Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Baylor's Clippers Finally More Than An Opening Act

Bob McAdoo is a 54 year-old former NBA scoring champ who now sits on the bench of the Miami Heat, glasses propped on his head, functioning as an assistant coach for Pat Riley. It's an ironic job, for when he played, McAdoo drove many of those suit-clad coaches to the funny farm. There was even a line about him: "McAdoo, McAdon't, McAwill, McAwon't."

McAdoo played for the Pistons, of course. Dickie Vitale was so hellbent on bringing him to Detroit that he gift-wrapped M.L. Carr and two draft picks -- who would later be used or traded to become Robert Parish and Kevin McHale -- to the Celtics in order to put McAdon't into a Pistons uniform. It was a short-lived, awkward marriage that ended in bloody divorce.

I bring up McAdoo because he was a player on the last team of the Buffalo Braves/San Diego Clippers/Los Angeles franchise that advanced past the first round of the playoffs. It was in 1976.

Until now.

The Clippers brushed aside the Denver Nuggets of Carmelo Anthony in five measly games, and now await the winner of the Phoenix Suns-Los Angeles Lakers series.

A Clippers-Lakers series? Yikes!

Oh, where are Kurt Nimphius and Benoit Benjamin and Danny Manning? They should be enjoying this -- Clippers of bad teams gone by. When they played, the thought of a Clippers-Lakers playoff series was about as folly as it gets. But what's even funnier, if the Clips and Lakers squared off -- and they'd have to call it the Hallway Series, as they both play in the Staples Center -- I believe the Clippers might be slight favorites.

Not to be dramatic, but that's sort of like Eastern Michigan University and U-M finally meeting in a football bowl game -- and U-M being the underdog. Of course, with the Wolverines' bowl history....


These may not be your father's Clippers, but they're still Elgin Baylor's, and that's a story that fascinates me.

In this day and age when a man can be a coach in a city for 10 months and have the most seniority of all that city's coaches (read: Mike Babcock in Detroit), the fact that Baylor, who's been the Clippers' equivalent of a GM for nearly 20 years -- for a team that hasn't won a playoff series under his watch -- is still employed, is either amazing or an indictment on that franchise's ownership. Maybe it's a little bit of both.

Baylor: His ship (Clipper) has finally come in?

Well, Baylor is a former Laker player and at age 71, it would be nice to see him taste some team success as a Clipper -- beyond even this second round appearance. If the Lakers should upset the Suns, Baylor's team could find itself in the Western Conference Finals.

And Jack Nicholson would gag on his arrogance.

The NBA has always been a league of vagabonds and geographical shifts. The Buffalo Braves of Bob McAdoo moved to San Diego and became the Clippers of Bill Walton and Jellybean Joe Bryant, who has a son named Kobe who I think still plays in the league somewhere. Then the Clippers moved two hours north to Los Angeles and became the longest-running second banana in pro sports history. The Lakers were Johnny Carson and the Clippers were Ed McMahon -- except in some years, they were more like Doc Severinsen. Or Tommy Newsom.

But these Clippers, with ex-CMU player Chris Kaman, and Sam Cassell, and Elton Brand leading the way, are a nice blend of youth and veteran leadership. Their coach, Mike Dunleavy, once coached the Lakers before being run out of Tinseltown. But now he's baaaack, to steal a line from nearby Hollywood.

I'd say the Clippers are back, too, but they were never "here" to begin with. They started out bad, and got progressively worse. I remember once, in the mid-1980's, the Clippers were in town and Bob Page, who was on Detroit radio at the time, declared it "Guaranteed Win Night."

"If you're the kind of fan that seems to only go to the games where the home team loses, then buy a ticket and see the Pistons-Clippers game tonight," Page said on the air. "It's 'Guaranteed Win Night. I guarantee if you go to the game, you'll see the Pistons win. It's the one night that you can make such a guarantee."

The Pistons won -- in a season in which the Clippers went 12-70.

But those days appear to be long gone. And it only took Elgin Baylor 20 years, hundreds of players, and a gaggle of coaches to get it done.

Matt Millen, there's hope for you yet.

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