Of all the major sports, you could make the argument that the NBA has the least amount of parity among its greatest teams over the years. Since 1984 (a stretch of 32 seasons), only 10 NBA franchises have won a championship — that’s just a third of the league — while the other two-thirds sit on the outside looking in. While this could have something to do with the way stars can move freely via free agency, there are certainly a lot of factors involved. Here are the five NBA franchises with the longest title droughts.
1. Los Angeles Clippers, 46 years
The Los Angeles Clippers have been in existence since the 1970–71 season, originally as the Buffalo Braves. They moved to San Diego and became the Clippers in 1978–79, and then they transitioned to Los Angeles in 1984–85. Not only have they not won a single NBA championship (a span of 46 seasons), but they haven’t came particularly close.
From the time the Clippers moved to Los Angeles until the 2010–11 season, Los Angeles made the postseason just four times and won just a single postseason series. Their run has been marred by shoddy ownership, poor management, and the inability to attract star players even within their own city. The good news for the Clippers is that things have been better lately, with five consecutive trips to the postseason and three playoff series won in those five years — but still, no championships.
2. Phoenix Suns, 48 years
The Phoenix Suns, like the Clippers, have never won a championship in their existence. They only edge out Los Angeles on this list by having been in the league two years longer, making their first appearance in the NBA in 1968–69. But unlike the Clippers, Phoenix has had a reasonable amount of playoff success in their history; they missed the playoffs in only 19 of 48 seasons.
That includes two trips to the NBA Finals, losing in 1975–76 to the Boston Celtics and 1992–93 to the Chicago Bulls. Phoenix got close again, making it to the Western Conference Finals three times in six seasons from 2005–10, but they haven’t made the playoffs again since that 2009–10 season and aren’t particularly close to claiming their first championship in team history anytime soon.
3. Denver Nuggets, 49 years
Speaking of team futility, the Denver Nuggets are yet another franchise without a championship. They actually didn’t join the NBA until 1976–77, but existed previously as the Denver Rockets since 1967–68 (giving them one more year as a franchise without a championship than the Suns). They had a lot of early success as an NBA franchise, making the playoffs 12 out of their first 14 seasons, but they didn’t make it to the NBA Finals in any of those seasons, much less win it all.
Since the 1990–91 season, it’s been a bleak existence for the Nuggets. They had the surprising playoff win as an eighth seed over the top-seeded Seattle Sonics in 1994 and then a run of 10 consecutive playoff appearances when Carmelo Anthony arrived in Denver, but they only made it out of the first round one time in those 10 seasons. Denver has missed the playoffs the last three seasons and, like the Suns, isn’t anywhere close to breaking their title drought.
4. Atlanta Hawks, 59 years
All the way back in the 1957–58 season, the then-St. Louis Hawks won their first and only NBA championship, anchored by the great Bob Pettit, who averaged 24.6 points and 17.2 rebounds. Regardless of that single win, you know it’s been a while when the best player on your last championship team is 83 years old. Since that season, it’s been tough going for the Hawks franchise.
They moved to Atlanta prior to the 1968–69 season, and while the Hawks are frequent visitors to the postseason, they just recently made their first trip to the Eastern Conference Finals in the 2014–15 season. Atlanta has hosted many great players with the Hawks franchise, including a remarkable career from Dominique Wilkins as well as time with Dikembe Mutombo, Mookie Blaylock, and Steve Smith. But the Hawks seem perpetually stuck in the good-but-not-great category.
5. Sacramento Kings, 66 years
The Sacramento Kings have existed in some form as a franchise in the NBA since they were the Rochester Royals, back in 1949–50. They won the championship the following season in 1950–51, but never again. This was four years before the 24-second shot clock was even brought into the league, if that tells you anything about the era of basketball we’re talking about here.
The team name changed many times, from the Cincinnati Royals to the Kansas City-Omaha Kings, then to the Kansas City Kings, and eventually to the Sacramento Kings. Since coming to Sacramento, the Kings have had a couple of great teams, featuring Chris Webber, Vlade Divac, and others in the early 2000s. But outside of that stretch, the Kings have had only two other playoff teams in Sacramento, losing in the first round in both 1985–86 and 1995–96. It’s been 66 years for the Kings since they won their most recent championship.
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