When the Clippers moved to Los Angeles from San Diego, it was under a vale of controversy. The NBA had not approved the move.
The team that started out as an expansion franchise in Buffalo, New York—The Braves—moved to California in 1978, becoming the San Diego Clippers.
They struggled in San Diego, making them a good buy for an LA real estate developer and attorney in 1984.
It would take the Clippers until the ‘90s to make the playoffs, and they would flounder between Anaheim and Los Angeles, but for one night in 1984, the Clippers were golden.
That was the night they beat the Knicks and set their benchmark.
Move to LA
The NBA fined Donald Sterling, the then new owner of the Clippers in 1984, for $250-million. A shrewd business person, Sterling sued them back for $100-million.
The issue ended when the NBA agreed to drop the fine to $6-million and allowed Sterling to keep his team in LA. Despite the outcome of their first game, the move would be a tough one for the franchise.
Playing second fiddle to the Lakers, the Clippers not only had to compete for market share, they weren’t that good. On top of that, the few good players they had seemed to suffer an inordinate amount of injuries.
Sports writers at the time characterized it as the Clipper Triangle, a nod to Bermuda. Players went in, but what happened to them was a mystery.
Los Angeles Clippers
After six years in San Diego, the Clippers had a chance to really blow up in Los Angeles (in theory). It was a bigger market so more fans, more money, more everything.
They would make their home at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena. The arena sat, as it still does, south of downtown Los Angeles, near the USC campus.
There was no Staples Center at the time. The Sports Arena was where the Lakers played from 1960 to 1967. The Clippers would be there until the end of the Millennia, 1999.
For the 1984 season, the first two games they played on the road, but on November 1, 1984, they played in their new home against the New York Knicks.
Some 12,000 fans would show up that night.
Clippers v Knicks
After an explosion of fireworks, balloons, and spotlights, Mayor Tom Bradley tossed the jump ball to start the game.
Clippers’ center, Bill Walton scored the first basket for the Clippers, breaking the seal on the game, 2-0, but the Clippers would not hold that lead.
The Knicks caught up in a free-throw resulting from a foul by Walton on Knicks’ player, Ken Bannister. Bannister nailed both shots.
For all of the first and most of the second quarter, they went back and forth with baskets, no team leading by more than five points at any time. Then, right before the half, The Clippers took the edge, 53-50.
It would have been awesome if they hadn’t given it all back to the Knicks in the third, where they took the lead by 15 points.
In the fourth quarter, however, the Clippers mastered the recovery, first cutting the lead by half, then closing the gap.
By the end of the fourth, with 14 seconds on the clock, the Clippers had them 106-105. Before the final buzzer, the Clippers sank one more free throw, ending the game 107-105.
In the stands, that night was Jack Nicholson, the famous Lakers fan. There were more fireworks, and for a minute it seemed LA may have another playoff team.
It was enough to give them a small following, but the real fanfare would have to wait until the ’90s.