Portland Trail Blazers fans of the Blazer’s Edge community, without being too morose, let’s get existential for today’s discussion question, shall we?
I want to bring up a scenario. A scary one. One that festers deep down in the dark places of your soul. One that you don’t talk about at Blazers watch parties.
What if the Blazers fail? Not just with the Rayan Rupert rebuild, but the rebuild after and the rebuild after...I’m talking the possibility of Portland failing to win a championship in your lifetime.
This was a conversation my friends and I recently had over Italian food. More particularly, the debate asked what is the chance the Blazers win a championship in our lifetime?
For frame of reference, my friends and I are all about 25 years old. That means, if all goes well, we’ve got about 50 years or so for the Blazers to take this thing home. So I guess if you want to remove the stakes and concept of death from this whole thing: What is the chance the Blazers win a championship in the next 50 years?
At its bare bones, this is the debate I’m extending to you all.
Between bites of pasta, my friends and I gave our takes at the table: One friend, an optimist among us, said 50%. I kind of spit out a number, “I think 8% to 13% is reasonable.” To be honest though, my confidence in the home team was rattled by this next estimate, boldly declared before I answered.
One friend, in sincerity, gave this projection: 1%.
His forecast shocked and angered the optimists in us. One measly percent!? That glass isn’t just half empty, there’s barely even a drop left. The estimate was akin to the sentence of Sisyphus pushing a boulder up the hill for eternity. All my Blazers fandom, my hopes and dreams, the bowls of chip and dip eaten during playoff games, resulting in no party down Broadway in the end. Unthinkable.
My friend had reasons behind his bleakness. He reasoned this was the reality for a small-market franchise in the NBA, especially one in a rainy climate with high income taxes that attracts no marquee free agents, withholding Evan Turner, of course. He said over the next 50 years, half the championships would be won by the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics. The next large chunk of trophies would be taken by other large markets (Dallas Mavericks, Brooklyn Nets, Houston Rockets, etc.) and the Miami Heat because of culture. And then the small markets would be left to fight over the scraps.
Is there logic to this cruel prophecy? I took a quick glance at league history.
According to HoopSocial, large markets are cities with TV markets reaching over 2 million homes, medium markets are cities with TV markets reaching 1.5 million to 2 million homes, and small markets are cities with TV markets reaching less than 1.5 million homes.
By those metrics, in the 47 championships since the NBA-ABA merger in 1976, large market franchises won 32 titles — 11 for the Lakers, six for Chicago, four for Boston, four for Golden State, two for Houston and one apiece for Washington, Seattle, Dallas, Philly and Toronto.
Medium markets won eight titles — three for Miami, three for Detroit, one each for Cleveland and Denver.
And small markets won seven titles — one for Portland, one for Milwaukee, a whopping five for San Antonio (if you didn’t already, now you see why many found it sick injustice that San Antonio landed Victor Wembanyama).
Now obviously, this is not a perfect snapshot of odds. It does nothing to account for the context and nuance of the NBA. It doesn’t encapsulate how close teams got to championships (say, in ‘90, ‘92 or ‘00); it doesn’t factor in draft lottery luck or injuries or ownership; and it doesn’t show how certain championship franchises, even in large markets, go through terribly long droughts of being terribly bad.
But, as a cold, robotic look at league trends, my friend’s outlook on title chances for a franchise maybe isn’t totally absurd. To win a title in the NBA, not only do you have to enjoy incredible luck through the drafting process — for instance, drafting a future two-time NBA MVP at 41st overall helps a ton — but then once you assemble a team worthy of championship contention, injuries, chemistry and the ball must bounce your way. On top of everything, you best pray the greatest players in the league don’t vacation together or become friends at the Olympics, only to scheme together a super team during your franchise’s best title window.
So, when you mix all the variables together, it’s a tall order to lift the Larry O’Brien Trophy — for almost any franchise.
With all that laid out, this is where I open it up to you, readers of Blazer’s Edge. What do you think? Is my friend’s 1% estimate ludicrously pessimistic or cold, hard truth? What is the chance the Blazers, or similar small markets, win a title in the next 50 years?