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The doom of McAdoo
by Tim O'Sullivan / September 25, 2002

Boston Red Sox owner Walter Frazee sold Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees in 1920. Frazee used the money from the Ruth sale to produce a Broadway musical, No, No Nanette. The Red Sox have not won a World Series since, thus, the Curse of the Bambino.

John Y. Brown bought the Buffalo Braves (the franchise that would degenerate into the Clippers) for $6.2 million in 1976. He then sold Bob McAdoo, the three-time defending scoring champion and 1975 MVP, to the New York Knicks for $3 million. Shortly after, Brown sold half of the franchise for another $3 million. The move was good for business, bad for karma. Since then, it has been the Clippers wicked fate to acquire talented players and watch them leave, one by one, screaming like children fleeing a haunted house. Yet the Clippers keep trudging on. Earlier this week, they signed Michael Olowokandi to a one-year qualifying offer. Don't expect him to stay much longer than that.

Like they lost McAdoo, and then Archibald, Chambers, Cummings, Pierce, Hodges, Walton, Scott, Manning, Harper, Brown, McDyess, Barry, Vaught, Taylor, Murray and others, the Clippers are destined to lose Olowokandi and the rest of their talented class of 2003 free agents. Olowokandi, Lamar Odom, Andre Miller, Elton Brand and Corey Maggette will all be free agents after next season. If they stayed together, this is a contending team. But if history has taught us anything, its that these Clippers will jump ship and anyone left better get a bailing bucket.

After selling McAdoo, who is now in the Hall of Fame, Buffalo went 30-52 in 1976-77 and burned through three head coaches. The one ray of hope was rookie Adrian Dantley. Dantley was traded to Indiana for George Johnson before the start of the next season. Trying to compensate, Buffalo brought in point guard Nate "Tiny" Archibald for the 1977-78 campaign, but Archibald tore his Achilles tendon in training camp. He never played a minute for the Braves or Clippers.

The Braves moved to San Diego in 1978 as part of a deal brokered by then-NBA attorney David Stern. In the most lopsided deal in basketball history, the cunning John Y. Brown essentially traded his cursed franchise to Irv Levin for the Boston Celtics, the team that couldn't lose. Levin, a California native, jumped on the offer because he wanted out of Boston and moved the Braves back to his home state. As part of the deal, the Celtics got
Archibald and were able to retain the draft rights to Larry Bird while the Clippers got such players as back-up center Kevin Kunnert and the ill-fated Kermit Washington.

After missing the playoffs for three straight years, Levin sold the team to Beverly Hills attorney and real estate mogul Donald T. Sterling, the man most people blame for the Clippers inability to keep players. True, Sterling's conservative fiscal policies (he's a tightwad) have restricted the Clippers from re-signing their stars or luring any high-priced free agents to Los Angeles, but the Doom of McAdoo was not Sterling's doing. The San Diego Clippers' acquired their first and only marquee player, Bill Walton, in 1979. But Big Red was limited to just 14 games in four years due to chronic foot injuries. Those fragile feet "forced" the Clips to trade a promising young Tom Chambers to Seattle for center James Donaldson, and the Doom continued. During that offseason San Diego also acquired Norm Nixon from the Lakers for Swen Nater and Byron Scott. Nixon played well for the
Clippers for two years, Scott was an integral part of the Lakers' championship runs for a decade.

It gets worse. The Clips moved to L.A. for the 1984-85 season and decided the team needed a new face as well. So Sterling sent 1983 Rookie of the Year Terry Cummings, Ricky Pierce and Craig Hodges to Milwaukee for Marques Johnson, Junior Bridgeman, Harvey Catchings and, of course, cash. Johnson and Bridgeman were standouts for L.A. for a couple of years before injuries cut their careers short. Cummings and Pierce helped Milwaukee to contender status for most of the 80's. Cummings was a productive, longevity legend and Pierce eventually won the Sixth Man Award, while Hodges was a key cog in the Chicago Bulls early championship years. The Clippers finished their first season in Los Angeles 31-51. Apparently the Doom had followed them north. Fed up with Walton, the Clippers traded him to Boston before the 1985-86 season for Cedric Maxwell. Naturally, Walton went on to play 80 games for the Celtics that year, winning the Sixth Man Award and helping the Celtics to the NBA Championship. The Clippers won a combined 44 games over the next two years.

The Doom seemed ready to be lifted in 1988 when the Clippers actually won something. Sure, it was only the NBA Draft lottery, but it was something. With the No. 1 pick, Los Angeles took can't-miss Danny Manning. Manning went down with a knee injury 26 games into his rookie season. The Clippers finished 21-61.

It got worse. Los Angeles had the No. 2 pick in the 1989 draft and selected Danny Ferry. Allegedly superstitious, Ferry refused to play for Los Angeles and went to Italy instead. General Manager Elgin Baylor traded Ferry's right to Cleveland for Ron Harper and draft choices. It seemed like a good move, until Harper went down with a knee injury, the same one that had hit Manning, 35 games into the 1989-90 season. The Clippers finished 30-52. The Doom laid low in the early 90's as the Clippers made back-to-back playoff appearances in 1992 and 1993 under coach Larry Brown. Showing no prejudices, the Doom resurfaced and afflicted the coach. Brown left for Indiana in 1993.

L.A. traded Manning to Atlanta for Dominique Wilkins in 1994, hoping to bolster attendance. It worked for one year, then both Wilkins and Harper left via free agency. Wilkins was basically washed up, but Harper went on to
help Chicago win three championships. In the 1995 draft, L.A. selected Antonio McDyess, only to trade the future All-Star, with Randy Woods, to Denver for Rodney Rodgers and Brent Barry. Rodgers would be injury-riddled before leaving for Phoenix via free agency, where he won the Sixth Man Award, while Barry developed just enough to be traded to Miami for Ike Austin. Austin never lived up to his potential while Barry continued to improve.

As the 90's wore on, the Doom propagated. The Clippers lost quality role-players such as Malik Sealy and Bo Outlaw, quality characters like Loy Vaught, and potential stars like Maurice Taylor to free agency. Now, on the brink of success, the Doom of McAdoo is poised to strike again, ready to push Miller, Brand, Odom, Olowokandi and Maggette out the door. If Sterling and the Clippers want to avoid the fate of the Red Sox, it's time to counter the curse. Rather than selling players, it's time to pay them.

Tim O'Sullivan is a staff writer at the Concord (NH) Monitor and a regular contributor to HoopsHype.com

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