This year’s NBA champion will bring a title to a cursed sports town

At many points this year, the Atlanta Hawks’ season has seemed to teeter on the brink of destruction. They started off with a less than 0.500 record under former coach Lloyd Pierce before moving on to Nate McMillan mid-season; they were heavily criticized by the media entering the first round of the playoffs against the New York Knicks; they fell in huge deficits against the Philadelphia 76ers on several occasions during the second round; they had to win without superstar Trae Young to keep things even with the Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday night. Each time, the Hawks have done something very different from Atlanta: they’ve overcome adversity rather than succumb to it.

As Mark Bradley of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution put it after game 7 from the Sixers series, “We’re not used to seeing Atlanta teams play like this when it matters most, but by the time these Hawks are done they may have reconfigured the way we – and the world. – let’s see Atlanta sports. ”

It’s time. Since 1980, no professional sports city has done more than Atlanta in terms of professional championship wins. Atlanta has only won one title in that span, which is about 4.75 short of what you would expect if you made the simple but even assumption that all teams in a league have. an equal chance of winning a championship every year.

Rings were hard to find in some cities

Metro areas with NBA, NFL, MLB, NHL, or WNBA teams by greatest difference in total number of championships compared to expectations * since 1980

* Expected Championships are the number we would expect if each team in a league had an equal chance of winning each season.


No city sports fan is immune to the agony of defeat. By definition, only one team in a particular league can win the championship, so seasons, even in the best performing cities, are likely to end as often in heartache as they end in champagne baths.

But some have probably experienced it better than others. Among the “big five” in North American professional sports, only five metropolitan areas – New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston and the San Francisco Bay Area – have captured nearly half (43%) of the 186 titles. available since 1980. A disappointment by the Lakers, for example, could be mitigated by a victory for the LA Kings in the Stanley Cup. For other cities, the pain is more intense. The seasons after the short-lived seasons can imbue a sense of fatalism even among the most optimistic supporters.

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But at least for a moment, however fleeting, that is about to change. After the Los Angeles Clippers were kicked out of the NBA playoffs As of Wednesday night, we have three teams left – the Hawks, Milwaukee Bucks and Phoenix Suns – from cities ranked among the nine most title-hungry cities in professional sports in the past four decades, and one of them. they will deliver the tinsel that has long escaped its inhabitants. It’s even more symbolic that the NBA opposes the title hoarding narrative: The league has been the epitome of injustice, with just 12 cities monopolizing all the glory of the championship since 1980 (Los Angeles alone has won 11 of those 41 titles.)

Milwaukee is certainly not in a title-less region. Green Bay, which is just two hours north of I-43, is home to the enduringly successful Packers, who have won two Super Bowls since 1980 and played part of their home games in the 1990s in Milwaukee. But the city’s two full-time franchises – the Bucks and the Brewers – have been defined by years of mediocrity. Neither was downright awful; the Bucks have passed just above .500 since the 1980-81 season, while the Brew Crew walked slightly below this mark. But more often than not, each club faltered when it mattered most.

The Bucks were knocking on the door to basketball greatness throughout the 1980s; they made the playoffs every year, with Sidney Moncrief, double defensive player of the year anchor the cream of those Cream City squads at both ends. But they never got past the conference finals, and their best team of the decade – and their second best in the past 40 years – was swept away by the Celtics led by Larry Bird in 1986. A playoff drought followed for the franchise in the ’90s, and the team limited themselves to outings in the 1990s. first round in the early 2000s.

A similar story unfolded in parallel on the baseball field. After clinching gold in 1982 and reaching the World Series, supported by the brilliant season MVP of future Hall of Fame member Robin Yount, the Brewers went into free fall, suffering a 25-year drought in the playoffs, not making a comeback to baseball in October of 2008. The last few years have been more lenient; Milwaukee has qualified for the playoffs in three straight seasons and looks set to have a run this year as well. But the franchise has come a long way closer recently: After forcing Game 7 against the LA Dodgers, the Brewers’ bats fell silent in a 5-1 Match 7 home loss to end the NLCS 2018.

And recent Bucks, led by Giannis Antetokounmpo, have offered their own glimpses of the championship promise and disappointment. With Antetokounmpo winning back-to-back league MVPs, Milwaukee had the best NBA record in both 2018-19 and 2019-20, only to be upset twice in the Eastern Conference playoffs. This year could change that – or it could extend that streak, as Antetokounmpo injured his knee in Milwaukee’s Game 4 of the series against the Hawks. (Reports are that Giannis has not suffered any structural damage, although its status for the rest of the series is unclear.)

For Atlanta, the simple mention of “28-3” Perhaps conjures up the biggest playoff collapse in professional sports, but his fans have plenty of other moments to choose from by channeling their desperation. The Braves of the 90s rolled around one of the most formidable starting rotations in major league history with five World Series appearances, but they only have one Fall Classic victory (over Cleveland in 1995) to prove. Since that title, no Atlanta team has finished a season in the lead.

The city has drawn closer. The Atlanta Dream directed by Angel McCoughtry would make three appearances in the WNBA Finals from 2010 to 2013, but they were swept away by the Seattle Storm and the Minnesota Lynx in every series. With Dominique Wilkins – “The human highlight coil”- leading the charge (and, later, Dikembe Mutombo, Steve Smith and Mookie Blaylock), the Hawks were eternal playoff contenders throughout the 1980s and 1990s, but they could never get over the hump of the conference semifinals. The Braves held a 3-1 advantage in the series and a 2-1 lead midway through Game 5 over the Dodgers in last year’s NLCS, only to see a Will Smith’s home run restart a race for the LA title. And, of course, there’s the collapse of the ages in Super Bowl LI, marking another championship snatch by a successful sports town from an untitled counterpart.

As for Phoenix, the city can boast of three WNBA Mercury titles, and it has secured an MLB championship. Star-studded 2001 Diamondbacks. But that’s all the city has to show for over 40 years. It was once a single-sport town – the Suns were Phoenix’s only major professional entry until 1988, when the football Cardinals moved from St. Louis – but it added franchises from each of the professional leagues of the Big Five in the years since. Yet with those four titles since 1980, it has the fewest championships of any city that currently has teams in all of those leagues. (Atlanta only plays in four of the five leagues because the NHL Thrashers have flown north to Winnipeg and became the Jets in 2011.)

Phoenix and Atlanta have the teams but not the titles

Most championships won since 1980 among metropolitan areas that currently or formerly had teams in North America’s top five professional leagues

Currently has one or more teams in …
Subway station MLB NBA NFL NHL WNBA Championships
Los Angeles ✓ ✓ ✓ ✓ ✓ 22
New York City ✓ ✓ ✓ ✓ ✓ 18
Chicago ✓ ✓ ✓ ✓ ✓ 12
Detroit ✓ ✓ ✓ ✓ 11
Washington DC ✓ ✓ ✓ ✓ ✓ 6
Minneapolis-St. Paul ✓ ✓ ✓ ✓ ✓ 6
Miami ✓ ✓ ✓ ✓ 5
Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington ✓ ✓ ✓ ✓ ✓ 5
Phoenix ✓ ✓ ✓ ✓ ✓ 4
Atlanta ✓ ✓ ✓ ✓ 1


A certain sense of “us versus the world” has also contributed to the increased stakes in these playoffs. The most successful NBA franchises of recent decades tend to come from large markets, and Milwaukee doesn’t match that billing. A recent comment from an ESPN host calling the remaining cities in the NBA playoffs “terrible“only fueled those flames, with some Milwaukee residents responding by purchasing custom shirts that read” Terrible City. “And although neither Atlanta nor Phoenix is a small market, both franchises have always struggled to attract the best free agents. A wave of off-season spending and acquisitions in 2020, however, appeared to pay dividends for every club. A victory in the conference final would only enhance the image of Young and co. have grown in Atlanta, while a championship breakthrough for the Suns would arguably make Phoenix one of the top contenders for new talent.

Ultimately, only one team can triumph in these NBA Playoffs, and every city sits in relatively uncharted territory. But in the end, one of those three unlucky cities will finally have their sporting prayers answered.

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