I was looking through the list of NBA champions last week when writing my commemoration to Moses Malone. While I was looking over that list, I noticed an interesting trend among NBA champions, one that I thought was kind of troubling.
The NBA seeds it’s playoff teams one through eight in each conference at the end of the season. Theoretically, everyone has a chance to win the championship but looking at NBA history, that doesn’t seem to be statistically true. The likelihood that an eighth-seeded team winning the championship based on NBA history is zero.
There has never been an eight seed to win the NBA Finals. In fact there has never been a seven, five or four seed to win the title either. Only one time in the last 65 years that a team not seeded one through three has taken home the trophy. That only time came 20 years ago when the Houston Rockets won the title as the sixth-seeded team in the West. That is even more impressive when you consider that back then, each conference only sent six teams from each conference.
Getting to the finals is almost impossible for teams outside of the top three as well. Granted the NBA has only sent eight teams from each conference starting in 1984 but over the last 31 years, only four times in that span has a team seeded outside of the top three even made it to the finals. Those same Rockets were the first and then four years later, the Knicks shocked everyone as the only eight seed to ever make it to the finals. The Mavericks in 2006 and the Celtics in 2010 remain the only teams not seeded in the top three to qualify for the playoffs in that time span.
Before that, the trend wasn’t much better despite having fewer teams. The Seattle Supersonics in 1978 made the Finals as a four seed. The Rockets preceded their eventual underdog win with a trip to the Finals in 1981. They round out the list of just six teams outside of the top three to make the finals.
It has gotten to a point where you have to wonder if teams should even bother trying. Obviously, everyone will because you never know what might happen but overall, the odds are so stacked against teams that haven’t locked up a top three seed. There have been 248 teams to enter the playoffs as the bottom four seeds over the past 31 years. Just one of those teams has made it to the Finals (the 1999 Knicks).
The best teams in the league are supposed to move on to the Finals but it is staggering how much the seeding plays a roll in who make it to the championship round. You have to wonder if the NBA could find a way to make the playoffs more level. There probably isn’t much and we still see teams that are the lower seeds upsetting higher seeds. They just never seem capable of doing anything past that.
Part of the problem is the tendency for NBA superstars to team up and create super teams. That means that these lower seeded teams are either very young or completely lack the talent to compete. It is a product of the NBA’s roster structure. It is not necessarily a bad thing, it is just how the league tends to run.
It is also a product of having seven game series. Just because a team has a bad night does not mean they are out of the postseason. They have a number of opportunities to regain their ground and aren’t like to have four bad games against a lower level team. That limits an underdogs chance to advance because they need to outplay what is considered a superior team four times, rather than just one.
There always has to be a time where the underdog wins. It just makes sense. However, until it finally happens, you have to wonder why even bother. The chance that these teams make it to the Finals is low. The chance that they win the NBA Title, close to impossible. Yet it is sports so the manta “any given Sunday” will continue to drive underdogs. That is the beauty of sports.
Just an interesting trend I noticed that definitely tell you a lot about the NBA.