We all learned yesterday that the Rockets have fallen to the bottom of the heap when it comes to local television ratings, worse than all but three woeful NBA franchises despite having a winning record now halfway through this lockout-shortened season.
In fact, their ratings dropped a whopping 40 percent from last season while the rest of the league has seen a 19 percent increase. That's a tough number to swallow if you are the Rockets, but not all that surprising given the long-term mediocrity of the franchise, the lockout and the dearth of star talent on the roster.
This news preceded a lackluster loss in Utah by 21 to the 16-18 Jazz and a narrow victory over the 11-24 Toronto Raptors, and it comes just a couple weeks before the team's toughest stretch of the season.
Yet, with all the problems the team has faced on the floor -- injuries, failed trades, coaching changes -- they have been remarkably resilient and consistent, only once in the last dozen years falling into the depths of the NBA cellar. Additionally, they have been a model NBA franchise, making money hand over fist thanks to the control of their building and about 2 billion Chinese people who love Yao Ming.
And, yes, the Clippers are finally a legit contender, with the addition of Chris Paul and the acrobatics of Blake Griffin making them one of the hottest tickets in the league. But, they also have owner Donald Sterling and that's enough to kill even the best team.
Take the case of Darrell Bailey, or "Clipper" Darrell, as the fans in L.A. know him. For years, he has sat in a seat -- nearly always provided by the team -- and cheered like a crazed maniac in a blue and red silk suit that would make even former Rocket player and broadcaster Calvin Murphy blush.
Through thick and (mostly) thin, Bailey remained steadfast in his support of the Clippers, but apparently that wasn't enough for L.A.'s other NBA franchise. In the midst of their most exciting season, well, ever, they dropped the hammer on Bailey, revoking his tickets and going so far as to essentially call him a leech.
In a statement, the team claimed Bailey "has not returned our support in an honorable way. He is not actually a fan of the Clippers, but a fan of what he can make off of the Clippers." Apparently, the Clips got rankled at the fact that Bailey occasionally does public appearances at schools and sells 99-cent wristbands and other merchandise on his Web site. Of course, the team had no problem including Bailey in their in-game promotions and touting him before they suddenly got good. Now, not so much and, after facing criticism from fans, the media and even Clipper players, it got worse:
The Clippers have done absolutely nothing wrong or inappropriate as it concerns Darrell Bailey. His claims are absurd and unfounded. He has never been an employee or representative of the Clippers organization, and therefore cannot be terminated. The Clippers have never engaged Mr. Bailey's services. When he has been in need, the organization has regularly provided him a seat for games. No good deed goes unpunished.
The Rockets have made some boneheaded moves over the years, to be sure, but nothing can rival this one.
Sure, there were the pinstripe pajama uniforms complete with the "dildo" logo as fans lovingly called it. I'm still pissed about the fact that they refuse to put "Houston" on road jerseys, instead wanting to further their brand even in unfriendly arenas and after the city has done so much for them. But much of that is the fault of David Stern's NBA, a world where protecting the brand is paramount.
Yes, they've struggled to put a winning team on the floor consistently, but blame for that lies more with Tracy McGrady's gimpy back and Yao's hulking size that was too much for the bones in his foot. And the worst thing you can say about owner Leslie Alexander is that he's a yankee and a staunch vegetarian who had the power dancers wearing "meat is murder" shirts for a couple seasons.
In fact, when it comes to the fans and the community, it's tough to find fault with the Rockets on the whole. They, at the prodding of former coach Jeff Van Gundy, give away 100 seats a year to the Red Rowdies, something that has now been duplicated across the league. The team's Clutch City Foundation has raised millions of dollars for charities both in Houston and around the world.
Mistakes aside, they are clearly a team that desperately wants to win. Alexander opens his checkbook at every turn and it's obvious the losing grinds on him in a way we don't always see from local owners like Bob "I think the team is doing a fine job" McNair.
Setting Alexander alongside Sterling is like setting a saint next to a drug dealer. Sterling has, on numerous occasions, had reports swirling around him related to alleged racist remarks. He called the prostitutes that led, in part, to his divorce "honey" because, according to him, you don't remember the names of women you pay to sleep with.
We may not have a glamour franchise in the NBA right now. We may be mired in NBA purgatory. But, thank God we're not the Clippers.
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