Eleven players have worn no. 44 in Clippers history, but the choice for the best is quite clear (unlike the picture I had to use because Getty Images refuses to acknowledge his existence).
The Buffalo Braves acquired Bob Kauffman in the 1970 expansion draft, and fifty years later, he is still the greatest player in franchise history to don no. 44.
Kauffman played college basketball at Guilford College, an NAIA school in Greensboro, NC, where he had his no. 44 jersey retired. His teammate Dave Odom, former head coach at Wake Forest, credited Kauffman for putting their school on the map nationally:
“Bob turned a program that was experiencing great difficulty winning into a program that was feared. He was an absolutely fierce competitor. He loved his teammates and his college and was committed to being the best basketball player and the best student and the best person he could be.”
After an All-American senior season, Kauffman was selected third overall in the 1968 NBA Draft, right behind Elvin Hayes and Wes Unseld. He had a relatively unremarkable beginning to his NBA career as a reserve in Seattle and then Chicago for one season each before landing in Buffalo. The Braves made Kauffman a starter, and he rewarded them by being the team’s first star.
In his first three seasons in Buffalo (the first three years of the franchise’s existence), Kauffman averaged 19.0 points and 10.7 rebounds per game. He was regarded as a blue-collar worker, never afraid to mix it up and compete physically. Kauffman was an All-Star each of his first three years. Only Blake Griffin and Chris Paul (five times each) have had more All-Star seasons with the Clippers.
The Braves demoted Kauffman to a reserve in the 1973-74 season, and he was plucked away by the New Orleans Jazz in the 1974 expansion draft. The Jazz in turn sent him to Atlanta as a part of a massive trade package for Pete Maravich. Kauffman had to retire one year later due to an arthritic hip.
Immediately after retirement, Kauffman became the assistant general for the Hawks for two seasons. He moved to Detroit in 1977 to be the Pistons’ general manager and also served as the team’s interim head coach that year before being replaced by Dick Vitale in the offseason.
Kauffman moved back to Atlanta after that one year in Detroit and built a residential construction business. He passed away in his sleep in 2015 at the age of 69.
An honorable mention to Michael Cage, who was the team’s first draft pick after moving to Los Angeles in 1984. Cage played four seasons for the Clippers and led the NBA in rebounding with 13.0 per game in his final year with the club; he is one of three Clippers to lead the league in rebounding along with Swen Nater and DeAndre Jordan.
A special shoutout also to JamesOn Curry, who has the shortest NBA career in history at 3.9 seconds, all while wearing no. 44 for the Clippers.