No. 3: Danny Manning
Before Blake Griffin, the Clippers relied on another number one overall pick to carry the franchise from the dumps to glory: one Danny Manning.
In 1998, Manning finished capping off one of the greatest seasons in college basketball history (averaged 27.1 points in the tournament), where he’d end the season not only as national champion but as the NCAA Final Four Most Outstanding Player, the Naismith College Player of the Year, the John R. Wooden Award winner, and the NACB Player of the Year. His reward? Being selected first overall in the 1998 NBA Draft by the Clippers.
And as any number one overall pick is expected to, Manning hit the ground running with the Clippers, averaging 16-6-3-1-1 in his rookie season. Continuing on a similar statistical path in the next two seasons and annually improving the Clippers’ win total, both Manning and the Clippers would stumble upon a breakthrough in ’91-92; Manning, behind averages of 19.3 points, 6.9 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.6 steals, 1.5 blocks, and a PER of 19.7, would be named to the All-Star game, becoming the first Clipper to reach the achievement since Marques Johnson in 1986; and while Manning basked in some individual success, the Clippers as a whole would finish the regular season winners of 45 games and owner of a playoff seed — LA would fall to the Utah Jazz in the first round. The next season, Manning, this time averaging 22.8 points and 6.6 rebounds, would again be named to the All-Star game, becoming the third Clipper in franchise history to achieve the feat in back to back season (McAdoo, Kauffman), and while the Clipper would win four fewer games than the previous season, they’d again reach the playoffs, and would again fall in the first round of the
Unfortunately, any time Manning’s name is brought up in association with the Clippers, its in reference to one of the more confusing trades in NBA history as the franchise — like many before and after him, Manning just didn’t want to be a Clipper anymore — would flip the forward and in return, receive the greatest Atlanta Hawks player in history, Dominique Wilkins. “I’m relieved that it’s finally over,” Manning told TNT following the trade to Atlanta. “And I’m just glad I know where I’m going to be for the next few months.” — like many before and after him, Manning’s tenure with the Clippers ended in the worst way possible.
Not re-signing with Atlanta in the summer of 1994, Manning would latch onto the Suns, where he’d become victim to numerous knee injuries; in 1997-98, Danny would recover enough to be named Sixth Man of the Year as a Sun. Five years later, with Manning finding himself a member of the Bucks, Jazz, Mavericks, and Pistons in consecutive season, would officially retire from the NBA.
As with any player who suffered through a handful of injuries, questions of what-if come up when discussing Manning’s NBA career post-Atlanta. But what is cemented in stone is what the big man did as a Clipper, helping introduce the fan base to its first playoff atmosphere since moving to Los Angeles, an accomplishment that can’t go unnoticed on a franchise like the Clippers, whose past isn’t littered with wall-to-wall success like the Boston Celtics or Los Angeles Lakers.
At 373 games played with the Clippers, Manning is 10th all-time in offensive rebounds (890) in franchise history, as well as fifth in steals (548), 10th in blocks (406), sixth in points (7120), and seventh in points per game (19.1),