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A collage of NBA players, including Shawn Kemp, Karl Malone, and Kevin Durant.
These are some of the best teams to never win an NBA championship.

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TITLELESS: The quest to find the best NBA team to never win a championship

We’ll be spotlighting a field of 64 teams in NBA history that did not win a title. At the end, we’ll hand out a virtual championship trophy to one hard-luck loser.

The final TITLELESS tournament is now finished! Congratulations to the 1996-97 Utah Jazz, who defeated the 1994-95 Orlando Magic via FanPulse vote in the final. Click the link to see the full results.


In a normal year, hoops junkies would be preparing for the start of the NBA Playoffs, a grueling mini-marathon where legends are either made or broken. As Bob Costas once said: “They call it the NBA’s ‘second season.’ In truth, it is the real season.”

The Real Season is not happening as scheduled in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and there’s a chance it may never happen. We won’t be able to watch one group of men triumphantly march to a title while all the others taste different flavors of failure that will define them for generations.

Since we can’t have this Real Season, we decided to bring some of the key teams from past Real Seasons back. What if we could retroactively allow teams that fell short in the past the chance to taste victory? What if we gave one non-champion of yesteryear the chance to be champions?

Presenting: Titleless: The quest to find the best non-champion in basketball. Over the next couple weeks, SB Nation will be spotlighting and whittling down a field of 64 teams in NBA history that did not win a title. At the end, we’ll hand out a spare virtual championship trophy to one past hard-luck loser.

How will this work?

From April 13-16, we’ll roll out the select group of teams that I (Mike Prada) chose for this project. I split them into four subgroups of 16 that will be unveiled over the course of the week. Those “subregions:”

Our many team-specific communities will be further spotlighting some of the teams I selected, as well as others I overlooked.

Then, our communities will pick one team per franchise to represent them in a final 32-team tournament bracket. Once that field is set, we will hold a vote on each matchup to eventually crown a “champion.” Like all-star voting, it will be weighed: part readers, part expert panel (me), part simulation.

Which teams are eligible?

The selection committee (i.e., me) have chosen what I assess to be the single-best season of a specific era in that franchise’s history. Only one season per era is eligible.

To use a specific example:

  • The John Stockton/Karl Malone era of the Utah Jazz unquestionably deserves to be included.
  • The best team from that era was the 1996-97 team that went 64-18 and lost to the Bulls in six games.
  • All other Jazz teams in the Stockton/Malone era are now ineligible. That means there are no other Jazz entrants from 1986-2003. (They had a loooong run together.)

You may believe a different Jazz team from that era was actually better than the 1996-97 team. Many of our team-specific communities believe the selection committee made the wrong choice from that specific timeframe. Please let us know why. We welcome the debate.

What’s considered an “era?”

The committee settled on the following definition: If a core member of that era left or joined the team, it is considered the start of a new era. Moses Malone going the 76ers in 1982, LaMarcus Aldridge signing with the Spurs in 2015, Kawhi Leonard getting traded to the Raptors in 2018, and Phil Jackson joining the Lakers in 1999 qualify as examples of core-altering moves that split eras up. The Jazz trading Thurl Bailey early in the 1991 season does not.

Who was not eligible for this bracket?

Since the purpose is to hand out a title to a core group that never won one together, any team that won a championship in a different season of the same era was disqualified.

That means you won’t see any of the following teams, among others:

  • The 73-win Warriors that famously blew a 3-1 lead.
  • Any team from LeBron JamesHeat career or second tenure in Cleveland. (There is one pre-Decision Cleveland team that made the field).
  • Any of Magic Johnson’s Lakers, Larry Bird’s Celtics, Michael Jordan’s Bulls, or Isiah Thomas’ Pistons.
  • Any Spurs team from 1997-2015.
  • The 2000s Pistons. Yes, even the teams that fell short after Larry Brown left.

You also won’t see any teams from the 2019-20 season, though you will see previous editions of a couple of those teams that have yet to win a title together.

Here are the 64 teams

FLAMEOUT DIVISION

  1. 1993-94 Seattle Supersonics
  2. 2018-19 Milwaukee Bucks
  3. 1990-91 Portland Trail Blazers
  4. 2006-07 Dallas Mavericks
  5. 1992-93 New York Knicks
  6. 1999-00 Portland Trail Blazers
  7. 2013-14 Los Angeles Clippers
  8. 2008-09 Cleveland Cavaliers
  9. 2015-16 San Antonio Spurs
  10. 1994-95 San Antonio Spurs
  11. 1976-77 Los Angeles Lakers
  12. 2017-18 Toronto Raptors
  13. 1968-69 Baltimore Bullets
  14. 1946-47 Washington Capitols
  15. 1986-87 Atlanta Hawks
  16. 2012-13 Denver Nuggets

OVERACHIEVER DIVISION

  1. 2015-16 Oklahoma City Thunder
  2. 1981-82 Philadelphia 76ers
  3. 1997-98 Los Angeles Lakers
  4. 2008-09 Orlando Magic
  5. 2000-01 Philadelphia 76ers
  6. 2012-13 Indiana Pacers
  7. 1963-64 Cincinnati Royals
  8. 2014-15 Atlanta Hawks
  9. 2002-03 New Jersey Nets
  10. 2007-08 New Orleans Hornets
  11. 1989-90 Phoenix Suns
  12. 2012-13 Golden State Warriors
  13. 2012-13 Memphis Grizzlies
  14. 2001-02 Boston Celtics
  15. 2013-14 Portland Trail Blazers
  16. 1975-76 Phoenix Suns

“NOT GOOD ENOUGH” DIVISION

  1. 1996-97 Utah Jazz
  2. 2017-18 Houston Rockets
  3. 1992-93 Phoenix Suns
  4. 1961-62 Los Angeles Lakers
  5. 1963-64 San Francisco Warriors
  6. 1985-86 Milwaukee Bucks
  7. 1997-98 Indiana Pacers
  8. 2003-04 Minnesota Timberwolves
  9. 1996-97 Miami Heat
  10. 1975-76 Denver Nuggets
  11. 1996-97 Houston Rockets
  12. 2008-09 Denver Nuggets
  13. 1971-72 Chicago Bulls
  14. 1982-83 San Antonio Spurs
  15. 1984-85 Denver Nuggets
  16. 1996-97 Atlanta Hawks

“WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN / ROBBED” DIVISION

  1. 2001-02 Sacramento Kings
  2. 2011-12 Oklahoma City Thunder
  3. 1994-95 Orlando Magic
  4. 2004-05 Phoenix Suns
  5. 2010-11 Chicago Bulls
  6. 2003-04 Indiana Pacers
  7. 1985-86 Houston Rockets
  8. 2007-08 Houston Rockets
  9. 1987-88 Dallas Mavericks
  10. 1988-89 Cleveland Cavaliers
  11. 2018-19 Philadelphia 76ers
  12. 2008-09 Portland Trail Blazers
  13. 2017-18 Boston Celtics
  14. 2000-01 Milwaukee Bucks
  15. 1990-91 Golden State Warriors
  16. 1996-97 Detroit Pistons
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