Located above the 307 section in Staples Center, a memorial showcasing 17 of the most influential figures in Los Angeles basketball history is prominently displayed for all in attendance to see. Of those 17, the 10 best ended up having their jerseys retired — ensuring no future player dons the same numerals. The most recent name is Kobe Bryant (whom has both of his numbers up there).
There is a clear pattern within the group. They’re all current (or future, for Kobe) Hall of Famers. With the exception of former commentator Chick Hearn — who was memorialized for his work in the booth — they all played for the Los Angeles Lakers.
Not a single Los Angeles Clipper jersey hangs from the rafters of Staples Center.
It’s not all that hard to imagine once you’ve given it some thought. The Clippers’ history as a franchise stretches back to 1970 when they began their inaugural season as the Buffalo Braves. From that year until 2010, the team produced just nine All-Stars.
Of those nine, only three (Randy Smith, Elton Brand, and Chris Kaman) lasted at least one presidential term with the team. Building a legacy takes time, and few have wanted to spend an extended period of time with this franchise.
A legacy is also aided by winning — something the Clippers haven’t done much of. In their 25 seasons in Los Angeles, the Clippers finished a single season with a plus-.500 record just twice. They made the playoffs four times during that span, and got out of the first round just once.
Compiling these factors together makes it easy to understand why no Clipper jerseys have been retired.
For that very reason, Chris Paul will be the first former Clippers’ player immortalized on a banner in Staples Center.
On Monday evening, Paul will make his much-anticipated return to the place he called home for six seasons. The response will likely be positive — with a few boo-birds here and there. Despite how each fan feels about him currently, he worked vigorously through his tenure in LA to earn the respect of that crowd. In the process, Paul became the best player in the franchise’s history.
Paul’s time with the Clippers is a statistical marvel. He leads the franchise in just about every advanced metric there is — including win shares, PER, offensive rating, VORP, assist percentage, box score plus/minus. Often times, second place isn’t very close.
The point guard’s trophy case is unlike any Clipper before him. He’s the only Clipper to be on multiple All-NBA First teams. He’s the only Clipper to be a multiple-time Player of the Month. He’s made four more All-Defensive First Teams than every other Clippers player combined. Although former Brave Bob McAdoo is the only Clipper to win the regular season MVP, Paul has become the most decorated player from an achievement perspective.
Looking at team success, the Clippers were never better than during Paul’s time there. The Clippers reached the playoff all six years with Paul. They had reached seven times TOTAL before he came. Paul accomplished nearly as much in six years as the entire franchise did in 40.
The Clippers’ playoff troubles can hardly be attributed to Paul shrinking under the pressure. Paul’s scoring totals went up in the postseason in each of the last five years. While scoring more, Paul also kept his efficiency up. His field goal and three-point percentage both increased in the playoffs. He beat the Spurs with a clutch shot in a back-and-forth Game 7. He has a playoff series victory over Steph Curry and the Warriors. However, Paul was at his absolute best in his last stanza as a member of the Clippers. In a 7-game series with the Jazz, Paul averaged 25.3 points, 9.9 assists, and 5.0 rebounds. He did this while shooting 49.6-percent from the field.
A myriad of factors went into the Clippers failing to reach a single conference championship during Paul’s tenure (injuries, lack of depth, and a bit of bad luck). With that said, six-straight seasons of a .600-plus winning percentage is nothing to scoff at. Duly, a few bad playoff losses doesn’t diminish what Paul did accomplish with the franchise.
For all of Paul’s accomplishments, he has earned the right to be called the greatest Clipper of all-time. The Wake Forest product undoubtedly deserves to be the first player in the franchise’s history to have their name hung from the Staples Center rafters.
Sources: Stats per Basketball Reference, Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports, Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA TODAY Sports