Former Clippers draft pick and baseball great Tony Gwynn dies at 54

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Since moving to California, the Clippers have had more than their share of bad drafting. But between their years in San Diego and Los Angeles, they’ve drafted one Hall of Famer.

He just happened to excel at the wrong sport.

The San Diego Clippers drafted Tony Gwynn in the 10th and final round of the 1981 draft. The San Diego State product never joined the NBA, instead becoming an all-time great baseball player.

Gwynn died today at 54, and though he resonates more for his hitting, the basketball world is losing a link to its colorful past and a college star.

The NBA draft used to go many more rounds than it did today, and by the end, teams were starving for viable options. Maybe the Clippers knew Gwynn was destined for baseball stardom, but just four players picked in the final five rounds of the 1981 draft ever played in the NBA. Why not take a chance on someone with as impressive hands as Gwynn? (Gwynn once said dribbling strengthened his wrists and made him a better hitter.)

Jim Brown, Carl Lewis and Dave Winfield are among other players teams drafted late just to try someone who excelled in another sport.

In the NBA, Gwynn is a trivia question. But he played both baseball and basketball in college, and he thrived on the hardwood. He still holds San Diego State records for assists in a game, season and career.

So, no, Gwynn never played professional basketball. But baseball got a heck of a player, and San Diego State – a place Gwynn treasured – has never held higher prominence in the NBA.