Why you should care
Because all we are saying is give the Clippers a chance.
Growing up in San Diego, I was an avid sports fans. From a young age, my parents took me to watch all the major sports franchises that played in the city at the time. With NFL, MLB and NBA teams, it was a burgeoning sports mecca with beautiful weather, a perfect climate and teams with all the potential in the world. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was forming loyalties that would last a lifetime. The Chargers, Padres and Clippers became my teams, and I followed them passionately.
That was in the 1970s, and now, as a 46-year-old man, I still follow the same teams. The bonds I established in my youth have resonated through the years as I’ve lived and died with every play, more heartaches than triumphs, but I have persevered. The Padres and Chargers have had a little success. Never winning titles, but enjoying some good seasons and at least getting to the championship games in their respective leagues.
But with the Clippers? Well, it’s been a different story, and I’ll be honest with you: It’s been difficult being a Clippers fan over the years.
Exhibit A: The Clippers at one point were the laughingstock of the NBA. Donald Sterling owned the team for 33 years and was criticized as one of the cheapest owners in the league, as well as for letting his free agents walk, trading away good players and basically running the franchise as a second-class team. He was eventually banned from the NBA for life and, thank God, his reign of futility came to an end when Steve Ballmer bought the team in 2014 after Sterling’s disgraceful exit from the league. But in all honesty, the team’s recent change of fortune and evolution into the Lob City team that has been tantalizing the last several years began under the Sterling regime. With the acquisition of Blake Griffin in 2009 and Chris Paul shortly thereafter, the team formerly known as the Paper Clips has become a playoff contender and must-see TV.
But for years I cheered for a team that could seemingly do nothing right, even if it wasn’t always this way.
I remember back in the late ’70s, when the Clips had World B. Free and Swen Nater. Free was a gunner who never met a shot he didn’t like. It seemed he could score at will, and Nater was the best big man you’ve never heard of, averaging double-doubles and patrolling the paint for the team that had relocated to San Diego from Buffalo. I’d go to the games at the San Diego Sports Arena and cheer for the team that I was slowly falling in love with. This was my introduction to the Clips and the world of NBA basketball. It was a different sport in the late ’70s but one that I quickly grew attached to, watching games and enjoying the NBA’s rise to popularity.
It was during the 1980s that the Clips developed the reputation as the worst franchise in professional sports. With the aforementioned Sterling at the helm, things just seemed to go from bad to worse. We had some decent players, like Marques Johnson and Norm Nixon, but we got them on the downsides of their careers and traded away good young prospects like Terry Cummings and Byron Scott right after we drafted them. Magic’s Showtimes Lakers were the big dogs of the league, and when Sterling moved the team to Los Angeles in 1982, the Clips became kind of an afterthought. The poor stepchild that played second fiddle to the Lakers. I was so happy when the legendary Bill Walton came to the Clips and thought it gave them a chance to compete, but he was injury-plagued and at the end of his career. The poor seasons continued.
The Clips were in the lottery every year, it seemed, but they couldn’t even get that right, drafting a series of busts like Benoit Benjamin and Michael Olowokandi. Big men who were supposed to turn the franchise around but instead did nothing. If only we could get a Patrick Ewing or Hakeem Olajuwon, but it never materialized. When Danny Manning was drafted in 1988 from Kansas, it seemed a savior had arrived, but he was quickly injured and the infamous Clipper Curse claims started circulating in the media. The claims continued when Blake Griffin was drafted in 2009 and promptly got hurt. It seemed the Clips were destined for mediocrity. Every step was a misstep, but they had some decent teams that I cheered for along the way.
The Larry Brown–led teams in the early ’90s were a fun bunch to watch. With Manning, Charles Smith, Ron Harper and Loy Vaught, the team made the playoffs but never advanced. The Elton Brand and Sam Cassell teams of the mid-2000s were also good but never fulfilled the promise they had, losing to Steve Nash’s Phoenix Suns. That was a heartbreaker for me, but the best was still to come. When the Clips signed Baron Davis, I was ecstatic but then quickly disappointed again as the Brand/Davis pairing never materialized and Brand bolted to Philly. This brings us to the current team.
Since Chris Paul joined the team in 2011, I’ve been waiting for the Clips to get to the promised land. They have teased and teased, but still no payoff. Every time things start looking good, their stars either get injured or the team just falls apart. The signing of Doc Rivers as coach several years ago was supposed to solve the problem, but the Clips just can’t get over the hump.
Every year I ask myself, is this the year? Will the Clippers finally break the curse? Can they get to the promised land? But nada.
It seemed just a couple of years ago we had Golden State’s number, but we couldn’t get out of the second round. And now with the Warriors, Spurs and Rockets stacked ahead of us, we have a tall task. But I must say we’ve been playing good ball of late, and if no one gets injured, a big if in Clipper nation, and the stars are aligned, who knows what will happen in this year’s playoffs?