The Los Angeles Clippers have never advanced out of the second round of the playoffs and they typically bust in the first round, or fail in the Western Conference semifinals. This freaky phenomena is widely known in LA as the “Clippers Curse” because the franchise cannot get over the playoff hump, even with good teams over the last decade.

LA Clippers Curse Los Angeles Playoffs
Are the LA Clippers simply unlucky, or is there something legitimate about the urban legend known as the Clippers Curse? (Image: Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA Today Sports)

When the Clippers fell behind 0-2 against Spida Mitchell and the Utah Jazz in the Western Conference semifinals, everyone in SoCal could not stop talking about the dreaded curse.

“I think we’re fine,” said Clippers head coach Ty Lue, who shrugged off talk of the curse.

“Plenty of basketball left,” said Kawhi Leonard after they lost Game 2.

In the first round against the Dallas Mavericks, the Clippers rallied from down 2-0 and down 3-2 against to knock out the Mavs and advance to the semifinals. The Clippers fell into another 0-2 hole against the Jazz, but they might not be able to recover from this deficit.

The Clippers never won an NBA championship, nor a Western Conference title. For die-hard Clippers fans, they’d love a championship but would be content with a first-time appearance in the Western Conference finals.

In the last decade, the Clippers qualified for the postseason nine times, but were bounced in the first round four times, and met their fate in the west semifinals five times. Now that they’re down 0-2 against the Jazz, the Clippers look like they’ll get knocked out in the semifinals for a third postseason in a row with the Clippers Curse in full effect.

Clippers History: Buffalo > San Diego > LA

In 1970, the NBA added a trio of expansion teams. The city of Buffalo were awarded a new team and the Buffalo Braves entered the NBA for the 1970-71 season as a member of the Eastern Conference in the Atlantic Division.

In 1978, the owners of the Buffalo Braves and Boston Celtics swapped franchises. The new Braves owner, Irv Levin, moved the team from Buffalo to their new home in San Diego. They rebranded the team name and the San Diego Clippers were born in 1978 as a member of the Western Conference. In the early 1970s, San Diego had a team called the Rockets but they relocated to Houston, so they were in the market for a pro hoops team.

1970 to 1978 Buffalo Braves
1978 to 1984 San Diego Clippers
1985 to Present LA Clippers

In 1982, Levin sold the Clippers to Donald Sterling, a real estate developer in Los Angeles, for a sum of $12.5 million. The NBA denied his request to move the Clippers to LA, where they already had the Lakers.

In 1984, Sterling went ahead and moved the Clippers to LA without permission from the league. The NBA sued Sterling, but commissioner David Stern dropped the case when Al Davis of the Oakland Raiders won his case to relocate the Raiders from the Bay Area to Southern California.

Dismal Sterling Era

Under the miserly Sterling, the Clippers were known as the worst franchise in the NBA in the 1980s and 1990s. Sterling often won “worst owner in pro sports” polls.He made James Dolan from the New York Knicks seem like a lovable character.

Sterling nickel and dimed everything, especially team travel. His fraught relationship with players made the team undesirable for free agents.He often bragged about how little he spent on payroll.

In 2014, Sterling was embroiled in a huge scandal when he was caught saying racist remarks on tape. The NBA banned him for life, which is something they wanted to do since he first bought the team back in the early 1980s. Fans hoped the Clippers Curse would be lifted after Sterling sold the team. If anything, the Clippers Curse only intensified.

Steve Ballmer paid $2 billion for Clippers in 2014, but fans were worried the former CEO of Microsoft would relocate the team to Seattle. With the team set to move into their own arena near the old LA Forum and new SoFi Stadium, the “Seattle Clippers” rumors were put to rest.

Playoffs: Drought, then misery

Between 1974 and 1976, the Buffalo Braves advanced to the playoffs in three straight years. They even won a playoff series in 1976.

The Clippers never a qualified for the postseason when they played in San Diego. When they moved to LA, the Clippers made the playoffs just three times between 1984 and 2006. However, they were eliminated in the first round all three times in 1992, 1993, and 1997.

In 1992, the Clippers ended a 16-year franchise playoff drought and qualified for the first postseason on the West Coast.

The first whispers of the Clippers Curse began sometime around the turn of the century when the Clippers finally made the playoffs, but were first-round busts.

If you ask anyone from Western New York state, they’ll tell you that the Clippers are jinxed because of its Buffalo roots. The city of Buffalo is still seeking their first major sports title. The Buffalo Bills went to four-straight Super Bowls but were the runner-up every time.

Did the jinx begin the moment Donald Sterling bought the team? Stories about the cheap Sterling were renown. A bus company ditched the team at Newark Airport because they were fed up with Sterling’s refusal to pay a delinquent account. Players nearly went on strike multiple times.

Doc Rivers dismissed the curse and cited poor play as the culprit in the Clippers demise during his seven-year tenure as head coach.

“We’re here because we put ourselves here,” said Rivers after the Clippers were eliminated by the Nuggets last year.

Then again, Rivers and the Clippers parted ways in the offseason after another disappointing postseason exit. Rivers is currently coaching the Philadelphia 76ers, who earned the #1 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs and close to securing a spot in the east finals.

Another choke job coming?

Winning in the playoffs is difficult enough without mind games ruminating through the heads of players and coaches. The Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox finally ended their curses, but fans toiled for nearly a century before their teams finally won a World Series.

Clippers nation know that they need to get over the hump first before they can even entertain a realistic championship run.

2012 San Antonio Spurs Lost Semis 4-0
2013 Memphis Grizzlies Lost First Round 4-2
2014 Golden State Warriors Lost Semis 4-2
2015 Houston Rockets Lost Semis 4-3
2016 Portland Trail Blazers Lost First Round 4-2
2017 Utah Jazz Lost First Round 4-3
2019 Golden State Warriors Lost First Round 4-2
2020 Denver Nuggets Lost in Semis 4-3

Between 2013 and 2017, the Clippers were eliminated from the playoffs in five consecutive postseason after they blew a series lead, which also set an NBA playoff record. That ugly run included their epic collapse in the 2015 playoffs after they built up a 3-1 lead against the Houston Rockets and promptly choked.

The Clippers signed Kawhi Leonard to a hefty free agent contract in hopes he could end the curse. Kawhi won two titles with two different teams, including a championship in 2019 during his lone season with the Toronto Raptors.

In Kawhi’s first season with the Clippers, they blew a 3-1 series lead against Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets. The Nugs won three elimination games in a row and knocked out the Clippers in the west semifinals.

In Kawhi’s second season with the Clippers, he’s in a tough spot and down 0-2 against the Jazz. Even with Kawhi on the court, the Clippers Curse is in full effect.

Little Brother Syndrome: Clippers vs Lakers

The Clippers play in a major media market, but as a secondary team. Franchises that have this big brother/little brother rivalry are often doomed because it messes with their head.

Pro baseball post-WWII had this issue in New York City with the New York Yankees, New York Giants, and Brooklyn Dodgers fighting for the hearts and minds of baseball fans in Gotham. The Yankees were the top team in NYC, so the Giants and Dodgers jumped at a chance to relocate in California.

The New York Mets joined baseball as a expansion team in the late 1960s, but even though the Miracle Mets won the first of multiple championships, they’ll forever live in the shadow of the Yankees.

LA Lakers 11
LA Clippers 0

The New York Jets had an identity crisis playing in Giants Stadium in New Jersey for numerous years. The Giants won several Super Bowls, while everyone refers to the other NYC football team as the LOL Jets.

The moment that Sterling moved the Clippers from San Diego to LA, the Clippers became a second-class franchise in the City of Angels. LA is the show business epicenter, but the Lakers were the big stars in Tinsel Town. The Clippers were B-List stars at best and Z-list at their worst.

So long as the Clippers remain in LA, they’ll never garner the same media attention and devout fandom that the Lakers draw. Until the Clippers finally advance past the conference semifinals, they will continue to attract negative attention about the Clippers Curse.