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 15 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, Portland Trail Blazers or Washington Wizards have won since Philly captured the crown in 1983.
The past 37 champions, dating back to 1984, come from a list of 12 franchises. Those being the Los Angeles Lakers (9 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); Toronto Raptors (1) and Milwaukee Bucks (1).
The Celtics and Lakers sit at the top of the all-time list thanks to legends like Kobe Bryant, Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Shaq, Bill Russell, Larry Bird and Paul Pierce. The C’s have 17 banners and the Lakeshow 17 as well, which are tops in NBA history.
While this set of teams has bathed in champagne, others haven’t been so lucky. Here are the 11 NBA franchises still searching for their first championship, in order from oldest to youngest NBA franchises.
Phoenix Suns (1968)
The Suns made their first two 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. A return to the Finals in 2021 looked promising, but Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton and Chris Paul were no match for Milwaukee Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Los Angeles Clippers (1970)
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 made it to the Western Conference Finals in 2021 with stars like Paul George and Kawhi Leonard but fell against the Suns. They could vacate this list very soon.
Utah Jazz (1974)
Jordan’s final victim. Chicago took down John Stockton, Karl Malone, and the Jazz in 1997 and ’98. They blazed through the regular season in 2021 with the league’s best record but came up short in the playoffs against the Los Angeles Clippers.
Brooklyn Nets (1976)
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. With James Harden, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant leading the way, could the Nets come off this list this year?
Indiana Pacers (1976)
If ABA Championships counted, the Pacers would have three (all in the 1970s) on not be on this list. Alas, they don’t count.
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.
Denver Nuggets (1976)
Denver made the Western Conference Finals in 1978, 1985 and 2009. They came up short in the Western Conference Semifinals, losing to Phoenix in 2021.
Charlotte Hornets (1988)
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.
Orlando Magic (1989)
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.
Minnesota Timberwolves (1989)
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.
Memphis Grizzlies (1995)
The Grizzlies were a solid team for a majority of the 2010s. They ran into the Spurs’ broom in the 2013 Western Conference Finals.
New Orleans Pelicans (2002)
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 against the likes of Anthony Davis, Demarcus Cousins and Jrue Holiday.
This post was originally published on August 14, 2020.