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The History of the LA Clippers and Their Changing Fortunes

By Jennifer Hassan in NBA
| December 12, 2020 3:07 am PDT
History of the Los Angeles Clippers

You may wonder how Los Angeles can support two NBA teams when so many other eager cities don’t even have one. The current rationale is that the Los Angeles population can support two teams.

Although ticket sales are often considered the “pulse” of a team’s financial well-being, other considerations also come into play. Los Angeles is the largest city in one of the world’s largest economies (California).

Californians are eager product consumers, and sponsorship opportunities at both Lakers and Clippers games make it reasonable to have two teams in town.

Furthermore, the Clippers are very popular amongst the younger demographic, and these kid-friendly crowd-pleasers know that this is their future annual-ticket fan base.

And now, on to the good stuff. Here is how the Clippers got their start in the NBA.

Clippers History Overview

clipper ship

Before they were the LA Clippers, they were the San Diego Clippers, and before San Diego, the team was known as the Buffalo Braves.

The team traveled from the far northeast to the sunny shores of Southern California. That is a big change on many fronts—climate, local philosophies, and fan enthusiasm and lifestyle.

Who Founded the Los Angeles Clippers?

There were three teams granted by the NBA in the early seventies. One of these expansion franchises was won by Buffalo, a city in upstate New York.

This team, which became known as the Buffalo Braves, stayed and played in New York until 1978, before heading west.

The Braves were founded—or, rather, awarded to the city—due to the efforts of a group of hedge fund managers who were the first owners of the team. They quickly sold the team, however, to Paul Snyder, owner of the Freezer Queen food corporation.

Because the original team owners essentially acted as place holders while the team was awarded to Buffalo, Paul Snyder is considered the team’s founder. He was only 33 years old when he purchased the Braves.

When Did the Clippers Join the NBA?

The Clippers are not like older teams who played in other organizations before joining the NBA. As an expansion franchise, the Clippers—back when they were the Buffalo Braves—were born right into the NBA itself.

Upon moving from Buffalo to San Diego, the team chose the name “Clippers” to honor the clipper ships that plied the local bay.

Clippers Playoff History

You can see from the playoff results below that the Clippers have an on-again, off-again relationship with the postseason, one that coincides closely with changes to the coaching staff.

The team enjoyed a flurry of attendance in the early to mid-seventies, then disappeared from playoffs until 1992, an absence of 15 years. After a small handful of appearances, they left postseason again for a decade, returning in 2006.

Only since 2011 has the team shown consistency in making a play for a championship win. Unfortunately, they have not progressed beyond their conference semi-finals in this time.

Season Results
1973 – 1974 Lost to Celtics in conference semi-finals, 4 – 2
1974 – 1975 Lost to Bullets in conference semi-finals, 4 – 3
1975 – 1976 Lost to Celtics in conference semi-finals, 4 – 2
1991 – 1992 Lost to Jazz in opening round, 3 – 2
1992 – 1993 Lost to Rockets in opening round, 3 – 2
1996 – 1997 Lost to Jazz in opening round, 3 – 0
2005 – 2006 Lost to Suns in conference semi-finals, 4 – 3
2011 – 2012 Lost to Spurs in conference semi-finals, 4 – 0
2012 – 2013 Lost to Grizzlies in opening round, 4 – 2
2013 – 2014 Lost to Thunder in conference semi-finals, 4 – 2
2014 – 2015 Lost to Rockets in conference semi-finals, 4 – 3
2015 – 2016 Lost to Trail Blazers in opening round, 4 – 2
2016 – 2017 Lost to Jazz in opening round, 4 – 3
2018 – 2019 Lost to Warriors in opening round, 4 – 3
2019 – 2020 Lost to Nuggets in conference semi-finals, 4 – 3

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Los Angeles Clippers Head Coach History

The Los Angeles Clippers have played musical chairs with a great many coaches, with very few team leaders spending any serious time with the team.

The team did benefit from the tutelage of Jack Ramsay, coach for the Clippers from 1972 – 1976. Ramsay is considered one of the best coaches in NBA history and has spent time at the head of the 76ers, Trail Blazers, and Pacers in addition to the Clippers.

During Ramsay’s time, the team made their first visits to the playoffs, spending three consecutive years in the running.

The current coach, the well-traveled Doc Rivers, has been with the Clippers for the better part of a decade now, which may account for the team’s consistency in making it into the postseason.

Doc Rivers came to the Clippers from the Celtics and the Magic. Before coaching, he had played for the Knicks, Spurs and for the Clippers themselves.

Furthermore, Rivers had a stint as a sports commentator with the ABC network. Thus, he had a good handle on the various stratagems used by league teams, which has stood the Clippers in good stead in recent years.

For those who bet on the NBA, it’s worth noting that there has been an ever-increasing number of wagers on the Clippers since Rivers took over.

Tenure Coach Prior Experience
1970 – 1971 Dolph Schayes 76ers coach
1971 – 1972 Johnny McCarthy player, Celtics
1972 – 1976 Jack Ramsay 76ers coach
1976 – 1977 Tates Locke Clemson Univ. coach
1977 Bob MacKinnon Canisius College coach
1977 Joe Mullaney Memphis Sounds coach
1977 – 1978 Cotton Fitzsimmons Hawks coach
1978 – 1980 Gene Shue 76ers coach
1980 – 1983 Paul Silas player, SuperSonics
1983 – 1985 Jim Lynam Trail Blazers asst. coach
1985 – 1987 Don Chaney Don Chaney
1987 – 1989 Gene Shue see above
1989 – 1990 Don Casey Temple Univ. coach
1990 – 1992 Mike Schuler Warriors asst. coach
1992 Mack Calvin Virginia Squires coach
1992 – 1993 Larry Brown Spurs coach
1993 – 1994 Bob Weiss Hawks coach
1994 – 1998 Bill Fitch Nets coach
1998 – 2000 Chris Ford Bucks coach
2000 Jim Todd Salem State College coach
2000 – 2003 Alvin Gentry Pistons coach
2003 – 2010 Mike Dunleavy Trail Blazers coach
2010 Kim Hughes Nuggets asst. coach
2010 – 2013 Vincent Del Negro Bulls coach
2013 – present Doc Rivers Celtics coach

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Blake (the) Griffin

Griffins - A creature that is half eagle, half-lion.

Griffins (sometimes spelled gryphons) are creatures that are half eagle, half-lion.

Power forward Blake Griffin played with the Clippers from 2009 through 2018. The Clippers drafted him out of the University of Oklahoma as the first overall pick in the 2009 NBA draft.

Griffin hurt his knee right before the start of what was meant to be his debut season. He was out of commission for a year before joining the team on the court in 2010.

In that first actual season of play, Griffin was voted Rookie of the Year. He scored 44 points in a game against the Knicks and 47 points in a game versus the Pacers. In that first season he also achieved two triple-doubles.

Griffin signed a contract with the Clippers for more than $170 million in 2017, but he was traded to the Pistons the following year. With the Pistons, Griffin scored 50 points in a game against the 76ers, causing the Clippers to wonder if they made the right decision in trading away Griffin.

Fun Fact: When the Clippers were still the Buffalo Braves, their local rival was a team called the Griffins, who did everything in their power to keep the Braves from getting game time at the local arena.

DeAndre “De Man” Jordan

It can’t be easy to have the last name “Jordan” if you are an NBA player and your first name is not Michael. However, DeAndre Jordan made his own legacy in his time with the Clippers as a “let’s shut this down” basket-slammer.

Jordan played center for the team from 2008 through 2018, mimicking Griffin’s own era with the team.

In his rookie season, Jordan made ten dunks in one game, a notable achievement.

Jordan almost left the Clippers in 2015, after the Mavericks dangled $80 million in front of him. However, he was lured back into the Clippers fold after Los Angeles offered him $88 million to stick with the team.

Jordan did finally move to the Mavericks roster for the 2018 – 2019 season but only played with Dallas for one season before being traded to the Knicks, and then moving quickly onto the Nets.

In Closing

The Clippers’ win-loss record has been up, down, and all around. Their chances of making it into the playoffs in any given season are anyone’s guess, although Doc Rivers has been working hard to shift the team’s fortunes.

But, it takes three hours to turn a cruise ship around, and it looks like bringing the Clippers up to real threat level may take the same kind of care and commitment.

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