The 1998-99 Los Angeles Clippers were a group of out-of-shape stumblebums who lost their first 17 games.
They are, along with the 1988 Miami Heat, the standard for bad starts in the NBA.
Sensing the potential for devastation the way a bear smells a distant fire, journalists and other ghoulish rubberneckers are beginning to focus on the Raptors.
The Raptors are 0-6, and with a few more losses we'll have one more thing to toss on the mountain of plaques and pandemics that are just around the corner.
The Raptors have lost six consecutive games.
This past Sunday, they were gifted by a career-best 36 points from guard Mike James, with 26 more coming from Charlie Villanueva.
They forced overtime with a miracle play against a Seattle Supersonics team that is without a doubt one of the league's worst.
The Raps were at home.
And they still lost.
And that's why, for a while, when the Raptors look into the mirror, they will see the 1998-99 Clippers.
Current NBA players Maurice Taylor and Michael Olowokandi found work with that edition of the Clippers, a particularly desultory edition of a particularly desultory franchise.
When they weren't ignored they were ridiculed.
Only 7,689 turned out for their first game, a nine-point loss to Phoenix.
One current member of the Raptors knows all of this all too well.
Jim Todd was an assistant under Clippers coach Chris Ford. He fulfills an identical role with Raptors coach Sam Mitchell.
"After you lost eight or 10 games, it just kind of mushroomed," he recalled yesterday after practice.
"We had a guy up on a billboard. He wouldn't come down until we won a game. I wanted to knock the guy down myself."
As the Clippers' losses began to build up, they were ridiculed nightly by Jay Leno on the Tonight Show.
"After every game, they brought our scoreboard down from the ceiling during the monologue," Todd said. "It just said losses. It didn't even have the word wins. Every day you'd get the drum roll and 12 or 13 or 14th.
"Then when we won the 18th game, they came and picked us up in practice in a bus and took us to the Leno show and had a ticker tape parade. It was a mock thing. We took it with a grain of salt, thinking if we don't go they're going to keep killing us. We figured we'd go and play along with it."
Todd sees no comparison between the two teams.
The Clips were out of shape. They began complaining with the first stretching session. By the time the losing streak had reached a dozen games, there was loads of tension.
Mostly, the Clippers didn't care.
"The players would joke about it. After the fifth and sixth game, they thought it was funny to a certain extent. You'd hear things in the locker room and I was taken back a little bit by that. It was 'typical Clipper fashion. We lost another game or we lost by 20.' If the players don't believe, it's hard to get something going."
The Clippers were light on offence. They averaged 90.4 points, five points less than the present Raptors.
"We didn't have a lot of three-point shooters," Todd said.
"Even though we're not one of the best defensive teams, as much as we work on it. I think we can score."
The essential difference, he said, is attitude.
"That team was a lot more individualistic. Guys were kind of looking out for themselves. Guys here are unselfish. They have a great group of guys, one of the best group of guys I have ever been around."
That might wear a little thin.
There is ample pain to be endured as the Raptors take their first hesitant steps toward what they hope is respectability.
Unhappily, Jim Todd may not have seen the last of Jay Leno.
WHEN WILL THEY WIN?
A look at the winless Raptors coming schedule and the odds of them actually winning:
- Tonight: at Philadelphia 76ers. Philly on a four-game winning streak but not necessarily a great team anymore. Odds: 3-1
- Tomorrow vs. 76ers. Back-to-backs are not the Raps specialty, but this appears to be their best chance at a win this month. Odds: 3-2
- Friday at Boston Celtics. Celtics are pretty good at home. Not a good bet. Odds: 5-1
- Sunday vs. Miami Heat. Even with Shaq hurting the have Dwayne Wade. 'Nuff said. Odds: 10-1
- Tues, Nov. 22 at Phoenix Suns. Steve Nash. Again, 'nuff said. Odds: 8-1
- Wed. Nov. 23 at LA Clippers. Combo of underrated Clips club and back-to-back games with travel in between makes a win unlikely. Odds: 5-1
- Fri. Nov. 25 at Sacramento Kings. Knicks got their first here. Stranger things have happened. Odds: 2-1
- Sat. Nov. 26 at Golden State Warriors. End of four-game West Coast swing. Unlikely. Odds: 6-1
- Mon. Nov. 28 vs. Dallas Mavericks. First game home after a West Coast swing is rarely a good one for Raps. Odds: 7-1
- Wed. Nov. 30. Grizz intent on taking Naismith Cup back to Memphis. Odds: 5-1