I have been doing these tortured franchise rankings for more than three years now, in baseball, the NBA and the NFL. (My colleague Joe DeLessio ranks the NHL fan bases). Not once, not ever, has a team with fans ranked as the most tortured fanbase ever won a championship. They've not come particularly close. That's definitely on brand: If they won titles, there wouldn't be much torture, now would it.
Well, as of Sunday night … that's all over.
Last year's top team in our Tortured NBA Fan base Rankings was the Cleveland Cavaliers, for reasons that are not difficult to understand. Here's what I wrote about Cleveland last year:
The franchise is set up to finally bring an NBA championship to the city. But if it doesn't? If it somehow doesn't work out for LeBron here? Then Cavs fans may never forfeit this spot.
And just like that … torture over. It's like it never happened in the first place. As Cleveland continues its months-long orgy in the streets, we dig back into our Third Annual Tortured NBA Fan base Rankings. We will have a new No. 1 this year. As a reminder, here are the parameters:
This is a ranking of every team's fan base, from most to least spoiled. I want to find out who deserves a title the most: who you, as a disinterested party, should be cheering for next year. Lots of factors are involved here: fan loyalty, passion, historical success, particularly painful eras, near-miss title chances, current roster, any ineffable notion that just occurs to me while I'm putting this list together. I'm doing my best to give an honest accounting here. This ranking will get a lot better once all of you have had a chance to look at it and tell me what I got wrong.
One thing I've learned from doing these is that every fan base is more upset if you refer to them as less tortured than they actually feel, which seems backwards but probably isn't. Your input is the only way these improve.
30. Cleveland Cavaliers. (Last year: 1. Last title: 2016.) Win a title, you drop to the bottom of these rankings. That's pretty self-explanatory. Our only request, Cleveland: If the Indians end up winning the World Series, and -- heaven forbid -- the Browns end up doing the same, please, please, please please please do not turn into Boston. Give us that.
29. San Antonio Spurs. (Last year: 29. Last title: 2014.) It was a bummer for the Spurs to not even reach the Conference Finals we were all waiting for, and it was an even bigger bummer to see Tim Duncan looking so old at the end of the Thunder series. There's still no word on whether Duncan or Manu Ginobili are going to retire, but if they do, they won't end up going out on top. Those five championships -- two more than LeBron! -- are a welcome consolation prizes.
28. Golden State Warriors. (Last year: 30. Last title: 2015.) On one hand, yes, they just won the championship, so they're near the bottom of this list. On the other: Their beautiful, glorious, record-breaking season just ended in nightmare fashion, with everyone calling them chokers and de-legitimizing their accomplishments. Stephen Curry and the Warriors will need to win another title in the next few years to get everyone off their backs. It turns out that it's pretty hard to do that.
27. Miami Heat. (Last year: 28. Last title: 2013). There was a report that LeBron James' "secret motivation" to win a title turned out to be a desire to prove Pat Riley wrong when he questioned his decision to return to Cleveland. Does that help Miami's status in the long-term or hurt them? Miami hung in a little this year, but it's worth noting that Dwyane Wade and James now have the same number of titles. Who's closer to the next one?
26. Los Angeles Lakers. (Last year: 25. Last title: 2010.) So, the Lakers said goodbye to Kobe Bryant, everybody had their moment, now he's in commercials with Apollo Creed's kid, the world's all happy. Now what? Well, most teams, when they say goodbye to a superstar who dominated the franchise for nearly 20 years, have to completely start over. Instead, as Zach Lowe put it, the Lakers were secretly tanking: They have the No. 2 pick and might just end up with Brandon Ingram. Having Ingram, D'Angelo Russell (maybe, if they don't trade him for more youth) and Julius Randle, plus a bunch of cap space? The West is tough, but the Lakers are the Lakers: You won't be feeling bad for them for a long, long while.
25. Boston Celtics. (Last year: 27. Last title: 2008.) Like the Lakers, except they never really had to rebuild: They only had one (minor) tank season and have been in the playoffs since. There's still an argument to be made that their competitiveness is actually hurting them; who has more young talent right now: them or the Lakers? But they still have the head coach that everybody wants, a massive fan base and boatloads of cash to go get that superstar. Also: The "most tortured" Boston franchise in all our sport rankings is the Celtics, which is just upsetting.
24. Dallas Mavericks. (Last year: 26. Last title: 2011.) The Mavs got a blowhard owner who's still willing to spend, and Dirk Nowitzki should be close to a retirement tour of his own. It looks like Dallas is just going to end up with that one title rather than multiple ones in a league that generally demands those for long-term relevance. It's difficult to see the next championship Mavericks team having anyone currently on this roster. That one title will have to suffice. Most teams would be more than happy to have that one.
23. Brooklyn Nets. (Last year: 20. Last title: Never.) Just as doomed as they were this time a year ago, and just as far away from contention. They drop in these rankings regardless because no one in Brooklyn seems all that upset about it. This is going to be a mess for a long, long time. How angry will fans get in response?
22. Chicago Bulls. (Last year: 22. Last title: 1998.) And it looks like the Derrick Rose/Joakim Noah era is over, without even a Finals appearance to show for it. It's a shame, really: In a parallel universe, Rose stays healthy and really does become the next Jordan. Alas. Only this high up in the rankings because, you know, six titles in eight years will buy you three decades, at least.
21. Houston Rockets. (Last year: 24. Last title: 1995.) Speaking of a window closing, well, Daryl Morey gave it a shot, but it looks like it's time to start over again. Where do the Rockets go from here, especially if James Harden doesn't go back to being a superstar? This looked like a team that desperately wanted to go home by the end of the year. That is not the best endorsement of the last near-decade. Maybe there's a turn coming. Or maybe that was it.
20. Detroit Pistons. (Last year: 21. Last title: 2004.) The same thing we said last year applies this year: Detroit is the most tortured fan base on the list that has won a title this millennium, which sounds about right.
19. New Orleans Pelicans. (Last year: 23. Last title: Never.) Well, last year did not go as planned. The good news is that the 2015-16 disaster did get them a better draft pick to use to build around Anthony Davis, but we're now officially into "you better make him happy, because there's a lot of money in this game now" countdown mode. Last year, we considered Pelicans fans less tortured because they had Davis for the foreseeable future. Imagine how they plunge down this list if he ever leaves.
18. Oklahoma City Thunder. (Last year: 14. Last title: Never.) The Thunder are always the most difficult team on these rankings to figure out, because we're talking Oklahoma City, not Seattle. (Seattle would almost certainly be No. 1, or close to it.) They move up the list because of their near-miss against Golden State, which was of course painful but did serve to make it more likely Kevin Durant will stay here. Now, if he leaves, then we're talking about something very different.
17. Charlotte Hornets. (Last year: 19. Last title: Never.) Are they a little more tortured because every time they lose a game, someone drops the Crying Jordan meme on them? I'd say yes, yes they are.
16. Orlando Magic. (Last year: 17. Last title: Never.) Right smack in the middle of the rankings, which is about where the Magic fall in everything. The whole NBA is Value Over or Under Replacement Magic.
15. Memphis Grizzlies. (Last year: 18. Last title: Never.) There are bad eras to be stuck around 10-games above .500 in that No. 7 or No. 8 playoff spot, and then there are really bad eras, and really bad conferences in which to do so. The only good thing for Grizzlies fans in the playoffs this year is that they were so low on players that I'm pretty sure some fans got to play.
14. Philadelphia 76ers. (Last year: 16. Last title: 1983.) So, The Process didn't turn out, and on the surface, it looks like Philadelphia fans went through five years of pain for nothing. But was it nothing? There's still talent here, and now it's combined with urgency. Not the worst combination. Plus: If the 76ers ever do break through, the dramatic readings of Sam Hinkie's resignation letter will become irresistible performance art.
13. Denver Nuggets. (Last year: 13. Last title: Never.) A year where nothing much happens ends up with the Nuggets in the same spot. Let's see what three first-round picks do for them.
12. Portland Trail Blazers. (Last year: 7. Last title: 1977.) A likable team that proved feisty all season, and may have moved up its competitive calendar a bit. Plus: They won a playoff series! Who saw that coming? The league's always a little more interesting when the Blazers are hanging around. Also, that 1977 title is the championship no one ever remembers.
11. Atlanta Hawks (Last year: 15. Last title: 1958.) The re-emergence of the Atlanta fanbase -- with a city that is showing legitimately civic pride in the Hawks after one of the darkest periods in the team's history -- has raised the stakes. Unfortunately, that also means it has shone a brighter light on just how disappointing it is that this little Hawks boomlet of the past couple of years didn't produce much, and they once again went down to the Cavs in a sweep. This might be the best stretch of Hawks basketball in a decade or so. And to what end?
10. Milwaukee Bucks. (Last year: 11. Last title: 1971.) This year went sideways on them, and suddenly the team looks a little less exciting. That No. 10 pick this year may have to go a long way.
9. Minnesota Timberwolves (Last year: 10. Last title: Never.) Is this the brightest point in T-Wolves basketball since the Garnett glory years? Has to be, right? The hottest coaching name on the free agent market chose to come here. Did you ever think you'd see the day? Now it's time for the Timberwolves to end that playoff drought, and then we can start getting down to business. Hope in Minnesota. Light dawns!
8. Toronto Raptors. (Last year: 12. Last title: Never.) Ah, yes: Now the Raptors can feel some real pain. The two wins against the eventual champs look even more impressive now, and might even have the Raptors faithful wondering what might have been. Remember, to have come close to the mountaintop and fall short -- rather than just losing constantly -- brings you closer to No. 1 on these rankings, not further away. There was joy for Toronto fans this year. But now there are expectations. Which means there is, inevitably, disappointment.
7. Indiana Pacers. (Last year: 9. Last title: Never.) The franchise, despite being a basketball-rabid market, still hasn't entirely recovered over the past decade, in a public relations sense. And last year bears repeating: It is very possible that the Pacers will have had three different generations of top third-of-the-league talent … and only have one NBA Finals appearance (2000) to show for it.
6. Phoenix Suns. (Last year: 8. Last title: Never.) The Suns took a big big step back last year and now everything's up in the air again. And remember: This is a team that should have two titles right now, and has none.
5. Utah Jazz. (Last year: 6. Last title: Never.) Even when matters trend up, you can't put those lack of Malone-Stockton titles out of your mind. It still feels cruel and unusual that the Jazz never got one back then.
4. New York Knicks. (Last year: 2. Last title: 1973.) Why the uptick from last year? One word: Kristaps. Another: Porzingis! Despite all the Phil Jackson eccentricities, the Knicks have a reason to hope, and all told, that's all the Knicks really need. They have a potential superstar to build around. They have to figure out where this Carmelo story ends -- and if you ask me, Carmelo's going to be playing with LeBron in Cleveland for a ring in the next 2-3 years -- and not trade away any more draft picks. But still: The Knicks have a star, and that's enough to move them up a couple of spots. No further than that, though -- not with that owner.
3. Washington Wizards. (Last year: 4. Last title: 1978.) Uh-oh! That didn't work out at all! The Wizards began the season hoping to be a top-tier Eastern Conference team and then add hometown kid Durant in the offseason … and then it all imploded. There is a theory that with Cleveland's title, Washington, D.C. is now the most tortured sports city. This theory is not a crazy one.
2. Sacramento Kings. (Last year: 4. Last title: Never.) Let us remind you: The only good thing that has happened to the Kings over the last 15 years is that they did not leave Sacramento. Do they move to No. 1 if DeMarcus Cousins gets traded and then wins a title with another team? They have to, right?
1. Los Angeles Clippers. (Last year: 3. Last title: Never.) Why do the Clippers take over the top spot? Because they were terrible forever. And then they suffered perhaps the ugliest public relations hit in league history this side of Tim Donaghy. And then they got a new owner and a new coach and some superstars … and then they fell into discord and disappointment again before losing to the freaking Blazers in the first round. They may have to start over, again. The worst part about the disappointment of the Doc Rivers era in Clipper-land is that it's the best era in team history. How many years do they stay ahead of the Lakers? One? Two? It's getting dark here, fast. Poor souls.