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Book Review: Bingo

Review by Budd Bailey

Here's a tough basketball trivia question, at least for the good people in Buffalo:

Who succeeded Van Miller as the Voice of the Buffalo Braves?

Yes, it's a trick question. When the Braves moved to San Diego in 1978, Van stayed in Buffalo. Ralph Lawler picked up the microphone for the brand-new Clippers, and spent most of the next 40 years or so describing that team's play in San Diego and Los Angeles.

Lawler lasted until the age of 80 or so before finally retiring. It took him a few years, but eventually he came out with his life story in the form of "Bingo!" Yes, that was one of his catch phrases as a broadcaster. The book is another pleasant enough entry in the category of autobiographies from sports broadcasters.

"The Voice of the Clippers" grew up in central Illinois, attending Bradley University. While he says he would have been quite content to be the broadcaster for the Braves for his entire lifetime, fate had other plans for him. He moved to Southern California, and except for a small detour to Philadelphia early in his career, stayed in the San Diego/Los Angeles area for the rest of his career. When the Clippers moved to Los Angeles, Lawler had the chance to follow them. 

Now it's time to discuss the elephant in the room when it comes to the book and the Clippers. If you've followed the NBA for a few decades, you know that for most of that time, the Clippers have been mediocre at best and terrible at worst. They have never even reached the NBA Finals, let alone won a championship. It's almost as if someone in Buffalo put a curse on the team when they moved out of town; well, it wasn't me - although I might have thought of it at the time. 

That fact dictates where the book goes for the most part. Usually such publications contain details of what championships are like, which offer good memories to the readers. But there's nothing like that here, thanks to decades of poor play. So Lawler, with the assist going to coauthor Chris Epting, has to go to other places to fill up the pages in the book.

As you'd expect, the topics range from funny things that happened on the air to in-person encounters with NBA personalities. It's all handled well enough. Some of the best ones concern Bill Walton, a Hall of Fame player and Lawler's partner on broadcasts for quite a while. It's fair to say that it's never boring to have Bill Walton as a friend. Walton even contributes an article for the book, as does Chris Paul and Doc Rivers.

Lawler has some honest moments along the way, particularly when talking about the team. That certainly applies to "controversial" owner Donald Sterling. If you need more evidence that Sterling didn't have the slightest idea how to build a basketball team, there's some provided here. Sterling, as you might remember, was forced out of the league for some racist remarks that were recorded. The Clippers seem to be headed in the right direction now. They are getting their own arena (they've been sharing the Staples Center with the Lakers and Kings) in the near future, and have strong ownership. 

There are a few typos that were contained in my Kindle version that probably should have been cleaned up. The Clippers were rarely good enough to gain national attention, and that probably hurt Lawler's chances at receiving a national profile in broadcasting. But he's received all sorts of honors in California, and he comes off here as a nice man who seems worthy of the praise.

In other words, you don't have to be a Clippers' fan to enjoy "Bingo!" - but it probably helps. It's a nice trip down Memory Lane for all concerned, and will work well for those who remember (and who are trying to forget) names like Michael Olowakandi. 

(Follow Budd on via @WDX2BB)

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