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Another Championship for the L.A. Clippers

December 15, 2015

Players are traded in sports all the time, but here’s the story of a time when owners traded entire teams.

Los Angeles Clippers Basketball Logo

Even a casual basketball fan would tell you that the most storied team in the NBA is the Boston Celtics, and the one with the most woeful history (until recently) was the Los Angeles Clippers. But bizarrely, the opposite is true: technically, the Clippers are the historical elite of the NBA. That’s because the Clippers are really the Boston Celtics. We can explain.

In 1972, the Boston Celtics were sold for $3.7 million to Ira Levin, a movie producer and executive at National General Pictures, a movie theater holding company. As he was a film industry honcho, he lived in Los Angeles, and he wanted to move his new team to where he lived. But Levin knew that the NBA, nor its team owners, would ever approve a move for its flagship, 11-title-winning team. So, he concocted a plan: He’d get another NBA team owner to swap teams with him, and then he’d move that team to L.A.

It wouldn’t be hard to ask somebody to own the Boston Celtics, and Levin quickly found a cohort: John Y. Brown, owner of the Buffalo Braves, a team less than a decade old and which had yet to amass much of a fanbase or win a championship. (Brown was also the man who made Kentucky Fried Chicken into an international giant in fast food chicken, buying the company off of Col. Harland Sanders and franchising it.) Levin convinced Brown to a straight swap: Levin would own the Braves, and Brown would own the Celtics. Under NBA bylaws, all it looked like was that each team was simply sold to a new owner.

While the NBA’s owners would never have approved the Celtics moving, they did approve Levin’s purchase of the Braves, and overwhelmingly at that: 21 to 1. And then Levin got his wish: He immediately moved his team, the Buffalo Braves, not to Los Angeles (where the Lakers played and claimed territorial rights), but a couple of hours down the road to San Diego, renaming the team the Clippers after the clipper ships that once docked nearby. Levin sold the Clippers in 1984, at which point they finally moved to Los Angeles.

This would all mean that technically speaking, the current Clippers are the successors to the old Boston Celtics, and its championship legacy.


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