This series of articles will celebrate (or laugh at) some of the worst professional sports teams of all time. I will focus on teams within my lifetime so expect the worst from the 1970s to present day.
Choosing the worst Los Angeles Clipper team of all time is an arduous task. After all, there are so many awful Clipper teams to choose from, it is difficult to decipher which one is truly the worst team. That’s how bad it has been for the Clippers in their franchise history. After much research though, it is determined by yours truly that the 1986-87 version of the LA Clippers is indeed the worst of the bunch.
Let’s start with the basics. The Clippers finished the 86-87 season with a ghastly 12-70 record. This is the only Clipper team that reached the dubious 70 loss nadir. For that, they should be either congratulated or scorned. The Clip did outscore the New York Knicks and Cleveland Cavaliers that season, and the Denver Nuggets did surrender more points. But those are the only highlights of the Clippers season.
The main problem with the Clippers is owner Donald Sterling. While successful in real estate developing in Southern California, Sterling hasn’t cornered the market, when it comes to winning basketball teams. The real estate magnate purchased the San Diego Clippers in 1981 for $13.5 million. Sterling then moved the Clippers to downtown Los Angeles, to the outdated LA Sports Arena. At one time, this arena was considered state of the art, but that was back in the 1950s when Bob Hope and Bing Crosby were still making “road movies.” Fast forward to the 1980s and the LA Sports Arena was located in a rough part of Los Angeles, nearby the gangster paradise known as South Central. Sterling was offered millions of dollars from prospective owners to sell the Clippers so they could be moved to a better location. Anaheim was building a new arena and desperately wanted an NBA tenant. However, Sterling steadfastly refused noting that the team would stay in Los Angeles for as long as he owned the team. In fact, his refusal to sell the team for above market value is seen as somewhat laughable by business and marketing gurus.
Sterling also had, and still has a reputation for being a penny-pincher. His cheapskate methods hurt the Clippers on the court, as he refused to lure top-end talent in order to make a profit. The Clippers suffered on the court, but “The Donald” made a killing off the court.
A major reason why the Clippers were terrible on the court was their failure at the draft table. One of the biggest draft flops in Clipper history was Benoit Benjamin. The 7’0 centre was a major star at Creighton University, and his size had scouts salivating. The Clippers selected Benjamin with the third overall pick in the 1985 draft in hopes that he would become the post presence every NBA team needs. Instead, Benjamin was more interested in making extra trips to the buffet table. Clippers management wanted Benjamin to tip the scales at around the 250 pound mark. But Benjamin would balloon to around 310 pounds and often showed up to training camp out of shape. In 86-87, Benjamin averaged 11.5 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.6 blocks in 72 games for the Clippers. Worse, he averaged 7.2 doughnuts per sitting in 86-87. (This is only a rumour.)
Injuries also plagued the Clippers in 86-87. Marques Johnson was seen as the leader of the Clippers and was a fine basketball player. The 6’7 small forward from UCLA enjoyed a fine season in 85-86, averaging 20.3 points per game. However, Johnson suffered a serious neck injury that forced the Clippers leading scorer to the sidelines. Johnson appeared in only 10 games in 1986-87 and the injury effectively ended his career.
Cedric Maxwell was acquired from the Boston Celtics for Bill Walton prior to the 85-86 season, in hopes that his championship experience would be beneficial to a young, impressionable Clipper team. However, Maxwell never found his game in Clipper land, and he was dealt to Houston midway through the season.
Another first round flop was Lancaster Gordon. The eighth overall pick in the 1984 draft struggled during his entire pro career, after an excellent college tenure at Louisville. The 6’3 point guard averaged 7.5 points, 2.0 assists and 1. 5 turnovers per game. Gordon only lasted 8 games into next season before fading into oblivion.
When you lose 70 games, there are games you’d like to forget, but deep down you know you can’t. There are two of those games that stand out for the 86-87 Clippers. Early in the season, December 2 to be exact, the Clippers suffered their largest margin of defeat, as they were humbled 134-99 by the Portland Trailblazers. Later in the year, February 2 to be precise, the Clippers were thrashed 140-112 by the Denver Nuggets. The 140 points surrendered was the most given up by the Clippers all season.
The Clippers did a wonderful job of spreading out their losing streaks. A 12 game losing streak early in the season, was followed by a 16 game skid midway through the year. The Clippers finished the season in style, dropping their last 14 games of the year.
After a season like that, casualties were bound to happen. However, only head coach Don Chaney was the only one to take the fall, as he was fired at the end of the season. General manager Elgin Baylor retained his role, despite his notorious draft record.
The Clippers continued to lose for many more years. They also continued their misery at the draft table. Joe Wolf, Ken Norman, Danny Ferry, Bo Kimble, Loy Vaught, Terry Dehere, Lamond Murray, Michael Olowokandi, Darius Miles and Yaroslav Korolev were all first round busts that the Clippers selected. God bless the Los Angeles Clippers.
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