NBA Teams Still Hunting for That First Championship
AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill

Every play, trade, signing, and draft pick an NBA team makes are steps towards hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy in June. Some teams take years to sniff the playoffs. Others are perennial contenders.

Since 1947, only 20 franchises have won a league title. Today, only 19 of those franchises are active. (The defunct Baltimore Bullets won in 1948.) The Sacramento Kings won as the Rochester Royals in 1951, but their current postseason drought of 16 years is the longest in the NBA. The Oklahoma City Thunder haven’t technically won a title, however, the franchise secured the 1979 NBA championship as the Seattle SuperSonics. None of the New York Knicks, Philadelphia 76ers, Atlanta Hawks, Milwaukee Bucks, Portland Trail Blazers, or Washington Wizards have won since Philly captured the crown in 1983.

The past 36 champions, dating back to 1984, come from a list of 11 franchises. Those being the Los Angeles Lakers (8 titles); Chicago Bulls (6); San Antonio Spurs (5); Boston Celtics (3); Detroit Pistons (3); Miami Heat (3); Golden State Warriors (3); Houston Rockets (2); Dallas Mavericks (1); Cleveland Cavaliers (1); and Toronto Raptors (1)

The Celtics and Lakers sit at the top of the all-time list. The C’s have 17 banners and the Lakeshow 16.

While this set of teams has bathed in champagne, others haven’t been so lucky. Here are the NBA franchises still searching for their first championship:

Phoenix Suns

The Suns made the NBA Finals in 1976 and 1993. They lost to the Celtics in six games in ’76. In ’93, MVP Charles Barkley couldn’t outdo Michael Jordan and a clutch John Paxson shot.

Utah Jazz

Jordan’s final victim. Chicago took down John Stockton, Karl Malone, and the Jazz in 1997 and ’98.

Brooklyn Nets

Jason Kidd led the New Jersey Nets to repeat Finals appearances in 2002 and 2003. The Lakers took home the 2002 ring in sweeping fashion, and the Spurs captured their 2nd franchise title in six games.

Orlando Magic

The 1989 expansion team’s sniffed an NBA title twice. In 1995, anchored by young superstars Shaquille O’Neal and Penny Hardaway, the Magic were swept by Hakeem Olajuwon and the Rockets.

They returned to the Finals in 2009. This time, pulling an upset over LeBron James and the Cavs. They fell to the Lakers in five.

Indiana Pacers

Reggie Miller and the Pacers were yearly contenders from 1994-2005. They came closest in a six-game loss to the Lakers in 2000, the first championship of their three-peat.

Charlotte Hornets

The Hornets have made the Eastern Conference semifinals four times; their most recent appearance was in 2002. Things haven’t been much brighter in Charlotte since.

Denver Nuggets

Denver made the Western Conference Finals in 1978, 1985, and 2009.

Los Angeles Clippers

The Clips best chance slipped when they upset the Spurs in the first round of the 2015 playoffs and inexplicably blew a 3-1 lead to the Rockets in the Western Conference Semifinals. LA could vacate this list very soon.


Memphis Grizzlies

The Grizzlies were a solid team for a majority of the 2010s. They ran into the Spurs’ broom in the 2013 Western Conference Finals.

Minnesota Timberwolves

The Wolves have essentially lived at the bottom of the league since joining in 1989. The peak of the Kevin Garnett era was a trip to the 2004 Western Conference Finals, where they fell to the Lakers in six.

New Orleans Pelicans

In their 17 year existence, NOLA reached the Western Conference semis twice. In 2008, as the New Orleans Hornets and led by Chris Paul, they lost to the Spurs in seven. In 2018, the mighty Warriors won in five.

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Joe Grobeck About the author:
Joe is a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and lives in Austin, Texas. He believes Ndaumkong Suh should've won the 2009 Heisman and is an avid basketball fan.
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