exceptions to that rule.)

When I arrived at the Staples Center, the girls were getting ready for the game and discussing the plan for the evening. I noticed right away that there was a lot less luggage in the room than usual. Usually there are at least 12 people-sized suitcases lying around the room, so their absence was conspicuous.

Not to rehash a subject I mention every time I go to one of the games, but those girls really do haul a lot of stuff around. I don’t know if they’re required to bring every single costume to every single game, but it sure looks like it. Last time, I was looking at one girl’s stuff and she had SIX pairs of shoes. Four pairs of sneakers (three of them white), one pair of boots, and the street shoes she was wearing when she walked in the door. Granted, they usually have a costume change for each dance, but do they really need that many pairs of shoes? Really?

For this particular game, the ladies were wearing their holiday costumes all night, so they there was a lot less stuff in the dressing room. (Only THREE pairs of shoes this time.) I’ll talk about the holiday couture in a minute, but the point I’m trying to make is there seemed to be a lot more empty space in the room than usual.

Shortly after I arrived, it was time for pregame rehearsal. I headed out on the court with everyone else and as usual, there was a lot going, with the Clippers, the Raptors, the National Anthem singer, the dance team, and the stunt team all engaged in various activities.

On a side note, before I started going to these games, it never occurred to me that both basketball teams would be on the court at the same time, practicing before the game. I thought they’d keep them in separate corners like a boxing match. I was excited when I found out everyone was going to be out there at the same time. I was expecting some entertaining trash talk. As it turns out, the teams pretty much ignore each other. It was kind of disappointing actually. You’d think at least one of those guys would talk smack about somebody else’s mama.

Anywho, everyone was out there on the court. This part of the evening is usually when I figure out my plan of attack. It is also the scariest part of the day because if I’m ever going to get trampled by a bunch of basketballers, this is when and where it will happen. Those guys go careening all over the place and I just know that one of these days, I’ll be in the wrong place at the wrong time and one of them will fall on me or kick me in the head.

I didn’t realize it, but one of the Raptors guys was doing wind sprints along the side of the court, and it was only by the grace of God that I didn’t get flattened like a pizza. (The grace of God - and a heads-up from a helpful bystander.)

I went up in the stands to take this photo so you can see what this all looks like. It doesn’t look so bad here, but the thing is, all of these people are in constant motion, the music is cranked up, and there are basketballs flying everywhere. The only people who stay in one spot put for any length of time are the Fan Patrolers, and they’re busy throwing each other up in the air like they’re launching rockets for NASA.

So I’m walking around checking out what’s doing with all of my people. The dance team was first out on center court. The team had reworked some of their choreography to fit holiday music, so they needed to do a few run-throughs to polish everything up.

It’s fun to watch them rehearse. Most of them are wearing the serious CONCENTRATION face. There’s not much time so there’s minimal fun and games here. Notice, I said “most” of them. You rarely see CONCENTRATION face on Melissa. Or Teresa. They’ve both got the “WOO! I’M DANCING!!” face on. It’s that same face you get when you’re little and you’re all “Mommy, I did a cartwheel, did you see? Look I’m doing it again – are you watching?” So cute, those two. (And I mean that in a totally complimentary, completely non-patronizing way.)

It’s so interesting to watch these girls rehearse and perform. You have to have the X factor to get on this team in the first place, but some of the girls hide it and act all quiet until the music turns on, and then it’s like BAM! In your face! (I’m pointing at you, Lynae.)

They went through all of the routines scheduled for the evening, first a walkthrough to set the formation, then a couple times with music. (FYI: If anyone ever needs me to step in on “Devil With a Blue Dress" just let me know. I’ve memorized the first 4 counts, the last 4 counts, and a good 4 or 8 counts in the middle. I could freestyle the rest if I had to.)

At one point, I turned around to see what the Fan Patrol was up to, and I saw this going on:

I don’t think you can fully appreciate it from the photo, but that’s Nina doing a handstand. The girl is upside down. In the air. While balanced on two other people. Who were in turn balanced on two other people.

And here’s Katie doing a somersaulty kind of thing over the top of those two girls.

It makes me wonder how any of these women survived into adulthood, given the complete lack of concern for their own physical well-being. And the same goes for the guys. I bet every single one of them has taken and accidental kick in the head and/or an elbow to the jaw. No one escapes the human jungle gym unscathed.

I am trying to think how much you would have to pay me to try one of those stunts, and I can’t come up with a number big enough.

After rehearsal, everyone went back to the dressing room to prep for the game. Three of the girls, Shannon, Whitney, and Nikki, had been asked to do a video promo for a special Clippers game on March 2nd. That evening has been selected as a salute to the Los Angeles Fire Dept: “LAFD Night with the Clippers." There will be special discounts and prizes for fire fighters, with a percentage of ticket proceeds to benefit the Widows, Orphans, and Disabled Firemen’s Fund.

Why were Shannon, Whitney, and Nikki selected for this? I don’t know. Someone explained to me it’s because they’re all school teachers. I’m not exactly sure what that has to do with firefighters. The three of them teach elementary school. Shannon and Nikki teach kindergarten, and Whitney teaches 4th grade. (Not that she’s much bigger than a 4th grader…)

Nikki, Whitney, and Shannon

Shannon told me a little bit about the holiday hijinks going on in her classroom. One situation involved a 5 year old, a Santa costume, and double-stick tape, and it just made me wonder about her.

Nikki also gave me the scoop on her situation. She started out as a long-term substitute at her school, but all the female teachers there keep getting pregnant and going out for maternity leave, so I don’t think she’s going anywhere any time soon. If I were her, I think I’d want to know why everyone’s having babies all of a sudden.

Aside from those three, Brilane also has school-teacher aspirations. She announced that she just passed a test for some sort of teaching credential thing, which sounded pretty important. I didn’t really know what she was talking about but hey – Congratulations! You go girl!

Someone came to fetch Shannon, Nikki, and Whitney for filming, and I just sort of…followed them out the door. (I’ve taken to inserting myself into just about everything that’s going on. Anybody leaves the room, I’m right behind them. I try to do it kind of sneaky-like though. )

The girls had memorized their script for the promo, divvied up the parts, and rehearsed them on the way upstairs. They had it down except for the last line, which they had to say in unison:

We CAN’T wait to see you at the game!!
We can’t WAIT to see you at the game!!
We can’t wait to see you at the GAME!!

Ok, there’s a game. You can’t wait. We get it already.

We went over the river and through the woods to a room at the tippy top of the Staples Center. Everything was ready to go: two video cameras, a couple big lights, and one of those big furry microphone things that look like a ferret on a stick.

The taping only took about 10 minutes. The girls handled it like pros. Even though afterward, not one of them could remember what she’d just said.

Whenever the videographer spoke to those three, he addressed them as “girl on the left" and “the one in the middle," like he was positioning mannequins in a store window. It was kind of weird.

Speaking of weird. At one point, the director lady turned to me and asked “Sooo….are you with the Clippers?" Why is it that whenever I get asked this question, I never have a good answer?

I must have answered her, but I have no memory of what I said. I’m sure whatever it was sounded really lame.

And then Shannon chimed in with “She’s our biggest fan." Which is not untrue. I am in fact the founder, CEO, and President of the Clippers Spirit Fan Club. But is it me, or does that sound kind of…off?

…Like I have a shoebox of Clippers Spirit sock puppets under my bed and I talk to them and we have tea parties and stuff.

…Like I have their photos, posters, empty coffee cups, food wrappers, and broken shoe strings proudly displayed in a glass case in my living room.

…Like I celebrate the girls’ birthdays with ice cream and cake. At home. By myself.

This is a little worrying and requires some thought. I need to come up with a title for myself. Something that doesn’t make me sound like an obsessed nutcase. Next time, I’m going to say I’m a roadie or somebody’s cousin or something.

Ok, so after the filming, we went back down to the dressing room, where all the other girls were getting suited up in their holiday costumes. There were three different costumes. The red group’s outfit was wicked cute. The green group’s outfit had a whole santa’s elf thing going on. The white group had kind of a figure skatery thing going on.

The white team, by the way, deserved hazard pay for sweating it out all night in knit caps and scarves. Remember when you were little and you’d go outside to play in the snow and you’d get all sweaty and yucky under the five layers of clothes your mother made you wear? I reckon it was kind of like that.

On a related note, all of this would’ve been even cuter if they’d been wearing the matching elf footwear, but I put that idea in the suggestion box a little late. Maybe next year.

Meanwhile, Teresa came over and showed me the elf ears she wears during the Disneyland holiday parade.

The woman walks around with elf ears in her pocket. I kid you not.

I touched one. It looked and felt like a deflated party balloon. But kinda cool too. She sticks ‘em on with double-stick tape. No joke.

Looking back, I wish I’d asked more questions. Does she get to keep them? Are they available in different sizes? Do they come in a little plastic elf ear case? What if you lose one? Can you buy an individual ear, or do they only come in pairs?

Elf ears. Who knew it was such a rich subject?

I decided I wanted to take a photo of each group. You have no idea how difficult it is to wrangle four of these women into a corner long enough to take a photo. It’s like herding cats into a bag. I’d find the first three, but the fourth would be missing. By the time I found number four, two and three had gone MIA. I eventually resorted to physically holding on to them so they wouldn’t disappear when I turned my back. It was pretty wrong of me. I’m usually all about respecting the personal space. But I had a job to do, sister, and we could do it the easy way, or the hard way.

The green group: Teresa, Lynae, Recee, and Whitney

The white group: Jacqueline, Chelsea, Brittany, and Nikki

The red group was especially tricky. Melissa was having some unexpected costume issues. Audrea and Cheryl were busy jabbing her with safety pins, so I put my go-to girl Shannon in charge of keeping an eye on Brilane and went looking for Nicole. The girl had gone completely MIA. I couldn’t find her for the longest time, but eventually found her filming a pre-game promo on the court.

Nicole was on her way back, so I returned to the dressing room to keep an eye on the other three Red girls. Unfortunately, by the time Melissa was ready to go, I’d lost Nicole again. When I finally spotted her, I literally yanked her right out of a conversation, mid-sentence. Ahem…sorry about that, Nicole.

The red group: Brilane, Melissa, Shannon, and Nicole

I do feel a little bad about the way I occasionally push and prod people in the direction I want them to go. I have a bad habit of marching up to people, announcing that I intend to take a photo of them (whether they like it or not), and then sort of …um…"nudging” them into position. I can’t help it. I’m sorry! I still feel a little awkward in the situation, so it’s either jump right in and act like I’ve known everyone for ages (which occasionally involves being just a little obnoxious), or else stand in the corner all night, trying to blend into the wallpaper. I’m sure there’s a happy medium between the two, but I’ve yet to discover it.

I took some time before the game to reconnoiter the building. Up to this point, it’s been a challenge to figure out the right vantage point for dance team photography. The thing is, sometimes they face one way, and sometimes they face the other way. Sometimes they’re in the middle. Sometimes they’re along the edges. Sometimes they’re on the court, and sometimes they’re in the stands. It took some trial and error to figure out where to be and when, but I’ve just about got the hang of it. Next time around, it’ll be like buttah.

I also dropped by the Fan Patrol’s dressing room to see what they were up to. I can’t begin to tell you what kind of cojones it takes for me to marching over there. First off, they’ve got a smaller room and there’s only one door, so there’s no way to slip in unnoticed. I always go in there all loud like “hey what’s up peeps?” And then about 5 minutes later it occurs to me that most of them have no idea who I am or what I’m doing with a camera in their dressing room. Some of them may have a vague recollection of someone who looks sort of like me lurking around at auditions, but otherwise I am a total stranger. So then I want to introduce myself, but by then it’s too late. They’re always nice about it and act like it's nothing out of the nrom. I guess they’ve got more on their minds (Say, falling on their heads in front of thousands of people…) than whatever it is I’m doing up in their dressing room.

Katie, Leslie, Nina, Summer, and Marquita

Craig, Brian (in the front), Carlos, Ryan, and Hasani

Pretty soon, it was time to get things started so everyone lined up in the tunnel.

Jacqueline, Melissa, Brittany, and Lynae during the Canadian and US National Anthems

Whitney and Brittany hyping up the crowd

Once the game began, I got to work. The dance team performs once each quarter and then there’s usually something going on during the halftime break, so I have to stay on the ball. It all goes very fast.

Rehearsing in the tunnel

I don’t really know what this is all about. Suddenly, everyone’s holding hands and looking like they’re fixin’ to square dance or something.

Prior to the game, Taurean, one of the floor coordinators for game night, told me he’d kept a space free for me to sit with the press photographers on the court. Riiiiiight. One thing to know about this guy is he’s always up to something. You have to keep your eye on him. On the one hand, I was like “cool – thanks!" But on the other hand, I told him “If you’re B.S.-ing me and I get yanked off the court, just know that I will be waiting for you outside after this game is over."

He did me a solid though, and I did get to sit with the photographers.

T, here’s a photo, so everyone can see how awesome, wonderful, smart, kind to children and animals, funny, generous, good looking, charismatic, and (insert adjective here), etc. you are. Sheesh. Happy now?

During the game, the dance team performed to a number of holiday songs, including “Let it Snow”, “Little Drummer Boy”, “What You Want for Christmas”, and “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.”

Here are a few photos, and of course there are more right here.

The only drawback to sitting on the side is there are always people in the way when the dance team is performing. It’s time out, so both teams and the refs are still on the court, albeit in separate corners. Besides that, Red Jackets stand on the court to prevent any rowdy fans from getting ideas.

I appreciate that everyone there was doing his job, but dude, they were like totally in my way. I wanted to tap one of them on the shoulder and say “Hey there, I just wanted to let you know that you are doing a fantastic job and everyone here appreciates it. However, if you could just take one giant step to the right and not stand in front of me anymore, that would be super. Thanks, hon."

I didn’t think that would go over well, so I kept my mouth shut and did my best to shoot in between the bodies

At one point during the game, I had a total “holy crap!" moment. I’m thinking “Here I am at a real live professional NBA game. I am on the hardwood. During the game. In front of the most expensive seats in the house. I can actually hear what the coaches and players are saying to the ref. When the basketball players slam into each other and fall on the ground, I can feel the floor shake. Look at that. Them’s MY Pumas. And there’s the game, right there. RIGHT. THERE.” Unbelievable. Who knows where I’ll find myself next? The Oval Office? The Taj Mahal? The International Space Station?

It was trippy. And let me tell you something, when one team scores and then the whole lot of them come thundering in your direction it is intense.

The towel boys (hopefully that’s not their official title) were sitting to my left. Thing is, they were sitting on the towels. I’m looking at that thinking, “I wonder if the basketball team realizes those are the same towels they use to wipe their faces?"

I was standing there minding my own business, when guess who snuck up on me? Taylor! Taylor used to be on the team and a was (and still is) a fan favorite. She was a sight for sore eyes and we got to chat for a little bit. All you Taylor fans out there, she’s doing very well these days. If you’re a Clippers fan, keep an eye out. You just might spot her in the stands.

(I had to sneak up on her a bit later to get this photographic evidence of her presence at the game. Ryan kept her still for me. Thank you Ryan. )

Speaking of the Fan Patrol…





Like I said, the game goes fast. The dance team usually performs once each quarter. After the 4th quarter performance, they sit at either end of the court to cheer on the team.

Teresa, Brittany, Brilane, and Whitney

It’s always hard to get a photo when they’re sitting on the side like that because there are lots of people around. In the past, I’ve gone up in the stands to shoot it from a distance. This time I was all “Yeah, that’s right. I’m sitting with the professional photographers. You know how we do." (Thinking , T – I am so gonna get you if I get nailed for this.)

As I sat down, Chelsea was all “look at you with your press pass." I’m all “ohmigod, I know, right?" But then it dawned on me exactly where I was sitting. Directly in front of the dance team. I could not have felt more conspicuous or out place. I thought to myself “this can’t be right." Seriously. While I was at it, why didn’t I just go park myself in front of the players bench?

I kept eyeballing the area behind Chelsea to see if maybe I could squeeze back there. No room though. It was another trippy moment.

Jacqueline and Recee

Shannon and Nicole

Chelsea and Lynae

Like I said earlier the Raptors crushed the Clippers. But who cared? It was the holidays and everyone was in a par-tay mood anyway!

Ho ho ho.

Happy Christmahanakwanzika!

Don't forget to check out all of my photos from the game

Labels: ,