By Jon Ho
Finally, it is time to rank the 10 NBA fanbases that have suffered the most. I am basing this off of historical success, recent success, Championships, Hall of Famers, draft makes, and misses. Also, I will factor in the franchises that each city has had for each fanbase (so I will look at the Pelicans/Hornets history for New Orleans fans). However, if the franchise won a Championship in a different city (like the Atlanta Hawks winning a Championship when they were the St Louis Hawks) then I will not factor that into the ranking since it’s technically a different fanbase. I will also not be considering history from the ABA. If you want to know 30-11, check out the previous two lists I did. With that out of the way, here we go!
10. Indiana Pacers Fans
Indiana definitely houses some passionate fans for professional basketball, despite the fact that Indiana is seen more like a college basketball town. When it comes to the Pacers, similar to the Hawks, they have had a solid history but are not good enough to get over the Championship hump. The Pacers have been in the NBA for 45 seasons (after being in the ABA) and have made the playoffs 27 times. When you think of the Pacers you obviously think of Reggie Miller. He played for the Pacers his entire career and brought them the most success in franchise history. The Pacers have had other good players including Jermaine O’Neal, Mark Jackson, Danny Granger, Paul George, and Victor Oladipo. Unfortunately, the Pacers have not won a Championship and have only been to one NBA Final. Indiana is also one of the smaller markets in the NBA, so they are not a free-agent destination. However, the Pacers currently have some decent pieces including Domantas Sabonis, Malcolm Brogdon, Caris LeVert, and Myles Turner. Not to mention, the team will now be coached by Rick Carlisle, who has a Championship.
9. Denver Nuggets Fans
Next, we have the Nuggets: another franchise with a decent history yet has not been good enough to continue with that theme. Like the Pacers, they were also in the ABA before becoming a part of the NBA. The Nuggets have also been in the NBA for 45 seasons and have made the playoffs 27 times. Two players come to mind when I think of the Nuggets. One is Alex English, who was one of the most electrifying players of his time and holds most of the Nuggets scoring records. The other is Carmelo Anthony, who was one of the greatest scorers of his era and was the face of the Nuggets until Jokić came around. Other great players who played for the Nuggets include David Thompson, Dan Issel, Fat Lever, and Dikembe Mutombo. The Nuggets have never played in an NBA Final, but have made the Western Conference Finals 4 times. T Nuggets currently have a solid core with Nikola Jokić and Jamal Murray. So between those two, the Nuggets should be in the Championship mix for the next few seasons.
8. Brooklyn/New Jersey Nets Fans
The Nets are a franchise that, for the most part, have either been decent or plain horrible. The Nets have been in the NBA for 45 seasons and have made the playoffs 22 times. They have had a few good stretches in their history. First, there was a stretch in the 80s when they made 5 straight playoff appearances with Buck Williams and Darryl Dawkins. Then there was a decent but short period in the 90s with Derrick Coleman and Dražen Petrović. Then there was the most successful stretch for the Nets in the 2000s, featuring Jason Kidd and Richard Jefferson. They made the playoffs for 6 straight seasons and had 2 Finals appearances. Plus there is the current iteration of the Nets with Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and James Harden who definitely can win a Championship if they stay healthy. That being said, when the Nets have not made the playoffs they have been bottom of the league awful. The low point was the 2009 season where they went 12-70, making that team one of the worst NBA teams of all time, maybe the 2nd worst team of the 21st Century. There is also the trade with Celtics for Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Jason Terry for future draft picks which is one of the worst trades ever, although the Nets have recovered quite well since that trade. The Net still do not have a Championship, but maybe that will change with the Big 3 having an offseason together. Nets fans have to hope that this team can win it all because the Nets will not have a lot of draft picks down the line due to the James Harden trade.
7. Memphis Grizzlies Fans
Similar to some of the franchises mentioned earlier in the list like the Pacers and Hawks, the Grizzlies are also a franchise that has been decent, but not good enough to contend for a Championship. The Grizzlies have been in the NBA for 26 seasons and have made 11 playoff appearances, though many of those playoff runs ended with first-round exits. They were originally the Vancouver Grizzlies, and they were awful. Since relocating to Memphis, the Grizzlies had two stretches of success. First was the stretch with Pau Gasol and Shane Battier in the mid-2000s when they made the playoffs for 3 straight seasons. Then there were the 2010s with Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol, and Mike Conley in which they made the playoffs 7 straight times, making it as far as the Western Conference Finals. Like the Pacers, the Grizzlies are a small market team so it is next to impossible for them to get free agents. To make matters even tougher, the Grizzlies are one of the teams that gets the least amount of media attention in the NBA. However, they do have a star in Ja Morant to build around with other players like Jaren Jackson Jr. and Jonas Valančiūnas.
6. Orlando Magic Fans
Right now the Magic are basically a tire fire. They are coming off a 21-51 season and they have traded away all of their best players like Nikola Vucevic, Aaron Gordan, and Evan Fournier. Currently, they are going through a rebuild which will not be fun for Magic fans. Looking at their history overall, it is pretty mixed -- some good seasons and some bad ones. They have had two successful periods with Shaquille O’Neal and Dwight Howard. During the era in the 90s with Shaquille O’Neal and Penny Hardaway, the Magic went to the playoffs 4 straight times and made it to an NBA final. In the 2000s with Dwight Howard, the Magic made the playoffs 6 straight times, which included a trip to the Finals. There was also a period in the early 2000s when Tracy McGrady was lighting up the league and Doc Rivers was coaching the team. However, most of their playoff runs ended with a 1st round exit, just like the Grizzlies. When they haven’t made the playoffs, they have usually been pretty bad. As of right now, the Magic are in a bad place, but there might be some hope with the drafting of Jalen Suggs and Franz Wagner.
5. Charlotte Hornets/Bobcats Fans
In the short history of the Hornets/Bobcats, the franchise has had its moments, but for the most part, their track record is pretty rough. There was the first stint as the Charlotte Hornets in the 90s, in which they experience the most success. During that time, they made the playoffs 7 times in 10 seasons, being led by Larry Johnson, Muggsy Bogues, Glen Rice, Alonzo Mourning, and Dell Curry. However, they could never get past the 1st round or the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Then they became the Bobcats, and subsequently became one of the worst franchises in the history of basketball. Throughout that period, they only made the playoffs twice and had what was possibly the worst basketball team of all time in 2011 with a 7-59 record. Additionally, there was the drafting of Adam Morrison who was a huge disappointment. Since becoming the Charlotte Hornets again in 2014, there haven’t been many notable occurrences other than acquiring Kemba Walker and one playoff appearance. However, the future for the Hornets looks bright with LaMelo Ball playing really well in his rookie year. Plus they have Devonte' Graham, P.J. Washington, Terry Rozier, and Miles Bridges to build around, plus Gordon Hayward if he can stay healthy.
4. New Orleans Pelicans/Hornets Fans
Next, it is fitting we get the other Hornets franchise, which doubles as the newest franchise in the NBA, the Pelicans. When they were the Hornets, the name that comes to mind is Chris Paul, who became one of the faces of the NBA and led the Hornets to 3 playoff appearances. Then the Hornets became the Pelicans in 2013 and got a franchise player in Anthony Davis, who was a perennial All-Star. Now they have a future star in Zion Williamson alongside Brandon Ingram. Even though the New Orleans Hornets/Pelicans have had some Superstars play for them, they have never had a team that was a serious Championship contender, nor sustained any level of success. The main reason I put this franchise here on the list, is the rumors of the dysfunctional environment within the team. There have been reports that the Pelicans front office is toxic and is poorly run. This, unfortunately, led to Anthony Davis wanting a trade and now, many fans worry if they do not turn it around that the same could happen with Zion -- who does not seem to like how New Orleans is run. And you can’t forget about the fact that they hired Stan Van Gundy, gave him a 4-year contract, and fired him after 1 year because of a disappointing season. The Pelicans do have a decent young core to build around, but they have to start winning soon or Zion will leave just like Anthony Davis.
3. Minnesota Timberwolves Fans
Now we go into the most dysfunctional teams in the history of the NBA. Any one of these teams could have been number 1. The Minnesota Timberwolves have historically been trash and are continuing the trend. Currently, the Timberwolves have a 39.4% winning percentage which is the worst in NBA history. They have been in the NBA for 32 seasons and have only been to the playoffs 9 times. The only success the Timberwolves have ever sustained was in the 90s and early 2000s when they made the playoffs 8 times in a row with Kevin Garnett and head coach Flip Saunders. Other than that, the Timberwolves have been a mess with terrible ownership, terrible coaching (Kurt Rambis comes to mind), and terrible drafting. The worst was in 2009 when the Timberwolves passed on drafting Steph Curry TWICE! Instead, they drafted Ricky Rubio and Jonny Flynn with the 5th and 6th pick and they were both point guards. Rubio has been an average player and Jonny Flynn only played 2 seasons for the Timberwolves. Yikes. Then there is the fact that they wasted Kevin Love's prime years, and are currently wasting Karl-Anthony Towns’ prime. No wonder Jimmy Butler wanted to leave this franchise. The reason they aren’t number 1 is there has not been a ton of heartbreak for fans since the Timberwolves haven’t had a devastating playoff loss. Not to mention, Timberwolves fans have kind of resigned to the fact that this franchise is terrible. Will things turn around with Alex Rodriguez as a part-owner of the team? Probably not.
2. Los Angeles Clippers Fans
If it wasn’t for the 2010s the Clippers would probably be number 1. For decades the Clippers were not only the worst franchise in the NBA but maybe the worst franchise in sports. After becoming the Los Angeles Clippers in 1984 they only made the postseason 4 times before 2011. This was due to the toxic culture led by the racist cheapskate Donald Sterling, who is in the running for the worst owner in the history of sports. Similar to the Timberwolves, there was bad coaching and bad drafting (mainly by Elgin Baylor) that kept the Clippers stuck in a rut. The worst decision was in the 1998 draft when they drafted Michael Olowokandi with the number 1 pick (who became a bust) and passed on Vince Carter, Dirk Nowitzki, and Paul Pierce. However, in the 2010s the Clippers had a resurgence, making the playoffs 9 times in 10 seasons starting in 2011. It began with the drafting of Blake Griffin and a trade for Chris Paul which led to Lob City. Yet this created a different kind of heartbreak since it seemed that the team underachieved. They could never get past the Western Semifinals, and in 2015 they blew a 3-1 lead against the Rockets. Now the Clippers have Kawhi Leonard and Paul George leading the team and are seen as legitimate title contenders. However, the Clippers have yet to make it to the Finals, having blown a 3-1 lead against the Nuggets in the 2020 bubble season and losing to the Suns in the Western Conference Finals this past season. Like the Nets, Clippers fans have to hope this core can win a Championship considering most of their future draft picks belong to the Thunder via the Paul George trade. Plus, we need to see how Kawhi Leonard can recover from his partial ACL tear.
1. Sacramento Kings Fans
Finally, we’ve reached the Sacramento Kings, whose fan base has undoubtedly experienced the most pain. I do not think a fanbase has dealt with heartache and ineptitude quite like Kings fans have. Technically, the Kings have a Championship from 1957, but I’m not gonna count it since they were the Rochester Royals with a completely different fanbase. The best period for the Kings was easily the early 2000s when they were led to 8 straight playoff appearances by Chris Webber, Vlade Divac, Peja Stojakovic, Mike Bibby, and Jason Williams. However, that team was not able to make it to the NBA Finals, and even when they made the Western Conference Finals in 2002 they lost in 7 games to the Lakers after getting a 3-2 lead. Plus, the Kings were definitely screwed by the refs in Game 6, with the Kings shooting 25 free throw attempts to the Lakers’ 40, 27 of which coming from the 4th quarter. Besides that era, the Kings’ history has been terrible. In 35 seasons the Kings have only made the playoffs 10 times. They have the longest playoff drought by far at 15 seasons. The second most are the Charlotte Hornets with 5 seasons. This lack of success is due to many factors, but the one that stands out the most are the Kings terrible drafting and front office moves. From trading down and drafting Jimmer Fredette, drafting Willie Cauley-Stein, trading Demarcus Cousins and Vlade Divac, saying there was a better deal in place, and drafting Marvin Bagley in 2018 when they could have drafted Luka Dončić or Trae Young. There is also the heartbreak of Tyreke Evans lighting up the league his rookie year before fizzling out, as well as wasting Demarcus Cousins’ prime years. I remember when the Kings thought it would be a good idea to pair Demarcus Cousins with George Karl and Rajon Rondo. 3 of the biggest hotheads and egos in the NBA. Shockingly, it didn’t work out. But the reason the Kings are at number 1 instead of the Clippers or Timberwolves is that every time there are talks about relocation in the NBA, the Kings are the first team that gets brought up. It goes without saying the Kings are pretty irrelevant and they are not a free-agent destination. I am sure a lot of Kings fans do wonder if the Kings will stay in Sacramento. They nearly moved in 2013, when a few groups tried to buy the Kings. One of the groups would have moved the team to Seattle. Currently, the Kings have an ok young core with De'Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, and Harrison Barnes. However, they still have not made the playoffs since 2006 in a tough Western Conference, and who knows if they ever will get it together enough to see that level of success.,
Dishonorable Mention: Seattle Supersonics Fans
Lastly, I have the Seattle Supersonics fans as a dishonorable mention. However, if they were ranked, I would probably have them at number 1 for the sole reason that Seattle does not have a franchise anymore. As awful and heartbreaking as some of these franchises can be, at least the fans can say they have a franchise to cheer for, unlike Seattle. I’m hoping that one day the Supersonics can come back. The NHL just added the Seattle Kraken, so maybe it’s time for the Supersonics to make their return.