This is the official NBA explanation of the Clippers name origin:
In 1978, San Diego welcomed the relocation of the Buffalo Braves’ franchise because the city had lost their Rockets to Houston seven years earlier. San Diego team officials didn’t think ‘Braves’ was a representative nickname for the club. A contest decided on Clippers because the city was known for the great sailing ships that passed through San Diego Bay. When the Clippers moved to Los Angeles in 1984, they kept their nickname.
And now for ‘the rest of the story‘. In 1978 I joined the Clippers as Advertising Director. I was hired by my father Irving Levin, the owner of the franchise. The team history and glide-path from Buffalo to San Diego is perhaps coherent given the market conditions at the time (see: The Boston-San Diego Shuffle and The San Diego Clippers: A Dream Ends), as my father was growing increasingly weary from non-stop commuting between Boston and LA when he owned the Celtics. My father was being pummeled in the Boston Press for bad trades that resulted in the Celtics going from a championship team to a losing franchise – not a good thing in Boston. He wanted a way out. Through a series of talks and meetings involving league officials, he and John Y Brown (owner of the Buffalo Braves) agreed to a deal to switch franchises and players. Prior to the ’78 season in San Diego my father decided to change the name of the franchise which was moved from Buffalo as a way to get the city involved with the new team along with the fact that the previous name had nothing to do with the San Diego area.
The advertising agency of record for the Clippers along with team officials in which I which actively participated oversaw the contest. Most of the Clipper officials involved in this process were in their 20’s like me save for Irv Kaze, Hal Childs, my Dad and Lou Lenart. Tons of suggestions came in and we considered everyone of them. Most were ridiculous or totally inappropriate though we had a great deal of fun and laughter vetting through the submissions. How we arrived at the Clippers is as mentioned above in the official NBA line. However before the name was formally chosen my dad and I went to the San Diego harbor where the Star of India ship was docked. It was and remains a beautiful boat and legitimate icon of San Diego. We looked at the ship and in the moment my dad said he thought naming the team the Clippers was a good idea since people could identify with the local icon. We talked about possible cross promotions etc. Not totally on board with naming, I thought we should call the team the Stars but Dad thought it sounded like a team the Globe Trotters (an exhibition vs. real competitive team) would play. And back at the office the general feeling was the name was not that good but we had nothing better. The ad agency came up with some logo looks to visualize what the “Clippers” brand would look like. As a trained designer and advertising director I thought the logo was awful, I hated the colors and the uniforms were of the ‘pajama’ blue variety. I’m not sure if anyone shared my opinion but Dad liked all of it so it became the official logo and the name Clippers was born (so there you have it – a moment of inspiration codifies a name for a league franchise now valued at $2 billion).
Looking back the name ‘Clippers’ has become a ‘Kleenex’ or ‘Xerox’ play of sorts. It is the team brand yet no one associates it with ships, the ocean, the city of San Diego or LA Marina for that matter. This is just like the ‘Lakers’ (birthed in Minnesota – the ‘lan of 1000 lakes’) as their name has nothing to do with Los Angeles either.
I was asked by a magazine writer recently what I thought about the rebranding of the Clippers. The technology shows at the arena, the colors, the throwback uniforms etc. I told him what my dad always told me and he was right. If you win everything works, if you lose it nothing else matters – it’s all chatter.
For the Clippers to emerge from their dark past of losing (the Sterling Years) and the grey cloud that hangs over the franchise they need to win…and Saturday’s game against the Spurs is the biggest game in franchise history since opening day in 1978. When you consider that San Diego may be poised to witness another professional and some may say ‘trophy sports property’ loss, i,e., with the rumored potential exit of Chargers to LA, one can only speculate that perhaps a Clipper win against it’s nemesis San Antonio Spurs is an honoring of the long suffering San Diego sports community spirt and karma. We shall see….