‘Splain This: Los Angeles Clippers—What’s In A Name?

Adam AmickSenior Writer IJuly 21, 2008

“What does baffled mean?” said the street vendor to the police in the movie Highlander as the latter discussed the recent spate of beheadings in New York City. 

I just read an amusing piece from Jordan Vertone called “…The 10 Wimpiest Team Names In Sports.” 

And it occurred to me as I pondered the point that perhaps there are other names needing examination. Not necessarily for their machismo or lack thereof, but from a “What were they thinking?” standpoint. 

Thence the name “Clippers” came to mind. 

Color me baffled. 

What the Hell is a Los Angeles "Clipper"? 

I pulled up the Wikipedia entry for the team. They have an interesting history, having been founded in Buffalo as the Braves in 1970. After a rough start, a couple of playoff appearances, a move that fell through, and subsequent struggles, the team relocated to San Diego in 1978 (can you say “Road Trip!”?) and was renamed, "Clippers". 

The most notable name to play for the team was Bill Walton, who was on the downside of his career. After continued poor performance (I’m sensing a pattern here) the team was sold again and moved up the 405 to Los Angeles in 1984, where they share the Staples Center with an NBA team you may have heard of—the Lakers. 

So again, what the Hell is a Los Angeles “Clipper”? Let’s “cut” to the chase, and examine the possibilities for the choice of nickname. I used Dictionary.com as a source for specific definitions. 

Is it something referring to a ship in the harbor? 

Clipper: Nautical. Also called a clipper ship. A sailing ship built and rigged for speed, esp. a type of three-masted ship with a fast hull form and a lofty rig, built in the U.S. from c1845, and in Great Britain from a later date, until c1870, and used in trades in which speed was more important than cargo capacity. 

I think the following from Wikipedia says it best: "The ships had low expected lifetimes and rarely outlasted two decades of use before they were broken up for salvage. Given their speed and maneuverability, clippers frequently mounted cannon or carronade and were often employed in piracy, privateering, smuggling, or interdiction service." 

I would suggest that the Clipper's record indicates a lack of speed and maneuverability. And their occasional ability to steal a win leads me to believe that piracy is something still in the playbook. 

But what if “Clipper” refers to strong winds coming in from the coast? 

Being an amateur student of meteorology, I am familiar with the “Alberta Clipper” that brings frosty winds through the Great Plains and chills us here in the great state of Texas, but I believe the winds in Southern California are classified as “Santa Ana” or possibly just hot air from Hollywood-types acting out of place. 

Could the name have something to do with a tool used for cutting hair? 

Clipper: a person or thing that clips or cuts. 

This might have possibilities, being there are barber shops, or hair salons—as they’re known to the fashionable in SoCal—everywhere. The electric clippers don’t seem like something I’d consider naming my team after. If your players are known for “Stylin' and Profilin'”, ala Ric Flair, then this could be appropriate. 

I suppose if there were a history of points-shaving, then we might have something here. 

Perhaps the name is derived from the extensive use of hedge clippers in the region? 

Clipper: Often, clippers. (used with a plural verb

) a cutting tool, esp. shears: hedge clippers. 

I’ve spent weeks in Southern California, and made observations of how well-manicured landscaping abounds. There’s nary a hedge out of place, or limb to be shorn…hmmm. 

If the team were in the tree pruning business, I would understand. But since they wouldn’t be in a position to win a game worthy of cutting down nets, I don’t think they’ll need anything sharp within reach. 

Could the name be related to an electronic object? 

Clipper: Electronics. A device that gives output only for an input above or below a certain critical value. 

I would suggest the lack of scoring and winning ability for the team makes this an unlikely choice. 

Then again the team does give output only for an input above or below a certain critical value. The opponent scores more or less, and this input determines the output of the Clippers. Isn’t this typical of under performing teams in sports? 

By George I think we’ve got it! 

My confusion allayed, I can now get back to life knowing that I have found the source for the somewhat odd nickname of Los Angeles’ other “professional” basketball team. The Clippers are named after an electronic device I’ve never heard of…What the Hell were they thinking?

Somebody please 'splain that to me.