Five players have worn the No. 52 in Clippers franchise history, but there’s an obvious player who bested the others. That’s right, I’m talking about the Polish Rifle, Eric Piatkowski.
Born into a basketball family, Piatkowski played high school ball in the not-quite-hotbed of South Dakota, and after a good preps career played NCAA basketball at Nebraska. With the Cornhuskers, the shooting guard finished as the second highest all-time scorer and was an honorable mention All-American.
Drafted at No. 15 overall by the Indiana Pacers in 1994, Piatkowski was not destined to stay in middle America, getting immediately traded to the Clippers with Pooh Richardson and Malik Sealy for Mark Jackson and Greg Minor.
Piatkowski settled into life with the Clippers, playing all but one game his rookie season, albeit mostly off the bench, and put in a solid seven points a game in 1994-95. Solidifying his reserve role the next two seasons, Piatkowski had a breakout campaign of sorts in 1997-98, when he raised his scoring average to 11.3 points per game and started roughly half the games.
All told, he played 616 regular-season games with the Clips, out of 789 total in his NBA career. In nine seasons (yes, 9), he finished his Clippers run with the most games played in the Clippers era of franchise history, a mark since eclipsed by DeAndre Jordan. Piatkowski still holds the record for most 3-pointers made, with 738.
I think you can see from this is that Piatkowski was a floor spacer, the guy who gets free or waits for the occasional 3-point attempt in an era when the game was largely played inside the arc. Given the current style of play favors more long-distance shooting, he probably played in the wrong era, but you don’t get to pick the time you’re born into.
He agrees that he’d probably have a better time of it these days.
“I don’t think it was better back then,” he told the Lincoln Journal Star recently. “I like the way it is right now. I love the way it is right now. Obviously, today’s game would suit me much better. It’s way less physical now. It was really physical back in the early 1990s. You could hand check — just steer people around with your hand and do almost whatever you wanted to.
“Nowadays, they call little ticky-tack fouls.”
After the 2002-03 season, Piatkowski moved on, signing a free agent deal with the Houston Rockets, then had two seasons each with the Chicago Bulls and Phoenix Suns. Unlike many players profiled in this series, Piatkowski’s best days may have been with the Clippers, but he also had plenty of run with another five seasons in the NBA, retiring after the 2007-08 season.
Now living in Nebraska, Piatkowski reportedly was part of a group that tried to buy the Clippers during the Donald Sterling mess in 2014, but Steve Ballmer’s whopper of a deal apparently topped it and the rest is history. The family lineage continues, however, as his son Jace plays college ball for Nebraska now, although his Twitter profile shows him wearing a Lakers jersey, so maybe the apple fell far from the tree in that regard.
During his Clippers run, Piatkowski was never a star but he was definitely a cult figure for the fanbase throughout. You can’t disrespect a sweet shooter and he was one of the best at it, and bonus points for the longevity that has rarely been seen around these parts. For those reasons, Eric Piatkowski is clearly the best Clipper to wear the No. 52.