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Los Angeles Clippers

A professional basketball team in the Western Conference of the NBA.

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Clipped and Trimmed

  • Aug 18, 2012
Put two teams who play in the same sport and league in this country, and you'll inevitably see a case of Mets Syndrome. One of those teams will be obviously better than the other, and the media and populace will endlessly fawn over them. The players will be covered simply by walking into the closest nightclubs, and in the meantime, the lower team will walk across the freeway in rush hour traffic will a sign that says Hello! HELLO! and still not receive any coverage. Of course, I named this after case point A, the New York Mets (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...205257-The_Amazins.html), a team created in 1962 that had the misfortune of replacing two legendary baseball teams once the New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers headed to California. The Mets aren't actually a bad team to cheer for. They're the most successful of baseball's expansion teams; they've won four Pennants and two World Series titles. But when you're put against the New York Yankees (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/baseball_team/U...to_Wear_the_Iconic.html), baseball's mighty juggernaut - with more World Series titles than any other team even has Pennants - all you can do is shrug, grin, and push forward.

The Mets Syndrome sufferer in Los Angeles is their secondary basketball team, the Clippers. The Yankees of Los Angeles are the mighty Lakers, whose 16 titles are more than any other basketball team except the Boston Celtics (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...-The_Big_Green_Men.html) who have been slipping as of late. The Clippers have far less going for them than the Mets. The Mets, after all, stole attention a few times by supplanting the Yankees. Since their creation, the Clippers don't even have so much as a single division title to call their own. That's an existence going back to 1970, with the Los Angeles years beginning in 1984. That's embarrassing as it is, but the team's owner, Donald Sterling, is also a frugal racist. He made a fortune in real estate and engaged in discriminatory rental practices against blacks and hispanics. On record, he's recorded to have said "Black tenants smell and attract vermin." He pledged $50 million of funding for a site in downtown Los Angeles which was supposed to help the city's homeless population. Although the Los Angeles Times keeps trumpeting this pledge, that's mainly because he generates revenue for the paper's ad department. The shelter itself is either invisible or never actually materialized. He was sued by the damned United States Department of Justice for discrimination. He heckles his own players. He's a grade-A asshole who needs to be punched many, many times.

Fate was unkind to the Clippers even from the very beginning. They were part of the 1970 expansion, when they were created as the Buffalo Braves and joined the NBA with the newly-created Cleveland Cavaliers and Portland Trail Blazers. There were bad omens right from the very beginning with the Braves. One was that the first effort at placing a professional basketball team in Buffalo failed, and very quickly. That was back at the founding of the BAA, when Buffalo was still a big, very respected city. Buffalo's team, the Bisons, wrapped up after all of 13 GAMES, hightailed it to the Tri-cities area, and were basically nomads until they finally found a permanent home and identity as today's Atlanta Hawks. Another bad omen was that the National Hockey League conveniently picked that same year to expand into Buffalo. Both sports breed ruffians, but one is played on ice. If you're having trouble figuring out which team the people of Buffalo really clicked with, well, here are some clues: One is currently a beloved civic institution in Buffalo, a city thoroughly respected throughout its entire league as both a playoff rating monster and a producer of fantastic sport talent - nine players in its league are from Buffalo, more than any other region in the country. The other is the Clippers.

Actually, both teams got off on the right foot with the fans. They both endured their expansion pains, but the hockey team was a Conference Champion by 1975. The Braves didn't get that far, but their time in Buffalo is still the only period of real success they've ever had. They picked up one of the great centers in NBA history, Bob McAdoo, in 1972, and he won the MVP award in the 1975 season. In 1974, 1975, and 1976, the Braves made the playoffs. The team's 49-33 record in 1975 is still the team's best record ever, in any place. In 1976, the Braves beat the Philadelphia 76ers (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...25-A_True_Original.html) in the playoffs. By 1976, the team's founder, Paul Snyder, was actively trying to sell the team. Eventually, he got it to John Brown. Meanwhile, the Boston Celtics owner, Irv Levin, wanted to move back to his home state of California and take a team with him. The people of Boston, not exactly keen on letting their world-class basketball team go, weren't letting him take the Celtics. To this day, there's a little bit of remaining controversy on the exacting details of just how the exchange took place. The most widely accepted story is that Brown and Levin swapped teams, and Levin was freed to bring the Braves out west with him. A few tax and paperwork details, however, are enough to convince people around Buffalo that the Braves were actually absorbed into the Celtics, at least in a legal sense, and so the Boston Celtics are the descendants of Buffalo's basketball heritage, instead of the Clippers.

Any way it goes, however, the Braves did leave their mark on Buffalo. Braves imagery and colors are still worn in the area, and the team has a base of preservationists dedicated to weaving them more into the city's sports heritage. It really is pathetic that the First Niagara Center hasn't seen it fit to hang McAdoo's number. A good preservation site can be found at buffalobraves.net.

The 1979 season saw the first westward move. The team moved to San Diego, officially changing its name to the San Diego Clippers. In San Diego, the team sucked, drew poorly, and was bought by Sterling and moved after just six years.

There were occasional good years, but from there the name of the game has mostly been suckitude. Hard suckitude, and in abundance. The Clippers kicked off their new beginning by going 31-51 for the 1985 season. Two years later, they mounted a serious charge at the worst record in history. They went 12-70, which came dangerously close to the 76ers' 1973 record of 9-73, and is today still the third worst in NBA history behind only the Sixers and last season's Charlotte Bobcats (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...y_Without_Point_or.html). Elgin Baylor joined the team during that 12-win fiasco, though, as GM, and he managed to bring Ron Harper to the team in the 1990 season. Baylor was also a great eye for draft talent. In 1987, he got Ken Norman. A year later, he got Danny Manning and Charles Smith. 1990 brought Loy Vaught. The 1992 season brought a coaching change, where Mike Schuler was replaced by Larry Brown. As basketball fans know, Larry Brown is very, very good at what he does. Schuler had started the season with a 22-25 record, and Brown finished it by going 23-12 for an overall record of 45-37. It was their first winning season since Buffalo, and the first time since moving to Los Angeles they finished with a better record than the Lakers. They lost the first playoff round to the Utah Jazz. The next year, they went an even 41-41, and went back to the playoffs. This time they lost to the Houston Rockets.

After that season, Brown up and walked away. (He tends to do that.) This time, he went to coach the Indiana Pacers while Bob Weiss was left to build on a foundation which, as the previous year's record would indicate, wasn't quite as solid as Brown had probably left Clippers fans to believe. That year was bad, but the silver lining was the fact that the Lakers weren't much better. Combined, the teams went 60-104, one of the worst years in the history of Los Angeles basketball.

The next few years brought tons more major roster and coach changes, with the lone highlight being the 1997 season when coach Bill Fitch led them back to the playoffs, where they were promptly ejected by the Jazz again, who eventually won the Western Conference that year. In 1999, the Clippers moved to the Staples Center to be overshadowed by the Lakers full time. More importantly, they also drafted Lamar Odom. He didn't help much - the Clippers finished with 15 wins - but they also hired a slew of new coaches, including Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. They started winning fans in 2001, improving to a 31-51 record and playing a high-flying style of basketball with talented bench players. The next year, they grabbed Elton Brand from the Chicago Bulls (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/d/UserReview-Ch...atest_Bullfighters.html), who earned a spot on the All-Star roster, even if that was only as a replacement to Shaquille O'Neal. But the bottom line is the team contended for most f the season. Winning only three of their final twelve games put them out, but they contended and only missed the playoffs by five games.

The next season brought a slew of injury problems, the seasons after brought players lost because Sterling wouldn't pay them, and by now you really know the story: Deals, deals, more deals, bad players. Same old Clippers, but this time, they were actually trying to get better. The 2006 season marked a turning point in their image. The team beat several of the best teams in the league, and the media took notice and began playing up the Clippers a bit more. Despite a few stretches of bad play, they secured their first winning record in 14 years and, with a 47-35 record, their best year since the old Buffalo days. That May was a culmination of their building efforts: For the first time under their asshole owner Sterling, and for the first time since they were the Buffalo Braves, the Clippers won a playoff series. In the following round, they took the Phoenix Suns to seven games, keeping pace with that year's track-meet Suns team every step of the way. They lost, but people remembered. Unfortunately, the next few seasons, they reverted to their losing, Clipper ways.

Blake Griffin arrived in the 2009 draft. They slowly began improving again, and last year they were a power in the Western Conference. With a 40-26 record, they went to the playoffs, won a great series against the Memphis Grizzlies (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...o_Roar_to_Speak_of.html) and lost in the second round yet again. But, hell, that loss was to the San Antonio Spurs, and NOBODY was expected to beat them! As they currently stand, things are looking good in Lob City at the moment. The team looks legitimately good, and they're very exciting. Griffin is one of the best players in the league right now. But a veteran Clippers fan would be justified in showing a lot of skepticism, considering his team's history.

As you can clearly see, the story of the Clippers is one of mighty struggle, heartbreak, frustration, and an owner who really needs a groin kick or seven. We're looking at a serious contender for Worst Team Ever in the History of the NBA here. Not single-season, but in the grand overall scheme. This team has had 23 head coaches in the entirety of its existence. They've had all of eleven All-Star selections. One player, ever, was an MVP, although Blake Griffin is looking like he's going to be one too soon enough.

People in Buffalo believe our teams are cursed, and I don't believe anyone who follows sports will ever argue the point. This is a truly pathetic team. The reason I've been bringing Buffalo into this article so often is partially because it's my hometown, but mainly because a lot of the Clippers' most significant history and stories are brought all the way back here. Every Hall of Fame player chosen based on contributions to the Los Angeles Clippers wasn't actually chosen based on contributions to the Clippers, but to the Braves. Its been some 34 years since the team left Buffalo, and 28 since San Diego. Still, the greatest years and most of the really good stories and players were left in Buffalo. Dominique Wilkins is the only player in the Hall of Fame for ever having been a Los Angeles Clipper, and he didn't get there until he was well past his prime.

Mismanagement has to be the primary culprit. Sterling is a cheapskate as well as a racist. Los Angeles is still one of the easier sells in professional sports, but in basketball, it's even easier if you're trying to sell a free agent on the Lakers.

Every year, there's one sports magazine which ranks the best overall sports franchises. That's in every sport, for every category they think makes a team worth cheering for: Pricing, fan friendliness, budget, quality of fielded team, chances of winning a title in the next few years, and a few others that I don't feel like looking up. The Los Angeles Clippers have actually ranked dead last on this list. Why bother rating them when that says everything? I do, however, like their style of basketball, so that and that alone rescues them from the bottom of the heap. Sterling, however, really needs to take a few knees to his stomach.

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More Los Angeles Clippers reviews
Quick Tip by . December 24, 2010
posted in Clipper Nation
Welcome to the Southland, where it's easy to be a Lakers fan.   One of these days, the Clips are going to give the Lake Show a run for its money.
Quick Tip by . February 18, 2010
#really this would be robbery but you gave it up. Telfair ok but Al?
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