L.A. Sports Franchises: Los Angeles Clippers
March 30, 2011 Leave a comment
NBA Championships: None
Retired Numbers: None
Rivals: Los Angeles Lakers, Donald Sterling, the NBA Draft
The Clippers were founded in 1970 as the Buffalo Braves, one of the three NBA franchises that began play in the 1970-71 season, with the other two being the Portland Trail Blazers and the Cleveland Cavaliers. It is of note that although the franchise has relocated three different times, they have only had six winning seasons in their entire history, and only two since moving to their current home in Los Angeles in 1984.
The Braves had a lackluster start in the NBA, and because of their extraordinarily poor play in their final two seasons, including a 27-55 record in 1977-78, the ownership met with Irv Levin, the Celtics owner and negotiated a deal in which the two owners would swap franchises. Levin was a California businessman and wanted to own an NBA team in his home state. Given that it was highly unlikely that the NBA would agree to locate the successful Celtics, the swap worked out well for all parties involved. Following what would be the Braves’ last season in Buffalo, the NBA owners voted 21-1 to let the team relocate. As Levin wanted, the Braves moved to San Diego after the 1977-78 season, and became the Sand Diego Clippers.
In the team’s first season in San Diego, it posted a winning record, going 43-39 under new head coach Gene Shue. However, that record was not good enough to advance to the post-season, as it was two games out of the final playoff spot. As it turned out, it would be the Clippers’ last winning season for 13 years. Enough said about that.
The 1981-82 season brought more changes to the Clipper franchise as Irv Levin sold the team to LA-based real estate developer and attorney Donald Sterling. The team’s poor play in the final years of their short stint in San Diego resulted in poor attendance. Sterling lobbied the NBA to relocate the team to his native Los Angeles.
In 1984, the Clippers moved north to Los Angeles, playing at the LA Memorial Sports Arena. They finished with a disappointing 31-51 record in their first season in the city. The few years were not much better, as the franchise was in relative obscurity for the next seven years, including a 12-70 record in the 1986-87 season that was the second worst single-season record in NBA history at the time.
Midway through the 1991-92 season, the Clippers made yet another coaching change, hiring Larry Brown in late January. Brown’s team finished the season with a 23-12 mark, with an overall record of 45-37. This marked the franchise’s first winning season in 13 years, and first in their new home of Los Angeles. Additionally, for the first time since moving to LA, the Clippers finished with a better record than the cross-town Lakers squad. The team went to the playoffs for the first time in 16 years, but was eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by the Jazz in five games. The team again made the playoffs in the following season with a 41-41 regular season record, but were eliminated from postseason play by the Rockets in five games.
Brown left the Clippers for the Indiana Pacers in 1993, and Bob Weiss was brought in to replace him. That 1993-94 season proved to the be one of the worst in LA NBA history, with both the Clippers and Lakers going 60-104 combined on the season. After one year on the job, Weiss was fired. Under new head coach Bill Fitch, the team saw some improvements. They continued to make frequent roster and coaching changes throughout the next few years. The team had only one playoff appearance in 1997, in which they made the playoffs with a losing record and were swept in the first round by the Jazz in three games.
Things were bleak for the franchise, until 2001, when the Clippers acquired forward Corey Maggette, swingman Quentin Richardson, and former Bulls forward Elton Brand, all within about a year of eachother. This higher-powered offensive team contended for most of the 2001-02 season, but won only 3 out of their last 13 games, finishing five games out of the final playoff position.
In the 2003-04 season, the Clippers lost many of their core players to free agency, but opted to retain Brand and Maggette with long-term deals. They, along with Rickardson, made up one of the NBA best high-scoring trios, with a combined 58 points per game. However, due to relative inexperience and some ill-timed injuries, the squad finished at 28-54 on the season.
The 2005-06 season was a turning point for the team’s overall image and moral, with a blazing start of the season catching the attention of many fans and media outlets. Maintaining a solid record amidst a few stretches of poor play, the Clippers achieved their first winning record in 14 seasons and clinched their first palyoff spot since 1997. The Clippers also finished with a better record than the Lakers for the second straight year. Securing home court advantage against the Denver Nuggets, the Clippers won their first NBA playoff game in 13 years on April 22, 2006, and won their second playoff game two days later, going 2-0 against an opponent for the first time in franchise history. After winning Games 4 and 5 after that, the team won its first playoff series since the move from Buffalo. Facing the Suns in the Western Conference semi-finals, the Clippers, backed by inspiring heroics from Brand, Maggette, and Sam Cassell, pushed Phoenix to seven games, but lost in the final game. This season is still widely regarded as the best in franchise history.
After this historic playoff run, there was another period of struggles in Clippers Land, this one lasting much of the late 2000’s. Despite a few key acquisitions, many injuries and disappointing draft pick and trades left the Clippers down-trodden and with many disappointing finishes. However, in May 2009, the Clippers were awarded the first overall draft pick in the 2009 NBA Draft, in which they selected phenom Blake Griffin out of Oklahoma. Although Griffin immediately impressed in training camp and preseason, his rookie season was short lived, as he broke his kneecap during the Clippers’ final exhibition game in October 2009. The injury ultimately sidelined him for the entire season.
In July 2010, former Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro was hired to replace interim coach Kim Hughes. With a roster that currently includes the 2011 Slam Dunk champion in a healed Blake Griffin, and key wins over the Spurs, Heat, Lakers, and Bulls, many wonder if the “Blake-ers” can stage a historic rise to success after a relatively dismal franchise history. Stay tuned tomorrow as we discuss the pulse of what to expect!