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History of the San Diego Clippers

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San Diego Clippers
San Diego Clippers logo
HistoryBuffalo Braves
San Diego Clippers
Los Angeles Clippers
ArenaSan Diego Sports Arena
LocationSan Diego, California
Team colorsColumbia blue, White, Orange[3]
Head coachGene Shue (1978–1980)
Paul Silas (1980—1983)
Jim Lynam (1983–1984)
OwnershipIrv Levin (1978–1981)
Donald Sterling (1981—1984)
Conference titlesNone
Division titlesNone

The San Diego Clippers were an American professional basketball franchise based in San Diego, California. The team competed in the National Basketball Association (NBA) as a member club of the league's Western Conference Pacific Division from 1978 until 1984. In 1984, owner Donald Sterling controversially relocated the team to Los Angeles without league approval, where, despite lawsuits and a fine against Sterling by the NBA, it ultimately remained, and is now known as the Los Angeles Clippers.


The franchise was founded as the Buffalo Braves, one of three NBA expansion franchises that began play in the 1970–71season, along with the Portland Trail Blazers and Cleveland Cavaliers.[9] The Braves played their home games at the Buffalo Memorial Auditorium, along with another Buffalo, New York team that would begin play that year, the National Hockey League's Buffalo Sabres.[10] In 1978, Braves owner John Y. Brown, Jr. made an agreement with Boston Celtics owner Irv Levin to trade franchise ownerships. The Southern California resident Levin opted to move the Braves to San Diego.

San Diego welcomed the relocation of the Buffalo Braves franchise, as the city's previous NBA franchise, the San Diego Rockets, had relocated to Houston seven years earlier in 1971. Prior to that, their American Basketball Association franchise, the San Diego Sails (previously known as the San Diego Conquistadors), folded after the 1974–1975 ABA season. San Diego team officials did not think "Braves" was a proper representative nickname for the club in San Diego, and a local naming contest ultimately decided on "Clippers", in reference to the city being known for the great sailing ships that passed through San Diego Bay.[4]

Playing at the San Diego Sports Arena, the Clippers posted a record of 43–39 in their first season in California under new head coach Gene Shue, leaving them two wins shy of the final playoff spot. World B. Free, acquired before the season from the Philadelphia 76ers, finished second overall in NBA scoring average, with 28.9 per game (George Gervin of the San Antonio Spurs had a 29.6 average). It was also in this first season in Southern California that long-time announcer Ralph Lawler began his association with the franchise.

The 1979–80 season saw the Clippers begin to struggle, despite adding center Bill Walton, a San Diego native who was two years removed from winning an NBA Championship and the NBA Most Valuable Player Award with the Portland Trail Blazers. Walton missed 68 games in his first season in San Diego due to foot injuries (which he also suffered in his final years in Portland). San Diego finished 35–47, as Walton and other key players missed significant time due to injuries. Free again finished second in league scoring, with 30.2 PPG. Paul Silas replaced Shue as head coach the following season, and the Clippers finished 36–46, again missing the postseason. Walton missed the entire season due to foot injuries, while Free was traded to the Golden State Warriors in exchange for guard Phil Smith.

The 1981–82 season brought changes to the franchise as Levin sold the team to Los Angeles-area real estate developer and attorney Donald Sterling for $12.5 million. The Clippers experienced poor play, as foot injuries again caused Walton to miss the entire season, and the team limped to a 17–65 record. Franchise mismanagement and rumors of a move to Sterling's home town of Los Angeles plagued the team from the onset of Sterling's acquisition. Additionally, like what happened in Buffalo, competition from the other local sports teams (the Padres and Chargers were both excelling at this time) further sucked attention away from the Clippers. The team's final two seasons in San Diego were not much better despite Walton finally returning to the court, finishing 25–57 in 1982–83 and 30–52 in 1983–84.

In 1984, the Clippers were moved north to Los Angeles without league approval. The NBA fined Sterling $25 million for violating league rules and filed a lawsuit demanding the franchise be returned to San Diego.[5] Sterling then filed a lawsuit of his own against the league for $100 million, but dropped the suit when the league agreed to drop their suit, allowing him to keep the team in Los Angeles, and decreasing his fine to $6 million.[6]


The San Diego Sports Arena was the home for the San Diego Clippers

The San Diego Sports Arena hosted the San Diego Clippers for all of their home games during each of their six seasons in San Diego prior to relocating to Los Angeles. Prior to the Clippers, the arena had also been the home court of the San Diego Rockets, who spent four seasons in San Diego before relocating to Houston. The arena additionally hosted the 1971 NBA All-Star Game during that period.

Basketball Hall of Famers[edit]

San Diego Clippers Hall of Famers
No. Name Position Tenure Inducted
32 Bill Walton C 1979–1984 1993

Individual awards[edit]

NBA Rookie of the Year

All-NBA Second Team

NBA All-Star selection

Season-by-season records[edit]

Season Team League Conference Division Conference




Wins Losses Win% GB Awards
1978–79 1978–79[lower-alpha 1] NBA Western Pacific 7th 5th 43 39 .524 9
1979–80 1979–80 NBA Western Pacific 7th 5th 35 47 .427 25
1980–81 1980–81 NBA Western Pacific 9th 5th 36 46 .439 21
1981–82 1981–82 NBA Western Pacific 12th 6th 17 65 .207 40
1982–83 1982–83 NBA Western Pacific 11th 6th 25 57 .305 33 Terry Cummings (ROY)
1983–84 1983–84 NBA Western Pacific 11th 6th 30 52 .366 24

Head Coaches[edit]

# Name Term GC W L Win% Ref
1 Gene Shue 19781980 164 78 86 .476 [7]
2 Paul Silas 19801983 246 78 168 .317 [8]
3 Jim Lynam 1983–1984 82 30 52 .366 [9]


  1. "NBA History: Teams". National Basketball Association. February 25, 2013.
  2. "–LA Clippers seasons". National Basketball Association.
  3. "Braves Quick Facts". NBA Media Ventures, LLC. Archived from the original on 2017-09-06. Unknown parameter |url-status= ignored (help)
  4. "Clippers: Behind the Name". NBA Media Ventures, LLC. Retrieved May 7, 2015.
  5. "Clippers and NBA Reach Agreement; Suit Dropped". Los Angeles Times. 1987-09-30. Retrieved 2019-08-10.
  6. Lidz, Franz (April 17, 2000). "Up And Down In Beverly Hills". Sports Illustrated. Archived from the original on April 27, 2014. Unknown parameter |url-status= ignored (help)
  7. "Gene Shue". Retrieved 2019-10-27.
  8. "Paul Silas". Retrieved 2019-10-28.
  9. "Jim Lynam". Retrieved 2019-10-28.

External links[edit]

  1. The team relocated to San Diego, California.

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