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Does Your NBA Team Make You Happy Or Sad? An Investigation

Is your favorite NBA team leaving you disappointed almost every season? Well, don't fret. At least you're not a Clippers fan.

DALLAS, TX - JUNE 12:  Dallas Mavericks fans celebrate at American Airlines Center after the Dallas Mavericks defeated the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals on June 12, 2011 in Dallas, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
DALLAS, TX - JUNE 12: Dallas Mavericks fans celebrate at American Airlines Center after the Dallas Mavericks defeated the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals on June 12, 2011 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
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Welcome to The Hook. Today we look at how frequently your favorite team is awesome or awful.



On Thursday, Jon Bois unveiled a terrific feature looking at how frequently the sporting cities of America see one of their Big Four teams win a championship. Mostly, it was a depressing affair for the South and anything on the Pacific Coast north of L.A. To be a sports fan is to be a masochist. These truths we hold to be self-evident.

I wanted to take a look at the NBA specifically, but it's common knowledge in basketball circles that unless you reside in Boston, L.A., San Antonio, Chicago, you're probably not going to see a title. Those teams account for 43 of the 65 NBA championships. Since 1991, they have won 16 of the 21 NBA championships. Because of that monopoly, fans of most other teams are simply screwed and will die lonely and sad and hungry. It's a fact.

While championships do dictate bragging rights and wonderment, winning seasons are also something that can bring joy to fans over sustained periods of time. I mean, the NBA regular season is long, after all. So I wanted to see which NBA cities have most regularly been blessed with a winning season. Given that not all winning seasons are created equal, I split winning seasons into "good seasons" and "really good seasons." While there are some issues in which fans may never consider their "really good season" a success (2010 Cavaliers spring to mind) while a "good season" can end in ultimate bliss (1977 Blazers, for example), the division is generally in line with postseason performance. To get the cut-off, I added one standard deviation to league average; any season with a 65 percent winning rate or better (54 wins in an 82-game season) is deemed a "really good season." Anything between .500 ball and .649 ball is a "good season".

I did the same for, uh, not winning seasons. Losing seasons. Depressing seasons. If you won 27 or fewer games (based on an 82-game schedule), you had a "really bad season". If you went worse than .500 but won at least 35 percent of your games, you just had a "bad season". (Woohoo!)

We went back to the first post-merger season, 1976-77. These are the results.


City Seasons %Winning
L.A. Lakers 35 91%
Portland 35 83%
San Antonio 35 83%
Utah 32 81%
Houston 35 80%

There's your top five in percentage of winning seasons since the merger. Yep, the Lakers have been above .500 in 91 percent of their seasons since 1977 (32 of 35). Simply unfair. The Blazers, Spurs, Jazz and Rockets have all remained competitive most of the time, as well.

Phoenix 35 74%
Seattle 32 69%
Orlando 22 68%
Oklahoma City 3 67%
Boston 35 63%
Philadelphia 35 63%
Miami 23 61%
Atlanta 35 60%
Detroit 35 60%

The next cluster includes more Western teams and the old East powers like Boston, Detroit and ... uh, Atlanta? More on the Hawks in a bit.

Denver 35 57%
Milwaukee 35 57%
Dallas 31 55%
Chicago 35 54%
Charlotte 21 52%
Cleveland 35 51%

There are the remainder of the teams with more winning seasons than losing seasons since the merger. Yep, it includes the Cleveland Cavaliers. Seven years of LeBron James definitely helped. Now, some teams that are usually losing.

Indiana 35 49%
New York 35 49%
New Orleans 12 42%
Memphis 10 40%
New Jersey 35 37%
Minnesota 22 36%

Note that for cities which have had two different teams since the merger -- like New Orleans, with the Jazz and later the Hornets -- we combined their stats. For teams that arrived in their new town since the merger (like the Grizzlies), we included just the numbers for their current stop.

The Knicks!

Washington 35 34%
Kansas City 9 33%
Toronto 16 31%
Sacramento 26 31%
Golden State 35 29%
San Diego 6 17%
L.A. Clippers 27 11%
Buffalo 2 0%
Vancouver 6 0%

That's right, Vancouver: six years, not a single winning season. Note that just lagging Vancouver in futility are all three incarnations of the Clippers since the merger. The L.A. Clippers have three winning seasons in 27 years. The Warriors (10 winning seasons in 35 years) look downright superlative in comparison!


Who leads in "really good seasons"?

City Seasons Good+
L.A. Lakers 35 22
San Antonio 35 17
Phoenix 35 14
Boston 35 13
Utah 32 10

Shocking! Only one team has reached the "really good" level in more than half of their seasons since '77, and that team is the Lakers, with a filthy 63 percent of their seasons hitting that threshold. San Antonio has gotten there in almost half of the their seasons.

Which teams suffer from a lack of "really good seasons"?

City Seasons %Good+
New Jersey 35 0%
L.A. Clippers 27 0%
Toronto 16 0%
Memphis 10 0%
Kansas City 9 0%
San Diego 6 0%
Vancouver 6 0%
Buffalo 2 0%
Washington 35 3%
Golden State 35 3%
Minnesota 22 5%
Charlotte 21 5%
Denver 35 6%
New Orleans 12 8%
Atlanta 35 9%

That's right, Nets fans: 35 seasons, not one of which saw the team eclipse a 65 percent winning clip. The Clips are right there with 27 such seasons in L.A, and the Raptors are 16 seasons in without a really good season to their name. The Grizzlies haven't reach it either. The Kansas City Kings didn't get it there in the nine seasons that fit our parameters. Charlotte, between the Hornets and Bobcats, have hit the level once in 21 seasons.

Atlanta's an interesting case: one of top teams in terms of winning season frequency, but with just three really good seasons in 35 years. That team was "good" for a really long time (and now is again), which is better than "not good" but still aggravating.


To see which teams suffer from the greatest share of losing seasons, flip that "good seasons" table upside down. (Hint: Clippers.) But what about "really bad seasons"? Watching your team go 39-42 sucks, but watching your team go 22-60 really sucks. Trust me, I know, for I am a Kings fan.

City Seasons Not Good+
New Jersey 35 13
L.A. Clippers 27 11
Minnesota 22 10
Sacramento 26 10
Washington 35 9
Golden State 35 9
Dallas 31 7
Vancouver 6 6


New Jersey -- who, reminder!, hasn't had a single "really good season" since the merger -- comes in with a stunning 13 "really bad seasons." The Clippers, Wolves and Kings all join the double-digit club. Dallas had a well-publicized lean stretch; we should all be so lucky to experience such a turnaround. 

And yes, that's right: not only did Vancouver fail to experience a single winning season of Grizzlies basketball, but every season in B.C. for the team resulted in a winning percentage of less than .350. So painful.

Which teams have gone without a "really bad season"?

City Seasons Not Good+
L.A. Lakers 35 0
Kansas City 9 0
Houston 35 1
Phoenix 35 1
Seattle 32 1
Oklahoma City 3 1
Buffalo 2 1

Of course.



Paul Flannery of was kind enough to have me on his excellent Talking Hoops podcast this week. We discussed the NBA lockout, competitive balance and the reason we cannot have nice things. Take a listen, if you please.


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