Which 5 Teams Have the Longest NBA Championship Droughts?
The NBA Playoffs open May 22 after the NBA’s first play-in tournament from May 18-21. Some of the teams in the playoff field want to end lengthy droughts since their last championships. Additionally, 11 NBA franchises would love to the only team left standing for the first time. The Los Angeles Lakers are the defending champions and share the record for most NBA championships in history with the Boston Celtics, each club with 17.
No other NBA team has more than six titles (Chicago Bulls and Golden State Warriors). Of the franchises that have won rings, eight haven’t done so in more than 35 years. So which five teams have been waiting for the longest?
Portland Trail Blazers haven’t won an NBA championship since the Walton Gang
With their only NBA championship coming in 1977, the Portland Trail Blazers are fifth on the list of most prolonged title droughts. Finals MVP Bill Walton, a future Hall of Famer, led Portland past the Philadelphia 76ers in the Finals.
The Trail Blazers lost the first two games of the series at Philadelphia before roaring back with four consecutive victories. The 1976–77 Blazers are also the only team of the NBA’s modern era to win the championship in the team’s first playoff appearance.
47 years and counting for the New York Knicks
The New York Knicks of the early 1970s are legendary, winning two NBA championships over four years. Since winning the title in 1973, however, it’s been a long dry spell for New York. Since their last championship, the Knicks went to the Finals in 1994 and 1999.
They were underdogs to the defending champion LA Lakers in 1973 and lost Game 1 in LA before winning four straight games. Finals MVP Willis Reed led the way, but no Knick averaged more than 18.6 points per game in the series. Reed is one of six Hall of Famers from that Knicks team with Bill Bradley, Dave DeBusschere, Walt Frazier, Jerry Lucas, and Earl Monroe. Coach Red Holzman is also in Springfield.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar era led to just one NBA championship for the Milwaukee Bucks
The Milwaukee Bucks made a bold move before the 1970–71 season by trading for perennial All-Star guard Oscar Robertson to team with generational young big man Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. With expansion pushing Milwaukee to the newly formed Western Conference, odds favored a star-powered clash between the Bucks and defending champion New York Knicks in the Finals.
The Baltimore Bullets wrecked that plan by upsetting the Knicks in the conference finals. The Bucks swept the overmatched Bullets, with Abdul-Jabbar winning Finals MVP. Kareem and The Big O took Milwaukee back to the Finals in 1974, but it’s been a long dry spell for the Bucks.
Atlanta Hawks last title was 60-plus years and 1 city ago
It was a Finals rematch in 1958 with the St. Louis Hawks meeting the defending champion Boston Celtics. The teams split the first four games, with each club winning once on their opponent’s home floor. Bob Pettit poured in 50 points in Game 6 to spur St. Louis to a one-point win, per NBA.com.
Pettit was one of three Hall of Famers on the roster. Former Celtics great Ed Macauley (traded for the draft pick that landed Bill Russell), Slater Martin, and Cliff Hagan were the others. Coach Alex Hannum entered in 1998. The Hawks moved from St. Louis to Atlanta in 1968.
The NBA was two years old for this franchise’s last NBA championship
In 1949-50, a merger between the more-established National Basketball League and the upstart 3-year-old Basketball Association of America produced the NBA. In 1951, the Rochester Royals made their lone appearance in the Finals and won their only title.
The Royals didn’t make it easy in the Finals. The New York Knicks forced a Game 7 after Rochester took a 3–0 series lead. But Hall of Famer Arnie Risen scored 24 points in Game 7, and the Royals eked out a 79–75 win. Risen is one of three Hall of Famers from that club, including Bob Davies and Bobby Wanzer, their starting backcourt.
Fans know the team today as the Sacramento Kings, on the cusp of extending their playoff drought to 15 years.
Playoff and championship data courtesy of Basketball Reference.