There is no more mocked sports fan than the Miami sports fan. They have earned their derision. Whether it's leaving Game 6 of the NBA Finals early and then, hilariously, demanding to be let back in, or it's crazy lunatic ex-murder suspect fans or it's the sad fan turnout for the championship parade on Monday, the city has the worst sports reputation fathomable.
But I think the real reason we don't like them is because their teams win all the time. We don't think they deserve it. The Heat are the latest example, but the Marlins might be worse, what with their two World Series titles despite the worst ownership situation in sports and their open disdain for their fans. It's not that Miami fans are horrible; it's that they're so spoiled. They win titles without having to bleed for them.
And being a sports fan is all about pain. A championship doesn't mean nearly as much if it didn't come as a result of years of losing and frustration. Losing is character-building. Losing makes winning so much more powerful.
Which got me to thinking: Who are the most tortured fanbases in each of the major sports? This doesn't mean the worst fan bases, or the best, though those are factors. It's more about how much they have suffered, and how much they have to show for their suffering. The current status and talent bases of the franchises matter, but they're not everything. The Cubs have more talent and a better future than the Marlins, but no one would argue that Marlins fans are more tortured than Cubs fans. That's what I want to figure out: Who has it coming the most? This is not a Future Power Rankings.
Thus, I introduce the Fanbase Torture Rankings. After the end of the NBA, NFL and MLB seasons -- I'll leave the NHL to those who know the league better than I do, and I haven't figured out how to wrangle 300 college teams into this format -- we'll do a ranking of every team's fan base, from most to least spoiled. I want to find out who deserves it the most: Who you, as a disinterested party, should be cheering for next year.
Lots of factors are involved here: fan loyalty, 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.
30. Miami Heat (Last Title: 2013). The most recent champion will almost always begin these rankings, but this is as obvious a choice as any team in any sport. The Heat could go the next 45 years without a championship and you could still argue they wouldn't crack the top 20 on this list.
29. Los Angeles Lakers (2010). They're old, Kobe's hurt, everybody hates their coach and their franchise center is a bumbling nightmare for whomever crosses his path. They've still won 16 titles and have missed the playoffs twice in the last 37 years. They still have guys like Dwight Howard drop in their lap. They still represent the intersection of glitz and sports like no other team in the world. They are the jewel franchise of the sport.
28. Boston Celtics (2008). They're about to begin what's likely to be a grueling rebuilding process, so expect them to move up the list over the next decade. But for now, even when their team is a shell of itself, fans still get a thrilling death spasm of a series against the Knicks. Six years ago, the Celtics won 24 games and looked doomed. They then made two trades and became an overnight juggernaut. It was quite another run for a fan base that knows success even more than the Lakers do. Knowing the Celtics, we'll write them off and they'll be in the Finals five years from now, somehow.
27. San Antonio Spurs (2007). They'll be kicking themselves about that Game 6 for years, but this is still a franchise that has won four championships in the last 15 seasons, in large part because Tim Duncan improbably fell in their laps. Game 6 was brutal, but it's tough to cry too much for Spurs fans.
26. Chicago Bulls (1998). Losing Derrick Rose right as a playoff run was beginning -- and then losing him for another whole season -- was difficult, but it's still happy fortune that Rose plays for his hometown team anyway. Also, there is the small matter of having the greatest basketball player of all time win six championships for you.
25. Oklahoma City Thunder (no titles). I am purposely separating the Thunder from their time as the Seattle Supersonics; it is understandable if you are unable to do the same. Looking just at the Oklahoma City years though, the Thunder had one bad year -- the first year, when fans were just so honored they were there they didn't care how many games they won -- and have been one of the most promising, exciting young teams in the game since then. Old Sonics fans have been put through the ringer, but Thunder fans have had it awfully good.
24. Dallas Mavericks (2011). The Mavs might have been near the top of this list, had I compiled one right before their title. Winning a championship shoots you down quite a bit, though. Suffice it to say, it's a small price to pay. Also, Mavericks fans are lucky to have an owner who is desperate to win and willing to pay like crazy to make it happen. Not all fans are so lucky.
23. Houston Rockets (1995). Those two '90s championships still weigh heavily, and since then they've had Yao Ming, Tracy McGrady, Steve Francis and now James Harden. (And you sense another superstar is coming, at some point.) Also, if you're an analytic fan, you're comforted in knowing that your team is at the center of that revolution and is starting to bear the subsequent fruits.
22. Brooklyn Nets (no titles). Here's where we start to get into the "this isn't one of the best teams in the NBA, today or historically, but these fans have nothing to complain about" teams. The Nets have a shiny new arena, an owner whose wallet is constantly open and cool uniforms. New Jersey Nets fans would rate higher on this list, but Brooklyn Nets fans are doing all right for themselves.
21. Atlanta Hawks (1958). The general lack of inspiration and thrills associated with this franchise crosses over to their fan base, which all told has it a little better, success-wise, than they might necessarily have coming to them. It still kills me that one of the banners hanging from Philips Arena commemorates a consecutive sellout streak of Widespread Panic shows. (Note: Next year when I do this list I will have spent a year in Athens, Ga., and have a much firmer grasp of this fan base, such as it is.)
20. Memphis Grizzlies (no titles). Any city that takes a franchise away from another city -- or has done so recently, anyway -- is going to suffer a little bit in these rankings, and all told, the Grizzlies have had two extremely pleasant and distinct eras in their 12-year history. They're only going to get better too. Pity poor Vancouver.
19. Charlotte Bobcats (no titles). Yeah, they're terrible -- they just set the NBA record for worst record ever two years ago -- and they've made the playoffs only once. (And lost all four games.) They still have been around only nine years. You can work up only so much pain in nine years.
18. Toronto Raptors (no titles). The Raps have been on this earth for 18 seasons now and have made the playoffs five times. They are also sort of a farm team for other franchises; their stars never hang around very long. (The Raptors' all-time leader in games player is Morris Peterson.) But they have "The Basketball Jones" in their city, and no fan base with those guys on their side can have it too bad. Plus, their court confuses Rick Telander.
17. Philadelphia 76ers (1983.) The Sixers have had a rough go of it in recent years, and I understand if their perpetually fatalist fans want to throw bowling balls at the television every time Andrew Bynum appears on it. But this franchise has still won three championships and had both Julius Erving and Allen Iverson play for them in their primes. They haven't had it so bad.
16. New Orleans Pelicans (no titles). They've been in NOLA for 11 years -- including the two NOOCH! years -- and, all told, have tortured New Orleans fans a lot less than the Saints did for so long. That Chris Paul trade turned out better for them, after all, and they have Anthony Davis, a nice draft pick and a new name. I bet the Pelicans end up being a lot better than the Hornets.
15. Detroit Pistons (2004). Matters are not so hot right now -- though Greg Monroe is nice -- and this just reeks of the sort of team that will give Andre Iguodala a bunch of money just so they can end up the No. 8 seed in the playoffs a couple of years. The Pistons still had both the Bad Boys era and one of the most improbable and fun title teams of all time, less than a decade ago. That's still fresh.
14. Minnesota Timberwolves (no titles). Watching Kevin Garnett go win a title with the Celtics was painful, but at least they got to watch him all that time. Injuries have been just brutal the last few years, though, and I'm beginning to wonder if this team will ever come together the way it was supposed to. Still: It must be fun to go see Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio twice a week.
13. Milwaukee Bucks (1971). The team has a solid fanbase -- Fear the Deer! -- in one of America's most underrated cities. They also won a title with Lew Alcindor, which is not for nothing. Still, this team is pretty horrible right now, and it looks like a window just closed. And no one ever wants to play here. The Bucks look stuck in that NBA middle ground.
12. Orlando Magic (no titles). This might be a little low. It might not seem like it, but the Magic have been through a lot. They've lost both of their all-timer big men, they lost an NBA Finals in an incredibly brutal way and they have to run around in those ridiculous uniforms. I'm just not sure the fan base is passionate enough to move them any higher. Also, the guy from "The Queen of Versailles" almost bought the team once. That might be a capital offense.
11. Denver Nuggets (no titles). This year might lead them into a rough period. They handled the Carmelo Anthony trade as well as possible, but their experiment still didn't quite pay off. The Nuggets are always that team that you want to break through, but never does. They've never made the NBA Finals either, making them the team that has been in the NBA the second-longest that has never done that. Also, they lost 23 in a row one year.
10. Washington Wizards (1978). That title shouldn't be forgotten, but when the Wizards are bad, man, they're bad. They also were ripped apart by Michael Jordan so thoroughly that it broke them for a decade, maybe more. For the definitive chronicle of what it's like to be a Wizards fan, please enjoy Wizznutzz.
9. Phoenix Suns (no titles). A nice little fan base that briefly cheered for one of the most exciting teams in NBA history never to win a title. All told I sort of think I should have them higher here, particularly because it's very possible Tim Donaghy might have purposely screwed them out of an NBA Finals appearance.
8. Indiana Pacers (no titles). The Pacers had so much joy during the Reggie Miller days that you sort of forget they never won a title back then. They could have been on their way back, and appeared to be, until The Malice at the Palace imploded the entire franchise and turned fans against a team they had once adored. This year's team was fun, but I'm still not sure pro hoops in Indy has quite recovered yet.
7. Utah Jazz (no titles). Part of me wants to put them No. 1 considering they had two Hall of Famers in their prime and still never pulled out a title. (Michael Jordan had a habit of doing that.) This is an underrated fanbase, albeit one without much competition out there. They still haven't quite figured themselves out post-Jerry Sloan, which might be a reason he's back. That they have a smart front office in charge right now bodes well for the future.
6. New York Knicks (1973). Knicks fans will argue they should be No. 1, and people who hate the Knicks think their fans are so annoying and entitled that they should be up in the 20s. I side with the former: Anyone who had to go through the Isiah Thomas era has more than had their fair share of pain. Knicks fans also earn points for selling out games constantly, even during horrible times. Unfortunately, the Carmelo era, while better than the Isiah era, doesn't look it's going to bring that title MSG is so desperate for, which means it's far more likely to get worse before it gets better. (Note: This is my team. Worth mentioning.)
5. Sacramento Kings (no titles). They were one quarter away from slaying the Lakers dragon over a decade ago, with an extremely likeable team. It's been hard since then, but this fan base -- as has been definitively proven by their fight to keep their team -- has earned a title sometime down the line. One isn't coming anytime soon, but getting rid of the Maloofs only helps.
4. Golden State Warriors (1975). Let us not forget: Matters were so bad for the Warriors as recently as 15 months ago that they showered their owner with boos on Chris Mullin bobblehead day. This franchise has been through a lot, yet the fans are as insanely devoted as any in sports. Of all the fan bases on this list, this is the one people will be happiest to see win a title, if it ever happens. Note: If they get that fancy San Francisco arena, this team's fans could turn Insufferably Hip really fast. They'll still have earned it.
3. Los Angeles Clippers (no title). The fan base is still getting there -- being in the Staples Center has only helped them -- and the Lakers will always rule everything in town. The real reason they're so high on this list is that anyone who has remained a Clippers fan through the Donald Sterling era deserves some sort of medal, preferably one made of diamonds and chocolate. True Clippers fans, whoever they are and bless their hearts, have earned a championship perhaps as much as anyone in sports.
2. Portland Trail Blazers (1977). Sam Bowie. Greg Oden. Brandon Roy. The sadness of the Jail Blazers. Absolutely brutal playoff losses. If they hadn't have won a title in my lifetime, they'd be No. 1 on this list.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers (no titles). Having their hearts ripped out by Jordan back in the day -- Craig Ehlo became the first real posterized legend -- feels relatively withstandable now that The Decision has happened, and LeBron has left, and the Cavs were left with a smoldering crater at the center of their organization. That they're slowly starting to piece it all back together is inspiring, and if -- maybe? maybe? -- LeBron could be coaxed into returning someday to fulfill what many had considered his destiny from birth, it could be the only thing that makes even the most adamant of critics embrace him. (Well, some of them anyway.) Cavs fans have been publicly punched in the face for about 30 years now. That they have hope now is both wonderful … and potentially the cruelest part of all.
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All right, so it's a rough sketch, but I hope I'm close. Whaddya think? Gimme your lists; tell me where I'm wrong. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, holler on Twitter @williamfleitch or just put 'em in the comments. I want to get this list perfect next year. This is an important document.