The ring culture in the NBA is in full swing, at least strong enough to draw the ire of the ringless greats like Tracy McGrady and Charles Barkley. That’s because no matter how tremendous these players are, they don’t have a championship to show for it. After all, the goal of every team in the NBA is to be champions. Sadly, there are all too many NBA ballclubs that fall short season after season. Which NBA teams have never won a championship? Let’s find out.
What Percentage of NBA Franchises Have Never Won a Championship?
Sports journalists rave about how the NBA improved its parity over the years, and that is probably true. Over the last three seasons, two of the three teams that won it all are first-time champions. These are the Toronto Raptors in 2019 and the defending champions Milwaukee Bucks (2021). The Cleveland Cavaliers also got their first ring in 2016, thanks to the efforts of LeBron James and Kyrie Irving.
Despite the celebrated equality over the last few years, there are still many NBA teams who haven’t won the championship. Overall, 36% of NBA teams have never hoisted the Larry O’Brien trophy. That’s 11 out of 30 teams.
List of NBA Teams that Have Not Won a Championship
As mentioned, there are 11 teams that still do not have a championship trophy to show in their offices. Here is the complete list of these teams and how far they have gone in their quest to the NBA’s pinnacle.
- Indiana Pacers (2000 NBA Finals runner-up)
- Charlotte Hornets (Conference Semi-Finals three times)
- Brooklyn Nets (Two-time NBA Finals runner-up)
- Denver Nuggets (Two-time Western Conference Finals runner up)
- Phoenix Suns (Two-time NBA Finals runner-up)
- Utah Jazz (Two-time NBA Finals runner-up)
- Minnesota Timberwolves (2004 NBA Western Conference Finals runner-up)
- New Orleans Pelicans (Conference Semi-finals)
- Orlando Magic (Two-time NBA Finals runner-up)
- Memphis Grizzlies (Conference Finals runner-up)
- Los Angeles Clippers (Conference Finals runner-up)
Aside from the Charlotte Hornets and New Orleans Pelicans, all of the other teams had close calls. Phoenix made the Finals last season and is one of the top contenders this year. The Jazz made the Finals twice in the 90s, and if not for the guy named Michael Jordan, they would have at least one chip to show for their efforts. The Nets made the Finals when the franchise was still in New Jersey but fell to the Shaq-Kobe Lakers twice in two straight years.
What NBA Team Has Gone the Longest Without a Championship?
It’s interesting to know, but none of the 11 teams that never won the championship has the longest active title drought in the NBA. The Pacers, Nuggets, and Nets came over in the 1967 merger, but there is a franchise that has not won an NBA championship longer than them. That “honor” goes to the Sacramento Kings.
Since its inauguration, the Kings joined the NBA and actually won the 1951 NBA championship. This is the time when the franchise was still called the Rochester Royals. Unfortunately, the Kings also own the distinction of having the longest postseason drought, which currently stands at 16 seasons. Their last playoff appearance was in 2006.
Which Team Has the Most Championship Wins?
The teams with the most championship titles are the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics. These legendary franchises won 17 titles apiece. The Lakers won five championships from 2000 to 2010 alone out of seven Finals appearances. Then, after a decade-long championship drought, the Lakers brought the Larry O’Brien trophy once again to Los Angeles in 2020.
Meanwhile, most of the Celtics’ championships came from the Bill Russell dynasties in the 60s. (Russell also led the Celtics to a championship in his rookie season in 1957.) From 1959-66, Russell won eight straight titles and four more from 1968 to 1976. During the Larry Bird era in the 80s, they brought home three more rings (1981, 1984, 1986). The last Celtic championship was in 2008, with Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and Paul Pierce playing starring roles.
After 34 titles combined between the Lakers and the Celtics, the other 41 championships were divided among 18 other teams. The Chicago Bulls (6), Golden State Warriors (6), San Antonio Spurs (5), the Miami Heat (3), Philadelphia 76ers (3), Detroit Pistons (2), Milwaukee Bucks (2), Houston Rockets (2) and the New York Knicks were the only multiple-time champions.
5 Best Teams That Never Won a Championship
Winning an NBA championship is equal parts luck and equal parts team composition. “Luck” also hinge on several other factors such as injuries, suspensions, and other roadblocks. Here are the 5 best teams that never won a championship:
1. 2001-02 Sacramento Kings (Regular Season record: 61-21)
There are teams on this list with better regular-season records, but the 2001-02 Kings already had one foot in the championship door. They led 3-2 in the Western Conference Finals over the Lakers and could potentially be up 3-1 if not for a Robert Horry three at the buzzer.
And then Game 6 happened. It has since been called one of the worst officiated games in NBA history, and many straight-up call it “rigged.’ Game 7 went into overtime, but the Kings shot themselves in the foot by missing 14 free throws while shooting 2-for-20 from deep. They should have had this one in the bag, but they just couldn’t finish. The window closed very quickly for the Kings as they never got close to a ring after that.
2. 2015-16 Golden State Warriors (Regular Season record: 73-9)
These Warriors are the best regular-season team ever, and it’s not debatable. This team broke the previous 72-10 record of the ‘96 Bulls, and it was a fun team to watch. They rode the championship wave from the previous year and were hitting on all cylinders the whole season long.
And then LeBron James happened. James’ Cavs came back after being down 3-1 in the Finals ending Cleveland’s championship drought. The Draymond Green suspension was controversial, to say the least, but like the 2002 Warriors, there’s no excuse for losing at the biggest stage.
3. 1996-97 Utah Jazz (Regular Season record: 64-18)
The ‘97 Jazz lost only three games in the first three playoffs series and had the best regular-season record. That means, if they ever face the Bulls again in the Finals, they’ll have homecourt advantage. And that they did.
But Michal Jordan just wouldn’t lose. Game 5 of the series was the infamous “Flu Game,” and the Jazz went on to lose a close Game 6 to the battle-tested Bulls.
4. 1992-93 Phoenix Suns (Regular Season record: 62-20)
Like Malone and Stockton’s Jazz, Charles Barkley’s Phoneix Suns did not have a ring to show for their efforts because of Jordan. That year, Barkley was the league MVP, and the Suns were just offensive juggernauts despite missing Kevin Johnson and Richard Dumas for long stretches.
It’s not an exaggeration, but this team has no apparent weakness on the offensive end. Barkley was in MVP form all season, and they had a ridiculously deep team that featured Danny Ainge, Cedric Ceballos, and Tom Chambers. In fact, seven players averaged double-figures in the regular season! Like every team in the ‘90s, it’s unfortunate that they had to face the Bulls.
5. 2017-18 Houston Rockets (Regular Season record: 65-17)
With the exemption of the 2016 Warriors, the 2018 Rockets is the best regular-season team on this list. In the playoffs, they showed that it was no fluke.
The Rockets were offensive titans, a common feature among Mike D’Antoni teams. However, they also have the personnel to be defensively disruptive. Chris Paul was (and still) a great defender, while Trevor Ariza, Luc Mbah a Moute, P.J. Tucker, and Clint Capela are all plus-defenders.
So what went wrong with this team? Injuries. Paul wasn’t able to suit up for Games 6 and 7 of the Western Conference Finals with the Rockets up 3-2 over the Warriors. Without Paul, James Harden couldn’t do much, either, but you can’t blame the Rockets fans for playing the “What if?” game here.
Wrapping Things Up: Which NBA Teams Have Never Won a Championship?
The goal of every NBA team is to win the championship, but unfortunately, not everyone gets to the top. Over the league’s 75-year history, there are 11 teams that have never won a championship. That’s 36% of the NBA showing a record of futility as far as titles go.
The teams with the most championships are the Celtics and the Lakers with 17 apiece. The Bulls, Warriors, Spurs, Pistons, Sixers, Heat, Knicks, Bucks, and Rockets won at least two rings. Then the Kings, Thunder, Hawks, Cavs, Blazers, Wizards, Raptors, and the Mavericks account for one championship ring each.
Now, on the other end of the spectrum, which NBA teams have never won a championship? The ringless NBA teams include the Nuggets, Pacers, Grizzlies, Suns, Jazz, Hornets, Wolves, Pelicans, Magic, Clippers, and the Nets. The Sacramento Kings has won one, but it dates back to 1951, when the franchise was still known as the Rochester Royals. The same thing with the Thunder (1979 Sonics) and Hawks (1958 St. Louis) franchises. The tide may turn soon, especially with the Suns playing terrific basketball to date.