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NBA Season--Which Teams Really Have A "Final" Chance?

David Stern
AP
David Stern

As the NBA tips off tomorrow, David Stern and his cohorts should be rooting for at least one new team to make an appearance in the Finals this year. After all, the league has the worst stats among the four majors as far as parity is concerned.

Parity can be defined in different ways. I think some people used to define parity as a diverse group of teams making the playoffs. But with the number of teams that make the postseason these days, I think that stat is now useless.

So, for today, I’m going to look at parity in two ways. First, I’ll look at the number of different winners in all four major sports over the last 15 years. Then, for argument sake, I’ll look at the number of different teams that have played for a championship in the last 15 years. What you’ll find out is that the NBA is the only league of the four majors that has had fewer than 25 percent of the teams in its league declared champions over the last 15 years. It’s also the only league that has seen fewer than 55 percent of its teams play for a title in that time period.

First, let’s look at the leagues and the winners over the past 15 years.

NFL (11 winners): Giants, Colts, Steelers, Patriots, Buccaneers, Ravens, Rams, Broncos, Packers, Cowboys and 49ers.

MLB (10 winners): Phillies/Rays, Red Sox, Cardinals, Marlins, Angels, White Sox, Diamondbacks, Yankees, Braves and Blue Jays.

NHL (9 winners): Red Wings, Ducks, Hurricanes, Lightning, Devils, Avalanche, Stars, Rangers and Canadiens.

NBA (7 winners): Celtics, Spurs, Heat, Pistons, Lakers, Bulls and Rockets.

Looking at this, you can see why “Any Given Sunday” so aptly applies to the NFL. More than 34 percent of the league has hoisted the Vince Lombardi Trophy in the last 15 years. By the time the Phillies or Rays win, both Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League will have seen 30 percent of its teams win a title in the last 15 years.

Meanwhile, the NBA has only seen about 23 percent of its teams win a trophy in the last 15 years. That time span is actually beneficial to the NBA. It’s actually only eight different champions in 25 years. That’s the second worst parity record of any league in the modern era—just behind the NHL from 1967 to 1991—when only six teams won in 25 years (Canadiens, Bruins, Flyers, Islanders, Oilers and Penguins). Keep in mind, that the NHL, for most of that time period, had about half of the teams the NBA has now.

Now, let’s say you want to say parity is defined as number of teams that make the championship game or games. Here’s your list of the number of different teams that have played for a chance to win a championship over the last 15 years.

NFL (20 teams): Giants, Colts, Steelers, Patriots, Buccaneers, Ravens, Rams, Broncos, Packers, Cowboys, 49ers, Bills, Chargers, Falcons, Titans, Raiders, Panthers, Eagles, Seahawks and Bears.

NHL (19 teams): Red Wings, Ducks, Hurricanes, Lightning, Devils, Avalanche, Stars, Rangers, Canadiens, Kings, Canucks, Panthers, Flyers, Capitals, Sabres, Flames, Oilers, Senators and Penguins.

MLB (18 teams): Phillies, Red Sox, Cardinals, Marlins, Angels, Diamondbacks, Yankees, Braves, Blue Jays, Rays, Indians, Padres, Mets, Giants, Cardinals, Astros, Tigers and Rockies.

NBA (16 teams): Celtics, Spurs, Heat, Pistons, Lakers, Bulls, Rockets, Knicks, Magic, Sonics, Jazz, Pacers, 76ers, Nets, Mavericks and Cavaliers.

So if you believe that parity is about your team having a shot at the title, the NBA is still behind the other leagues. Now, you asking yourself, why is parity so important? Because fans believing that their team can win is the single greatest factor in going to games. It’s why, out of the bottom third of NBA attendance, there’s not a single winner on the list and 70 percent of the bottom 10 teams haven’t made the Finals. So more parity makes the league healthier.

Questions? Comments? SportsBiz@cnbc.com

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