The Los Angeles Clippers’ Worst Season: 1987

Most teams we’ve discussed so far have had one or two seasons in their history where they failed to crack 20 wins. The Indiana Pacers haven’t even had any such seasons. The Los Angeles Clippers, on the other hand…

The Clips have failed to reach 20 wins in an 82-game season seven times. They did it six times in Los Angeles and once in San Diego. They failed to reach even ten wins in the 50-game 1999 season, going 9-41.

It’s interesting to note that ever since Donald Sterling, the worst owner in NBA history (and that’s saying a lot!), was forced to sell the team in 2014, the Clippers haven’t even posted a single losing season.

But in 1987…well, let’s just get right to it, because when you’re the worst Clippers team ever, you’ve truly accomplished something.

The On-Court Record

Amazingly, the Clippers were 3-3 after six games. They beat a Rockets team that had just made the NBA Finals a year prior.

They then lost 28 of their next 29 games to drop to 4-31 and that was that.

The Clips sandwiched a win over Seattle between a 12-game losing streak and a 16-game skid.

It only took them 54 games to avoid the ignominy of tying the 1973 Sixers for the league’s worst-ever record. They celebrated that accomplishment by losing 26 of their last 28 games. No sense missing a good tanking opportunity, right? The Clippers drafted the immortal Reggie Williams fourth overall in the ’87 draft. Williams posted 26.0 career Win Shares in almost 600 games.

They won a bit out of the gate. Then they lost a whole lot. That’s pretty much the Donald Sterling-owned Clippers in any season, but 1987 was the absolute worst.

Oh, and they posted a minus-11.1 Net Rating. Plus, they managed to be dead last in both offense and defense, so congratulations to them!

The Featured Players

(yeah, I know that’s a Sonics pic, but it demonstrates Cage at his sweatiest and greasiest and is a thing of utter beauty.)

We gotta talk about Michael Cage, and not just because his 7.2 Win Shares and .119 WS/48 were better than all his teammates combined in terms of contributing to the Clippers’ efforts to actually win a few games.

Cage had the greatest, greasiest Jheri curl ever sported by a professional athlete. As Black hairstyles go, the Afro gets all the press. But let’s not sleep on the Jheri, not when baseball’s Pedro Martinez had a marvelous one, as did Samuel L. Jackson in “Pulp Fiction”.

What’s With the “I Thought He Was Good” Guys?

Cedric Maxwell was also on this team. The Clippers traded Bill Walton for him in the 1985 offseason. That move not only gave the Celtics a Hall of Fame sixth man on their greatest-ever squad, but it also opened the door for Kevin McHale to become the full-time starter, himself having occupied the role of “Hall of Fame sixth man” for his first five years in the league.

So…great trade, Clips! Maxwell never had a bad year, so there’s that. His ’87 campaign featured 2.5 WS and .107 WS/48 before the Clips shipped him to Houston for draft picks (that would become Joe Wolf and Chucky Brown) midseason.

Maxwell is not in the Hall of Fame. Maybe he would’ve been had he stayed in Boston in 1986.

The rest of the ’87 Clippers? How about a washed-up and injured Marques Johnson (10 games played), legendary stiff Benoit Benjamin, top scorer Mike Woodson, Larry Drew…all guys whose names you’ve heard either because they hit their stardom elsewhere (Maxwell, Johnson) or got to be better-known as coaches (Woodson, Drew.) OK, maybe you only know Benjamin if you’re a Clippers or SuperSonics fan.

The Coach

So who presided over this mess? Don Chaney, best known for being the guy who almost ran Hakeem Olajuwon out of Houston over a beef between player and coach. He’s not to be confused with John Chaney, who threatened to murder John Calipari at a press conference, or Dick Cheney, who shot a guy in the face.

Sorry to any Chaneys or Cheneys out there, but I’m-a cross the street if I see any of y’all walking toward me.

Chaney had a career coaching record of 337-494, a .406 winning percentage, and a penchant for presiding over team collapses before getting canned.

So of course he’d have the distinction of coaching the worst season in a franchise with a ton of years that would be any other franchise’s low point.

The Aftermath

Donald Sterling, flaming racist, owned this squad. Elgin Baylor continued to set new lows for competence as an executive..

They couldn’t sign any marquee free agents even in Los Angeles. They outright lucked into Chris Paul when the league wouldn’t let CP3 go to the Lakers.

Then Sterling got caught on a hot mic, Adam Silver cemented his legacy in one fell swoop, Microsoft Hoops happened when Steve Ballmer took over, and the team’s been a genuine class act of a franchise ever since, reaching the Western Conference Finals for the first time in 2021.

But in 1987? Just constant, unending despair and hopelessness, year in and year out, like the bums who sleep in tents on the mean streets of Los Angeles. Got a nickel, brother?

NEXT: Los Angeles Lakers. Man, I hate to do this to Kobe…tell y’all what. I’ll take it out on Byron Scott instead. Stay tuned and thanks for reading!