Bo Outlaw 1997
The voting for the citizenry's favorite Cult Classic Clipper was too close to call. Of the eight candidates listed in the poll, three were easily the top vote getters: Earl Boykins, Steve Novak and Bo Outlaw. All are great choices, but all things being equal (or almost equal), of course I'm going to go with Bo.
All three have something in common -- the Clippers were the first team to give them a chance before they went on to even more success in their NBA careers. Neither Novak nor Boykins made their NBA debuts as Clippers, but they were buried deep on other teams' benches before they arrived in L.A. Outlaw on the other hand was a Clipper discovery -- a call up from the CBA on a 10 day contract in February 1994.
That was a very difficult season for Clippers' fans. The team had just been to the playoffs in back-to-back seasons, and they had almost everyone back from the 1993 playoff team that pushed Hakeem Olajuwon and the Rockets to five games. But while they had kept all of the players except for Ken (the Snake) Norman, they had lost their coach. NBA nomad Larry Brown had worked miracles for the Clippers, but when he moved on to Indiana to coach the Pacers, the magic left with him. With Ron Harper and Danny Manning both in contract years and assuming the worst about their future in L.A. and Bob Weiss unable to fill Brown's shoes, the Clippers had a major drop off.
With the team sitting at 16-29, they signed Outlaw, an undrafted 6'8" forward out of the University of Houston who had been playing in Grand Rapids in the CBA, to a 10 day contract. In his first game as a Clipper, he played 22 minutes, scoring 13 points and pulling down 7 rebounds in a Clipper win over the Lakers in the Forum. Now, road wins over the Lakers have always been scarce for the Clippers, but at that time the team was 2-24 in Inglewood, so being a part of that win ensured that Outlaw would have a special place in the hearts of Clipper fans for a long time.
But it was more than that. The 1994 Clippers had talent. Harper, Manning, Mark Jackson, Stanley Roberts -- these guys had looked like a promising unit the season before, but under Weiss they were going through the motions. Super-talented ballplayers who frankly didn't seem to care much that season. Outlaw was the complete opposite. Athletic but undersized at a skinny 6'8", he had few NBA level skills and was a particularly bad shooter as evidenced by his 52% career average from the foul line. But he played every possession as if his life depended on it. He was the ultimate energy guy, flying all over the court, diving into the crowd for loose balls, working his ass off on defense. Among teammates who were playing out the string, he immediately became a fan favorite as you may have already guessed.
He soon signed a second 10 day contract and eventually signed for the rest of the season after which he played three more full seasons with the Clippers. His final season in L.A. he started 25 games and averaged almost 27 minutes per game. He shot 61% from the field that year, almost entirely on put backs and dunks since the team never called a single play for him. At just 6'8" he played most of his minutes at center, where frankly he was far more productive than the ostensible starter, rookie Lorenzen Wright. In fact, that was a fascinating Clippers team, and I always hoped that coach Bill Fitch would go with a starting lineup of Brent Barry (6'6"), Malik Sealy (6'8"), Rodney Rogers (6'7"), Loy Vaught (6'9") and Outlaw -- five starters ranging from 6'6" to 6'9"; on defense you just switch everything and see what happens, but alas it was not to be. The 1997 team made the playoffs with a lackluster 36-46 overall record, but given the roster, it was quite an accomplishment and Outlaw was a big reason that they overachieved.
Unfortunately, Bo snubbed a more lucrative offer from the Clippers in the summer of 1997 to sign in Orlando. He played all or part of eight different seasons with the Magic before retiring, and remains a part of the Orlando organization today. In all he played 15 seasons in the NBA, making almost $39M over his career, which must surely rank him as one of the most successful undrafted players of the last 20 years. His career stats don't exactly jump out at you -- five points and five rebounds, a blocked shot, big deal right? -- but everywhere he played he was a fan favorite, and there was a reason for that.
Coincidentally, Bo is also linked to the Clippers later in his career in a particularly interesting transaction. Just after the start of the 2001-2002 season, Outlaw was traded from Orlando to Phoenix. The Clippers acted as a third team in the deal to help make salaries match, receiving future head coach Vinny Del Negro from the Suns. For the Clippers, Del Negro was all about getting over the NBA's minimum team salary, and he was waived and then retired.
For Southern California based Clipper fans, there's another reason to love Bo Outlaw. Before we had the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas, there was the Summer Pro League at the Pyramid in Long Beach. The SPL was a different animal -- yes, NBA franchises brought teams made up of draft picks and other youngsters, but it was also open to other teams, and it was not unusual to see Baron Davis running in a game with a bunch of guys you'd never heard of. Every year Outlaw would put together a team of K-list free agents and enter it in the SPL -- he became a fixture. The requirement for being on Bo's team seemed to be that you had to agree to let Bo do everything. He brought the ball up the court, he ran the offense, he took the shots, he got the rebounds. Triple doubles with 30 plus points and 20 rebounds were not uncommon. And he was just so much fun to watch -- he was having a grand old time out there. It was fascinating watching a player known throughout his NBA career as making the most of limited abilities through hard work and hustle, showcasing what he could really do in an informal setting. It was Bo saying, "I can do all of this other stuff, but I know that's not my job in the NBA, so I don't."
Bo's job in the NBA was to play tough defense, to bug the crap out of the guy he was guarding, to block shots, to dive after loose balls, to be a great teammate, and to just generally help in any way he could. In four seasons with the Clippers at the start of his career, and for 11 more seasons after that, he did his job to perfection. And for that he is a Clippers Cult Classic.