TIME NBA

The Clippers Are Actually Named After a Ship

Ship: Getty Images; Clippers: AP

Amid the Donald Sterling scandal, many wonder where the Los Angeles team got its name

It’s not uncommon for sports teams to have ambiguous names or mascots. While many are easy to decipher—the Broncos, the Bulls, the Gators—many are referenced often but make little sense. What, exactly, is a Laker anyway? Or a Buckeye? Or the Alabama Crimson Tide?

In light of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling allegedly making racist comments to his girlfriend, Google searches for the team have increased more than 5,000 percent since the scandal broke over the weekend. But not many know the meaning behind the name.

The team was originally based in Buffalo, N.Y., named the Braves as homage to the Native American history of Buffalo. As if the NBA predicted New York wouldn’t need another professional sports team, the owner, who’d only been there one year, traded franchises with the Boston Celtics owner Irv Levin, who relocated the team to San Diego.

San Diego previously played home to the Rockets—which moved to Houston in 1971—so the fans and city welcomed the new team but didn’t approve of the named “Braves.” Levin spearheaded a “Name the Team” contest for fans, who voted on the name Clippers in honor of San Diego’s harbor and historic sailing ships.

Levin sold the team to Donald Sterling in 1981, when the Clippers would have their worst season to date, going 17-65. And Sterling has been a focus of controversy before, including in the early 1980s when he tried to finish the season in last place so the team could get the first choice in the NBA draft. Sterling was caught for this scheme and paid a slap-on-the-wrist $10,000 fine to the NBA. The team eventually moved to Los Angeles in 1984, where Sterling and Co. hoped to rebrand the franchise.

After the latest scandal, the Clippers may need to rebrand the team again.

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