Which NBA Teams Have Never Won a Championship?
Heading into the 2020 NBA season, there have been 74 champions crowned with 20 different franchises being able to claim that they ran through the NBA playoffs and won at least one title, one of which doesn’t exist anymore, that being the original Baltimore Bullets franchise that folded during the 1954-1955 season. Those Bullets won the BAA title in 1948, which the NBA recognizes as an official championship.
The later version of the team, which started in 1961 as the Chicago Packers and then became the Chicago Zephyrs, the Baltimore Bullets, the Capital Bullets, the Washington Bullets, and is now known as the Washington Wizards, won an NBA title in 1978. So that’s why you won’t see the Wizards on this list of current NBA teams to have not won a championship.
Along the same line, you won’t see the Atlanta Hawks, Oklahoma City Thunder, or Sacramento Kings here either. The Hawks won a title in 1958 while still playing in St. Louis. The Thunder won an NBA championship in 1979 as the Seattle Supersonics. And the Kings won in 1951 as the Rochester Royals.
So now that we’ve got the technicalities out of the way, let’s take a look at the 11 current NBA franchises that have never won a championship.
Founded in 1967 as the New Jersey Americans, the Brooklyn Nets franchise won two ABA titles in the 1970s as the New York Nets but have never won an NBA championship. As the New Jersey Nets, the team went to back-to-back NBA Finals in 2002 and 2003 but lost to the LA Lakers and San Antonio Spurs, respectively. However, with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving now with the franchise, the Nets may soon be eliminated from this list.
The history of the Charlotte Hornets gets a little tricky. First established in 1988, the team played 14 seasons in Charlotte before moving to New Orleans ahead of the 2002-2003 season. In 2004, the city was given an expansion franchise, which was first called the Bobcats before becoming the Hornets in 2014.
A year earlier, the New Orleans Hornets rebranded as the Pelicans and returned the history, stats, and records of the Hornets from 1988 to the end of the 2001-2002 season back to Charlotte. Yes, it’s confusing and a little ridiculous but no matter how you look at it, the Hornets have never won an NBA title or even reached the NBA Finals.
Founded in 1967 as the Denver Larks, who became the Rockets before their first season in the ABA and then became the Nuggets in 1974, the team reached the ABA Finals in the league’s final season of existence in 1976 but haven’t yet reached the NBA Finals. The Nuggets have gotten to the Western Conference Finals on four occasions, most recently in 2020 where they lost to the eventual champion Lakers in five games.
Founded in 1967, the Indiana Pacers were the most successful team in the nine-year history of the ABA, winning three championships and appearing in the Finals on two other occasions. That success has not carried over to the NBA, however, as the team has appeared in the NBA Finals just once, losing to the Lakers in six games in 2000. They’re the only team in the Central Division to have not won an NBA championship.
Los Angeles Clippers
The Los Angeles Clippers were founded as the Buffalo Braves in 1970 and played eight seasons in the Empire State before heading west to San Diego, where they took on the Clippers moniker in 1978. The franchise moved to LA ahead of the 1984-1985 NBA season and were long the laughing stock of the league. The franchise has never even reached the conference finals but things are looking a bit brighter these days with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George on the roster. But it’s still the Clippers so you just never know.
Established ahead of the 1995-1996 season as the Vancouver Grizzlies, the franchise never even came close to having a winning season before moving to Memphis in 2001. Since then, the team has gotten as far as the Western Conference Finals, which they lost in 2013 to the Spurs in a four-game sweep.
Established ahead of the 1988-1989 NBA season, the Minnesota Timberwolves, like most expansions teams, struggled in the early years of the franchise but saw things change a bit when they drafted Kevin Garnett in 1995. The Wolves made their first appearance in the playoffs the following year and made eight straight postseason appearances with Garnett on the roster, the final one coming in 2004 when they made it all the way to the Western Conference Finals before losing to the Lakers in six games. Minnesota has made just one playoff appearance since.
New Orleans Pelicans
We already went through some of the New Orleans Pelicans history when discussing the Charlotte Hornets. But just to refresh, this New Orleans franchise (more on that in a moment) began in 2002 when the Hornets moved from Charlotte. They still own the Hornets records and stats from the start of the 2002-2003 season to 2013 when the team switched to the Pelicans nickname, including those two seasons in Oklahoma City when the team was displaced due to Hurricane Katrina. The franchise owns one division title and two series wins in the postseason but has never made it past the second round. Perhaps Zion Williamson can change that.
The Orlando Magic joined the NBA as an expansion team ahead of the 1988-1989 season and became one of the league’s hottest attractions in the early 1990s after drafting Shaquille O’Neal and Penny Hardaway. The dynamic duo led the team to the NBA Finals in 1995 but the Magic were swept by Hakeem Olajuwon’s Houston Rockets. The Magic were then swept in the Eastern Conference Finals the following season by Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls and any chance of a title in the decade was lost when Shaq bolted to LA. Dwight Howard took the Magic back to the NBA Finals in 2009 but couldn’t get past Kobe Bryant’s Lakers.
The Phoenix Suns, who joined the NBA as an expansion team in 1968, have made two appearances in the NBA Finals but lost both. In 1976, the Suns matched up with the Boston Celtics, a series that included the first triple-overtime game in Finals history. The Suns lost that game and the Celtics went on to win the series in six. 17 years later, Phoenix took part in another triple-overtime game, this time against the Chicago Bulls. The Suns won that game but Jordan & Co. won the series in six.
We promised you a little more on New Orleans and here it is. The first NBA team to play in New Orleans was the Jazz, who played their first five seasons in the league in “The Big Easy” before moving to Salt Lake City in 1979. Beginning with the 1983-1984 season, Utah made 20 consecutive appearances in the postseason, 18 of those with the duo of Karl Malone and John Stockton on the roster. The Jazz made consecutive appearances in the NBA Finals in 1997 and 1998 but lost to Michael Jordan and the Bulls both times.
Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference