Hoopy Days

NBA-starved St. Louisans get a tantalizing taste of their obsession at an exhibition match

The NBA exhibition game featuring the LA Clippers and the Cleveland Cavaliers

Savvis Center, 14th and Clark streets

Starts at 7:30 p.m., Tuesday, Oct. 16. Call 314-241-1888 for tickets, priced from $10-$40.

The ancient Romans supposedly believed that the gods of fate would make the lives of the villainous extra-sweet so that when their earthly comeuppance finally arrived, it would be that much more dramatic.

Well, we must have a few villainous hoops fans here in the Lou, because this week we're getting a taste of sweetness followed by the continuation of a long, sad drought.

The latest in the annual series of NBA preseason exhibition games at Savvis Center games pits the hapless-but-hopeful Los Angeles Clippers against the just-plain-hapless Cleveland Cavaliers. For serious basketball fans, it's literally the only game in town.

The excitement comes courtesy of an awfully young Clippers squad who bounce and leap like the pack of college players they so recently were. East St. Louis High-straight-to-the-pros forward Darius Miles is the big draw here. Last year he made the league's all-rookie squad, and you'll see that the 6-foot-9 beanpole has bulked up, too. He's got a rep as one of the good guys, and St. Louis loves him.

Former Mizzou star Keyon Dooling is also on the Clips, along with rubber-limbed Lamar Odom and Corey Maggette and force of nature Elton Brand, a recent pickup from the Bulls. The Cavs feature future star Andre Miller, and that's about it.

With any luck, this game will get going and the high-flying millionaires will put on a show. But will anyone care?

"I think there's a base of about 8,000 or 9,000 dyed-in-the-wool, love-the-NBA-type people in St. Louis," says game promoter Joe Yates. "I'm not convinced that St. Louis is an NBA market."

The unprecedented simultaneous dominance of the Cards, Rams and Blues in their leagues also means that sports fans would probably be impatient with a mediocre team. "Do you go out and chase the [Charlotte] Hornets right now?" says Yates. "You better bring a winner in here for St. Louis to support it the way an NBA team would need to be supported."

As the tepid vibe of this preseason scrimmage gradually yields to sweat and speed by midgame, you'll be seeing, as the excitable Bill Walton says, "the greatest athletes in the world" -- but not for long.

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