Back when World B. Free roamed the perimeter, hairline in full recession, high-arching jump shot in tow, the Clippers called San Diego home.
There was Bill Walton – in the strangest part of his career – dabbling in corporate America.
There Was ‘Bad News’ Barnes, at the tail end of his pitiful four-year NBA stint and on the road to full blown addict.
There was ‘Jelly Bean’ Bryant, his long gait and sweet behind the back dribble.
There was Head Coach Gene Shue, who once said of one of his struggling teams “The way my team is doing, we could get Wilt Chamberlain in a trade and find out that he’s really two midgets Scotch-taped together.”
And of course, there were the baby-blue uniforms, rickety chairs of decaying Sports Arena and the funky orange out of bounds lines.
The team, itself stolen away from Buffalo, lasted only six seasons in San Diego – never making the playoffs, and only once winning more games than it lost – before one Donald T. Sterling, committing his first NBA sin, uprooted the Clippers north to Los Angeles.
The move came just five years after Sterling bought the team and launched a marketing campaign that featured the slogan “My Promise: I will make you proud of the Clippers.” Unapproved by the league, the cowboy act ultimately cost Sterling $6 million in fines – a figure chiseled down from $20 million.
Deplorable as Sterling is/was, no one could blame him for pulling up the anchor in San Diego: The arena was bad and fan interest low.
After all, the Clippers weren’t the first organization to find out the hard way San Diego isn’t a basketball town. Even with Elvin Hayes, a rookie
with massive upside, The Rockets couldn’t win games or fill seats, and left for Houston after only four seasons.
The Conquistadors, with a flip-flop laden Wilt Chamberlain as coach couldn’t draw a crowd and flopped in the ABA – the Sails, their successor suffered a similar fate.
The truth is, America’s Finest City isn’t an NBA town. It’s apparently not an NFL town either.
But you know what San Diego is? A minor-league hockey town.
The city loves their Gulls.
The American Hockey League team averages nearly 9,000 fans during home games, in that same rickety, archaic arena the NBA twice fled.
Why is this important?
In 2018, the Los Angeles Clippers are getting a D-League affiliate. The organization is looking at potential destinations, and has reportedly narrowed the search down to Long Beach, Anaheim, San Diego and possibly Bakersfield.
The clear answer here is San Diego.
You know how many fans per game the D-League averages? Less than 3,000 (2014).
It’s hard to imagine the Gulls filling up all 9,000 seats in the Sports Arena and a D-League team not at least surpassing 3,000 fans a night. Look around the D-League: places like Sioux Falls, Grand Rapids, Westchester, Fort Wayne all have teams. These are podunks; San Diego is the eighth biggest city in America – over a million people call it home.
Yes, Sports Arena is not an ideal basketball arena, but neither is the Westchester County Center or the Bob Carpenter Center, among others, but the Dub-Knicks and 87ers make it work.
Yes, the Ice underneath the floorboards has been problematic in the past during Lakers preseason games. But, given modern science, one would assume this is an issue that could be worked out – it’s not like the team would the only D-League franchise to share an arena with a hockey team (The Suns and Raptors 905).
You know what else?
Given the abandonment of the city for the bright lights of Hollywood by both the Clippers and now the Chargers, I’m willing to say L.A. owes us one!