For the Clippers Franchise, a Forgotten Past

The Braves' Randy Smith drove past the Knicks' Earl Monroe en route to 32 points in a 105-99 Buffalo victory Jan. 24, 1975. He now works in Connecticut.
The Braves' Randy Smith drove past the Knicks' Earl Monroe en route to 32 points in a 105-99 Buffalo victory Jan. 24, 1975. He now works in Connecticut. (By Robert L. Smith -- Buffalo News)

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By David Neiman
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, May 14, 2006

LOS ANGELES -- On Sunday night, when they take on the Phoenix Suns in Game 4 of the NBA Western Conference semifinals, the Los Angeles Clippers will try to continue their remarkable transformation from one of the most ridiculed franchises in professional sports into a winner.

With every game they play this postseason -- their first playoff appearance since 1992-93 -- the Clippers seem to set a handful of franchise records, much to the pleasure of fans, players and coaches.

"It's great to be part of the history books, and making this tradition," said Elton Brand, Los Angeles's softspoken star, at a recent practice. "We're very proud, and we know that the organization is, too."

After all, these are the Clippers , a team that until recently was synonymous with ineptitude. The championship banners and retired jerseys that hang from the rafters here at Staples Center, all of them belong to the city's celebrated franchise, the Lakers. Former players do not show up at Clippers games because for the most part, their tenure with the franchise is something they would rather not be associated with.

The history of the Clippers is one that most people would rather forget, or simply know nothing about.

"There really hasn't been a history," said Los Angeles Coach Mike Dunleavy.

But there has been. Not only that -- some of that history is worth remembering, particularly for one of the players who helped make it.

On Sunday night from a condominium in Norwich, Conn., 3,000 miles away from Staples Center, Randy Smith will be watching. He has been watching Los Angeles ever since the team reached the postseason, and he likes what he sees.

"I just love the whole team," he said earlier this week in a telephone interview. "They play well together. They remind me of Detroit, where everybody has a role, and they play it well. . . . I wouldn't be surprised if they went all the way to the finals in the West."

Smith, a quiet 57-year-old, has faded into virtual anonymity. The front desk operator at the Mohegan Sun Casino, where Smith now works as the director of player development, was unaware he had been in the NBA.

"There's a Randy Smith here," said a woman who identified herself as Lenore. "I don't know if he was a professional basketball player or not."

He was that, and more. With the exception of Bob McAdoo, his teammate for five seasons with the Buffalo Braves (the first incarnation of the Clippers), Smith is the greatest former player ever to have played for the team.

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