Founded in 1970 in Buffalo, New York as the Braves, the Los Angeles Clippers franchise is still finding its “sea legs” nearly five decades later.
While they’ve yet to win their first NBA title, The Staples Center’s “other” team did finish top 5 in a stacked Western Conference from 2011-2017, cementing its status as perennial contenders in the West. They’ve also boasted superstar talent like Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and most recently Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.
But a quick glance at the franchise’s all-time leaders reveals a surprising name atop the scoring charts that only a true diehard NBA fan would know.
“He was (Russell) Westbrook Before Russell Westbrook”
The man in question, 6-foot-3 shooting guard Randy Smith, technically only played two seasons with the Clippers; the San Diego Clippers to be exact.
But his seven years with the Braves prior to the franchise’s move to San Diego in 1978 helped build the foundation for the modern day Clippers franchise to later move to L.A.
Smith’s name still sits atop the Clippers all-time scoring leaders list with 12,735 points, nearly 2,000 higher than Blake Griffin at number two.
A high-octane multi-sport star who beat opponents with speed and athleticism, Smith averaged 20.5 points, 4.8 assists and 2.2 steals over the course of the 1978-1979 season, taking home All-Star Game MVP honors by outshining the likes of Julius Erving, Bill Walton, Moses Malone and David “Skywalker” Thompson.
His athleticism and speed are on full display in the clip below, during which Smith can be seen beating his opponents up and down the court en route to 27 points and game MVP honors:
NBA Hall-of-Famer Walt “Clyde” Frazier paid Smith an astounding compliment in a February 2019 Newsday article, comparing him to one of today’s greats.
“(He could) run and jump out the gym, man. He used to give me fits. Randy Smith was (Russell) Westbrook before Westbrook,” Frazier said.
“He came in a little after me. He actually idolized me, ended up with the Rolls-Royce and all that. The guy used to give me hell. He was so fast. Might have been the best athlete in the league. I wish he was on my team. I would have slept better.”
Smith tragically passed away at age 60 in 2009 while running on a treadmill at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Connecticut.
But he left his mark on the game, earning the nickname “Iron Man” for breaking the NBA’s consecutive games played streak over 12 seasons (prior to A.C. Green surpassing him in 1997).
He also was known by another Hall-of-Famer, former Braves teammate Bob McAdoo, for his blinding speed.
“He was the fastest basketball player I’ve ever encountered,” McAdoo said to Newsday. “From baseline to baseline, foul line to foul line, I’ve never seen anything like it. He had world-class speed.”
Smith did his best work with the Clippers franchise, averaging 17.8 points, 4.9 assists, 4.2 rebounds, and nearly 2 steals per game over 9 seasons with a perennially contending Buffalo team, as well as with the San Diego Clippers.
While Smith’s franchise records, which also include the team’s minutes played and steals marks, will likely be surpassed in the near future by the next generation of Clippers like Leonard, his contributions will live on through those who knew him best.
“Nobody ever talks about him. Nobody even remembers Buffalo was in the NBA,” McAdoo said as part of his unofficial obituary in the New York Times.