The Clippers history isn’t much. There is incompetence at the ownership and constant overshadowing due to the success of the team across the hall that made them the “other” team in LA. Before 2009, they were the laughing stock, being a place of chagrin and where careers would go and die.
But amidst all that, there has been a group of standout players that captivated fans across the land no matter the era. And with the constant talks of who belongs on the NBA’s Mt. Rushmore, the idea of selection the top four Clippers players came to mind. The litter didn’t contain a mass of notables making the selection difficult, weary that leaving one name off could stir the depths of the fan base, like a Boston Celtics or Los Angeles Lakers, but it was quite the exercise that allowed me to do some digging on the franchise’s history. The criteria was a bit simple. Instead of looking simply at the talent of players, impact and legacies played a role here.
And after some thought and deliberation I finally selected a final four. Without leaving out other popular names, we decided to add an honorable mentions list. Without further instruction, here are the four members that made the Clippers Mt. Rushmore.
Donald Sterling – He’s here by default.
World B. Free – Free only played two seasons as a member of the San Diego Clippers, but his scoring outputs are the most by a guard in this franchises history. Also his name always makes him a notable.
Elton Brand – There is no denying the talent displayed by Brand in the early 2000s. He was the face of the franchise when they were a common laughing stock throughout the league, but his play never went unnoticed.
Danny Manning – The Clippers franchise isn’t void of good wing scorers. Danny Manning just happened to be one of the best of them during his run in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Dr. Jack Ramsey – Head coach of the Buffalo Braves, Ramsey is responsible for three of the nine playoff appearances in the teams history. He has the fifth best win percentage in Clippers head coaching history.
The Mt. Rushmore Members:
That’s the number of Most Valuable Player awards the Clippers have in their team history. Just one. And that one belongs to big man and current Miami Heat assistant coach Bob McAdoo, one who many regard as the best player in the teams 40-year franchise. McAdoo’s prominence came years before the teams move to Los Angeles, but when reflecting on Clippers greats, McAdoo is one of the first names brought up.
Selected second overall in the 1972 NBA Draft, McAdoo’s impact was felt the moment he stepped on a NBA floor, averaging 28.5 points during the first four years of his career, making him one of the best, if not the best big man in the league. Averaging 34.5 points, 14.1 rebounds and and 2.1 blocks, McAdoo won his first and only MVP award, beating out the likes of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Dave Cowens and Rick Barry, nothing short of a small task. In three of those four seasons, McAdoo led the Buffalo Braves to the playoffs for the first time ever. Though success was minimal as he fell to the hands of Boston and Washington, his greatness was on display as he kept the franchise competitive against the leagues best.
Ownership ineptness, none that involved Donald Sterling surprisingly, sent Bob McAdoo to the Knicks in a trade. One often wonders what McAdoo could have done alongside World B. Free and Randy Smith, creating a bigger legacy as a Clipper/Brave to look back on.
“Yep, he’s Mr. Buffalo Brave.”
Those are the words Curtis Harris, otherwise known as @ProHoopsHistory on Twitter, used to describe the best shooting guard in the Clippers franchise history. Unlike the other members mentioned in this exercise, Smith lacks the popularity, being less of a household name. Being a Buffalo Brave in the 1970s that lacks the hardware that boosts notoriety will often do that to a player.
Drafted in the seventh round, not many expected Smith to make the Clippers, then known as the Buffalo Braves, let alone become of the greatest players in the franchises history. But with hard work and a combination of other-wordly athletics, Smith made it work. In seven years of play, Smith put up numbers that would allow him to stick around for years to come. Most notably, Smith was the league’s first “Iron Man”, appearing in 906 consecutive games, the NBA record before being surpassed by A.C. Green. That wasn’t the only record Smith produced. He’s still the current franchise leader in games played (715), minutes played (24393), field goals and field goals attempted, assists (3498), steals (1072) and points (12735), all with a considerable margin between first and second place.
The high point of Smith’s career came when in the 1978 All-Star game where he, as a reserve, outplayed the likes of Julius Erving, George Gervin, and several other NBA Hall of Famers, posting 27 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists as he collected the All-Star MVP. “Greatest game I played in my life,” said Smith describing the exhibition.
Not bad for someone who was never supposed to make the team.
Not much needs to be said about Griffin’s place in this franchise. While Chris Paul is credited with the change of the Clippers, Blake Griffin is the orchestrator. Selecting Griffin overall was the blessing Donald Sterling needed in regards to improving this franchise. His talent ceiling was high enough to rely on him evolving into a franchise forward and his knack for creating nightly highlight reels was the beginning of the franchise increasing it’s popularity around the league. This ultimately led to the acquisition of Chris Paul, Doc Rivers and other notable who took a chance to play in LA when, years prior to 2010, the team wouldn’t have been a viable option.
Griffin’s having the sort of breakout season that’ll likely become the norm for him going forward. It’s too early to say he’s the best big man in the franchise’s history due to his lack of playoff success and hardware, which, kind of doesn’t matter as talent is the ultimate decision-maker there, but it’s nice to reflect back on team success when speaking on one’s legacy.
Despite being in the league for four years, Blake Griffin’s career is just getting started.
Barring injury, Chris Paul is on track to become the best player to ever play for this franchise. That was a given the minute the trade to Los Angeles was announced. Now Paul’s job is to create and enhance a Clippers legacy as his talent will forever speak for itself. The talent on this team pales in comparison to that of the Spurs, Heat, Thunder and Pacers, the “true” championship contenders around the league, but when you combine the talents of Griffin and Paul and the coaching of Doc Rivers, one expects results. He’s led the team to the playoffs in both seasons he’s been here, winning a series in 2011, and is on par to make the playoffs again. A championship would cement his legacy, but success in general would bode well for Paul’s NBA and Clippers legacy.
How could I present you all with a topic such as this without including a lovely photoshop!