The thing that drew me to the Los Angeles Clippers when I moved west 13 years ago was the voice of Ralph Lawler. I didn’t know many people when I first arrived in town, which meant there were plenty of nights at home before I met the friends who’d become my Los Angeles family. I’d flip on the tube and look for a game to keep me company while I fixed myself dinner.
That’s when I first discovered Ralph.
I have a full feature on Ralph Lawler over at ESPN Los Angeles. Here’s an exceprt:
Lawler has endured a career during which the Clippers have dropped nearly two out of every three games. That futility sets his job apart from many other broadcasters in the league. Most fan bases can fall back on nostalgia when things get rough. They can conjure up a string of consecutive playoff appearances or look up at the rafters and find legends who define the franchise’s prouder moments. Clippers fans have no such memories. The team has put together winning seasons only twice since arriving in Los Angeles and you won’t find any Clippers jerseys hanging in Staples Center. There are very few YouTube moments and no ESPN Classic games to memorialize. Many Clippers fans can’t even confide in their family or friends — the people closest to them in the world — because those folks are often absorbed in their own drama, one that features a surefire Hall of Famer and a certain head coach with 10 championship rings. Instead, Clippers fans turn to Ralph — as Lawler is known to the Clippers faithful — to be a friend, therapist and spiritual counselor.
“Ralph has been the one ongoing constant that’s been there game in and game out,” longtime Phoenix Suns play-by-play announcer Al McCoy said. “He’s been the one consistent positive for the Clippers from San Diego to Los Angeles.”
Those who root for the Clippers know what they’ve gotten themselves into. They don’t tune in for a thrill ride or to bask in the warm glow of a seven-game winning streak. These beleaguered basketball souls need a voice that will be empathetic, reassuring, but also honest. In a world of freak injuries, dashed expectations and mounting losses, Clippers fans need someone they can trust. For 34 years, Lawler has given them that measure of comfort.
Lawler appreciates that Clippers fans gauge relevancy on a different scale than most. What might seem like a meaningless matchup to the impartial observer looking for a game to watch on a Wednesday night in late March holds serious import to a Clippers die-hard who still hasn’t had his fill of DeAndre Jordan slams.
“I’ve never called a game that I didn’t think was meaningful, whether it’s a preseason game on radio or a March game when you’re 25 games out of first place,” Lawler said. “There are people watching or listening, and they deserve my absolute best preparation and my best work.”