Monday, May 18, 2015

Was It All a (Hakeem the) Dream?

Now that Mad Men is over, and -- spoiler alert -- we know that Don Draper didn't die in 1970, we need something else to talk about.  In comes the NBA to fill that void.  And yes, I realize Mad Men and the NBA have nothing to do with each other, but on the night of the finale of that great TV series, the Rockets and Clippers ended their series in the Western Conference semis, finalizing the teams in this year's conference finals.

I rarely write about the NBA, but this year's conference finals are pretty unique.  In the West, top-seed Golden State will take on 2-seed Houston.  The Warriors have not won an NBA title since 1975, and the Rockets haven't won a title since 1995.  In the East, top-seed Atlanta will take on 2-seed Cleveland.  The Hawks haven't won a title since 1958 (ten years before moving to Atlanta, when they were located in St. Louis), and, of course, the Cavaliers have never won anything.

So, this year's conference finals will feature two 1-2 matchups.  Since the league expanded the playoffs to 16 teams in 1984, this is only the fifth time that the top two seeds in both conferences are meeting in the conference finals in the same year (1986, 2001, 2005, and 2014 are the other years in that span).

But the more interesting stat, in my mind, is that it has been at least 20 years since any of the four teams in the conference finals has won a championship.  I took a look at all four major sports, and this is only the 7th time it has happened across all sports.  Including this year, it has happened twice in the NBA, twice in the NHL, three times in the NFL, and never in MLB.  Of course, the NFL is limited to the Super Bowl era because neither the NFL nor AFL had semifinals prior to the Super Bowl, although I am including pre-Super Bowl AFL and NFL championships in the calculation of years since the last championship.  Also, for MLB, 1969 was the first year of the LCS in each league, so 1969 is the earliest it could have happened (though it never has).

Here is a list of the years in which all four teams in the conference finals have had championship droughts of at least 20 years, with the then-most recent championship year in parentheses: 
2014-2015 NBA:  Houston (1995), Golden State (1975), Atlanta (1958), Cleveland (never)
1999-2000 NFL:  St. Louis (1951), Tennessee (1961), Tampa Bay (never), Jacksonville (never)
1996-1997 NFL:  Green Bay (1968), New England (never), Carolina (never), Jacksonville (never)
1994-1995 NHL:  New Jersey (never), Detroit (1955), Philadelphia (1975), Chicago (1961)
1993-1994 NBA:  Houston (never), New York (1973), Utah (never), Indiana (never)
1993-1994 NHL:  New York Rangers (1940), Vancouver (never), Toronto (1967), New Jersey (never)
1973-1974 NFL:  Pittsburgh (never), Minnesota (never), L.A. Rams (1951), Oakland (never)

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