Debunking the ‘Clippers curse’

Marketplace Staff Jun 26, 2009

Debunking the ‘Clippers curse’

Marketplace Staff Jun 26, 2009


Renita Jablonski: OK, we’ve got the Lakers. But last night, fans of LA’s other team, the Clippers, had something to cheer about, too. They got to pick the first player in the NBA draft, superstar power forward Blake Griffin. But is that really something to cheer about given the Clippers history? Nihar Patel takes a look.

Nihar Patel: The LA Clippers are, to many, a punchline to a joke.

Conan O’Brien: This studio holds 380 people. Yeah, it’s exactly like being at a Clippers game.

That was recent LA transplant Conan O’Brien on the Tonight Show. Last season, the Clippers had one of the league’s worst records.

But there’s an upside to that. Thanks to the NBA’s draft lottery, the worst-performing teams pick early — and the Clippers won their first pick.

Dave Berri: The first pick in the draft tends to be a more productive player than the players who are taken afterwards.

Dave Berri is associate professor of economics at Southern Utah University, and co-author of the book Wages of Wins.

Berri: And it’s not just the productivity of the players that’s different, it’s also fans react to you getting that first pick. Getting that first pick in the draft enhances your gate revenue. So it’s a huge benefit.

Now, the Clippers haven’t exactly had the best of luck when it comes to drafting players. They’ve ended up with more busts than superstars. Michael Olowakandi comes to mind.

Fans joke about the so-called “Clipper curse.” But the players may not be the only ones to blame. It could also be the front office.

A team of statisticians from ESPN created a metric called the EWA. That measures the estimated number of wins each NBA player has added to a given team. When you combine all the EWAs for every team, a pattern develops. Over a 20-year span, the Clippers are dead last.

John Hollinger: I think they’ve created a lot of their own bad luck. stat guru John Hollinger:

Hollinger: I think it’s just been terrible mismanagement more than anything else. And it’s shown in their ability to select and develop players.

If Blake Griffin doesn’t pan out, it won’t be too big a financial drain on the organization. Unlike other sports leagues, the NBA has a limit on how much rookies can make their first few years. Which means no astronomical contract for Griffin. Unless, of course, he can break the curse.

In Los Angeles, I’m Nihar Patel for Marketplace.

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