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The Clippers' International Woes

For a team named after a sailing ship that was the fastest transport of its era, the Clippers sure don't travel overseas well.

Back in October 2003, Mike Dunleavy's first two regular season games as head coach of the Clippers were  back-to-backs against the former Seattle Supersonics in Saitama, Japan.  The Clippers lost both of those games, in the process losing Elton Brand to a broken foot in the first game, and giving up a career high 50 to Rashard Lewis in the second.

In 2006, coming off the franchise's best season ever, the Clippers spent part of their pre-season in Russia in the NBA's first experiment with training camps in Europe.  No team has gone quite as far as Moscow before or since, and the experience was more or less a disaster for the Clippers.  They lost an exhibition against CSKA Moscow (which was pretty embarrassing in 2006, though less so in hindsight given Barcelona's defeat of the Lakers last week), lost hours upon hours of practice time to Moscow traffic, and proceeded to use their Russian misadventures as an excuse for the rest of the season in which they underachieved and missed the playoffs by a couple of games.

Meanwhile, as other NBA team's have mined rich international veins of basketball talent, the Clippers have had little to no luck with foreign born players.  Serbian Marko Jaric, Manu Ginobili's backcourt mate in Italy and considered the better player by many at the time, was drafted 30th in 2000 after Ginobili had gone to the Spurs 57th in 1999.  Ginobili is an all star and all pro, while Jaric is now out of the league.  Greek Sofo Schortsianitis, MBFGC, the 34th pick in 2003, finally joined the Clippers for Summer League this July, only to return to the EuroLeague after a disappointing showing in Las Vegas failed to produce an NBA contract offer.  Of course there's Russian Yaroslav Korolev, one of the worst lottery picks in NBA history (and the reason the Clippers were exiled to Moscow in October 2006).  Drafted 12th by the Clippers in 2005, Korolev played a total of 168 minutes in two seasons in LA and has since been trying to make a living in Europe and the D-League.  Finally, who can forget Nigerian/Brit Michael Olowokandi, the first overall pick in the 1999 draft?  That didn't work out so well.

Stojko Vrankovic, Peja Drobnjak, Wang Zhi Zhi, Boniface N'Dong, Mamadou N'Diaye, Cheik Samb... all forgettable Clippers.  There are a very few minor successes: Vladimir Radmanovic had a nice impact for the half season he was in LA, and Zeljko Rebraca was a terrific backup center before a back injury forced him to retire.

So the honor of best international Clipper (or perhaps I should go with 'best foreign born Clipper' to pre-empt any claims by the faux-German Chris Kaman) probably goes to the big Dutchman, Swen Nater, who led the NBA in rebounding 30 years ago.

Perhaps owing to their lack of success with international players, the Clippers are one of only two NBA teams who do not have a single foreign-born player on their roster this season.  The Indiana Pacers are the other one.

So with that sad international history, the Clippers will play an exhibition in Mexico City tonight.  Somehow, I don't expect it to go well.  Given their history, the Clippers will likely get swine flu, or get stuck in Mexico from the effects of Hurricane Paula; something bad is pretty much bound to happen.