Clippers name has to go with Sterling

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LOS ANGELES -- The NBA needs a clean slate, and so does the city of Los Angeles.

Not only is it time for Donald Sterling to go, but it's also time for his Los Angeles Clippers to go as well.

On Thursday, the Sterling family trust signed an agreement to sell the Clippers to former Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer for $2 billion. If the NBA approves the sale, it will not only signal the end of Sterling's 33-year tenure as the Clippers owner, but hopefully the end of the Clippers as we know them.

The league and the city are long overdue for a fresh start. There's no better time than now, as they show Sterling the door, to burn the name and image of a franchise Sterling has spent the past three decades both building and tarnishing.

A league source said Thursday that changing a team's name is typically a 22-month process, and an exception would have to be made for the Clippers if the new owner wanted to rebrand the team.

Ballmer will no doubt have a list of things he wants to do when he takes over the team, but at the top of that list should be changing the team's name and getting that exception from the league so it happens sooner rather than later.

Ballmer said all the right things in his first statement late Thursday night after winning the bidding process to become the next owner of the Clippers.

"L.A. is one of the world's great cities -- a city that embraces inclusiveness, in exactly the same way that the NBA and I embrace inclusiveness," he said. "I am confident that the Clippers will in the coming years become an even bigger part of the community."

For that to truly happen in the coming years, a healing process must take place. The first step in that process was removing Sterling from the NBA. The next step is removing the Clippers' name and all the memories it conjures up from Sterling's three decades of failed ownership.

Changing the name and logo would be perhaps the easiest transformation in all of sports. The Clippers don't have an arena of their own, as they share the Staples Center with the Los Angeles Lakers, Kings and Sparks. They are the only tenant in the arena without a championship banner or retired jersey hanging from the rafters. Their only real marks on the arena on game days are makeshift signs and banners that are hung and removed before and after each game and changed before each season. Oh, and the red, white and blue balloons tied to Lakers statues before playoff games.

Most Los Angeles sports fans don't even know what the "Clippers" name actually means because, well, is has nothing to do with Los Angeles. It was a name derived from a fan contest when the Buffalo Braves moved to San Diego in 1978 in honor of San Diego's active harbor and historic sailing ships.

Now, it's nothing new for Los Angeles sports teams to keep names more appropriate for their former homes. The Brooklyn Dodgers were named after Brooklyn residents' ability at dodging the city's trolleys, and the Minneapolis Lakers were named after the state's nickname as "Land of 10,000 Lakes." They both kept their name after moving to Los Angeles because they already had established history. Brooklyn had won 11 pennants, a World Series title and had 10 Hall of Fame players, while Minneapolis had won five NBA titles and had six Hall of Famers.

The Clippers? The team name had been around for just four seasons when Sterling bought the Clips in 1982, and six total seasons before they moved to Los Angeles in 1984. They missed the playoffs in each of those six seasons and were in the midst of a 15-year playoff drought. As a franchise they had and still have never won more than one playoff series in a single postseason and don't have a Hall of Fame player outside of Bob McAdoo, who played for the Buffalo Braves from 1973-77.

Even worse than being named after a sailing ship that has been out of commission since the 19th century is the Clippers' logo. It's a knockoff of the Lakers' logo, which was introduced when Sterling took over the team in 1982 with an eye toward relocating the team to Los Angeles.

It's the sports version of opening up McDowell's across the street from McDonald's.

It basically looks like Sterling showed the Lakers logo, which had been around since 1960, to someone and asked for it to be copied as best as it possibly could without getting him sued for copyright infringement.

It would be easy to understand the varsity and junior varsity jokes made about the Lakers and Clippers over the years simply based on the imitation logo before you even looked at the disparate on-court products. From 1977 to 2011, the Lakers made the playoffs in all but two seasons and won 18 division titles, 16 conference titles and 10 NBA titles. During that same stretch, the Clippers franchise made the playoffs only four times and won just one playoff series. The Clippers weren't just bad during this time -- they were historically dreadful. They lost 50 or more games 25 times, 60 or more nine times and 70 games once.

Even before Sterling made racist comments that caused him to receive a lifetime ban from the NBA and forever tarnished the Clippers name, the time was right for the Clippers to be rebranded. This current group led by Doc Rivers, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin has nothing to do with the team's tainted past. The heavy burden of countless losing seasons and late night jokes isn't a weight they need to carry anymore.

When the Clippers took off their shooting shirts during the playoffs, in their first game after Sterling's racist rant became public, and dumped them at center court and wore their shirts inside out, hiding the Clippers name, that was their way of saying they didn't represent Sterling because the Clippers' name represents Sterling. The two have gone hand-in-hand ever since the Clippers moved to Los Angeles 30 years ago.

It's a name that probably should have been changed a while ago by an owner too stubborn and too cheap to do it, but now that he's gone, so should the name he hung on to.

It's not so much of a luxury anymore as it is a necessity. The NBA washing its hands of Sterling was just the first step of the healing process. The next step is washing its hands of the Clippers' name that has been synonymous with Sterling and everything he stood for for the past three decades.

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