Ranking the Worst Moment in the History of Each NBA Team
Some events are unquantifiable in their horrific nature, and some NBA teams have been through trials far more trying than others. But in this slideshow, I've tried to quantify tragedy and give an order to some of the worst things that have befallen each franchise.
Deaths clearly stand out as the worst of all scenarios, but other than ranking three deaths atop this list, I've tried to steer clear of making each team's event a death within the organization. This could have easily been a slideshow that just ranks deaths, but few have curiosities so morbid that they would find such a piece entertaining.
That said, aside from the deaths of Len Bias, Reggie Lewis and Drazen Petrovic, there are no slides about deaths in the show. Some focus on players leaving organizations, and others on scandals, helping give shape to the worst moments in the history of each team, ranked from least tragic to most horrendous.
30. Detroit Pistons: Dismantling the Title Winners
It would have been easy to be redundant and throw the Pistons into the Palace Brawl slide, but I chose to focus on a different negative for their franchise. The Palace Brawl incident is given to the visiting Indiana Pacers.
Trading Chauncey Billups and Antonio McDyess (and Cheikh Samb, for those who pay attention to meaningless details) for Allen Iverson was a sad day for the Detroit Pistons. November 3, 2008 marks the end of the Pistons' championship years and the beginning of their descent toward mediocrity.
29. Miami Heat: 'How About One First, King James?'
Losing the 2011 NBA Finals to the Dallas Mavericks was more of an anticlimax than a terrible moment in Heat history; the franchise has been blessed to avoid serious tragedy.
The pain was all erased the next season when they took the title, but losing in the 2011 NBA Finals was a low point for Heat fans who expected immediate success.
28. Philadelphia 76ers: Magic's Dominance in the 1980 Finals
On May 16, 1980, the Philadelphia 76ers faced the L.A. Lakers without Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. A 20-year-old Magic Johnson would not only take Kareem's place at center but have one of the best performances in NBA Finals history.
Magic scored 42 points on 14-of-23 shooting and hit all 14 free throws he attempted as the Lakers wrapped up Game 6 on the road and took the 1980 championship.
The 76ers would go on to lose to the Lakers again in 1982 before finally securing a title in the 1983 finals. But Magic's performance haunts Sixers fans to this day.
27. Utah Jazz: The Mailman Stops Delivery
Karl Malone had spent 18 seasons in Utah, but in the summer of 2003 he decided to go ring-chasing with the Los Angeles Lakers during his final year in the league.
It was a sad end to a legacy in Utah, as he finished his career off without his cohort John Stockton. To top it off (to Jazz fans' delight), Malone failed to win a ring in L.A.
26. Phoenix Suns: The Nash Era Ends
Bidding farewell to Steve Nash in the summer of 2012 was bittersweet for Suns fans. Nash had given all he could to the organization, but the help needed to secure Nash a title was just never there. Eventually, at the age of 38, he was traded to the L.A. Lakers.
It was the end of an era in Phoenix.
25. Portland Trail Blazers: Bill Walton's Unraveling Injuries
Bill Walton's injuries didn't all occur in a single moment, but the sum of all of those injuries represents the worst thing to befall the Portland organization. After Walton won a championship with the Blazers in his third NBA season, his body ultimately just betrayed him.
24. San Antonio Spurs: Trading a Hall of Famer for a Backup
The San Antonio Spurs had dealt with the Dennis Rodman headache long enough, and on October 2, 1995, they dealt the power forward to the Chicago Bulls for Will Perdue.
Trading a future Hall of Famer for a backup center had to be a devastating moment, but the Spurs just couldn't tame Rodman, and his antics had become too much. We all know how it worked out for the Bulls.
23. Dallas Mavericks: Roy Tarpley Being Exiled from the League
Roy Tarpley was the seventh overall pick in the 1986 draft and went on to make the All-Rookie team. He won the Sixth Man of the Year Award in his second season, but in October of 1991 Tarpley was expelled from the league for cocaine abuse.
Tarpley was reinstated into the league in 1994 but was permanently banned in 1995 for using alcohol (it violated the terms of his court-imposed care program).
Tarpley had all the talent in the world but ended up playing most of his career in Europe. He averaged a double-double for his NBA career.
22. Sacramento Kings: Losing the Rigged 2002 Western Conference Finals
The lowest moment in Sacramento Kings history has to have been not getting over the hump in Game 6 of the 2002 Western Conference finals due to the poor officiating—which was rigged, according to now-banned referee Tim Donaghy.
In the letter submitted by Donaghy's attorney, the following is stated:
"Referees A, F and G were officiating a playoff series between Teams 5 and 6 in May of 2002. It was the sixth game of a seven-game series, and a Team 5 victory that night would have ended the series. However, Tim learned from Referee A that Referees A and F wanted to extend the series to seven games. Tim knew referees A and F to be 'company men,' always acting in the interest of the NBA, and that night, it was in the NBA's interest to add another game to the series. Referees A and F heavily favored Team 6. Personal fouls [resulting in obviously injured players] were ignored even when they occurred in full view of the referees. Conversely, the referees called made-up fouls on Team 5 in order to give additional free throw opportunities for Team 6. Their foul-calling also led to the ejection of two Team 5 players. The referees' favoring of Team 6 led to that team's victory that night, and Team 6 came back from behind to win that series."
"Team 6" would be the Lakers. "Team 5"? The Kings.
21. Los Angeles Clippers: Joy of Playoff Return Stamped out by L.A. Riots
In 1992, the Los Angeles Clippers reached the playoffs for the first time since 1976, but they were deprived of a second game against the Jazz at their home arena due to the riots that had erupted in the city.
They played Game 3 at home in the L.A. Memorial Sports Arena but had to move to Game 4 at the Anaheim Convention Center before losing a deciding Game 5 in Utah.
20. Atlanta Hawks: Trading Away Bill Russell
In 1956, the Hawks (then based in St. Louis) dealt Bill Russell for Ed Macauley and Cliff Hagan. The move sent the Boston Celtics on their way to winning 11 titles in 13 seasons, and while Hagan did go on to be a Hall of Famer and six-time NBA All-Star, we're pretty sure the Hawks would like a do-over on that one.
19. Milwaukee Bucks: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Requests Trade
Having to trade Kareem Abdul-Jabbar will haunt the Milwaukee Bucks organization forever. They won the 1971 NBA Finals over the Baltimore Bullets with Oscar Robertson and Abdul-Jabbar, then known as Lew Alcindor.
They recorded three straight seasons with 60-plus wins, but Abdul-Jabbar was unhappy in Milwaukee, and in October of 1974 he requested a trade to either Los Angeles or New York.
He thus became a Lakers legend.
18. Charlotte Bobcats: Unprecedented Futility
Going 7-59 in the shortened, 66-game 2011-12 season gave the Bobcats the lowest winning percentage in NBA history. They ended the season with 23 consecutive losses.
17. Minnesota Timberwolves: Saying 'Goodbye' to KG
The Timberwolves had a terrible stroke of misfortune when the NBA caught general manager Kevin McHale filtering money to Joe Smith under the table. What was worst about the situation was that McHale was risking so much for a player that Ray Ratto of ESPN called "just a guy."
But I don't think getting caught doing that was the worst moment for the Timberwolves.
The Timberwolves' trade of Garnett dealt a death blow to the immediate prospects for the franchise. They received five players and two picks, with the best of all the players being Al Jefferson.
But Garnett was their first-ever franchise player.
16. Houston Rockets: Vernon Maxwell Goes Wild
I summed up Vernon Maxwell's tirade during the 1994-95 season in the "Worst Years" piece. Maxwell charging into the stands to punch a fan who was taunting him was a precursor to the later violence that came in the infamous Palace Brawl.
Maxwell received "only" a $20,000 fine and a 10-game suspension, but the incident was uglier than the consequences might lead one to believe.
15. New Orleans Hornets: Trading Away Kobe
Trading Kobe Bryant for an aged Vlade Divac was the absolute worst draft-day trade in NBA history.
The Lakers not only obtained Bryant for Divac but also cleared cap room that they used to sign Shaquille O'Neal.
As for Divac, he went on to post modest averages of 12 points and nine rebounds per game. With all due respect to ol' Vlade, Kobe went on to do a little more than that.
Would the Charlotte Hornets still be a franchise if they held on to Kobe?
14. Memphis Grizzlies: Fickle Francis Says 'No'
Steve Francis' refusal to play for the Grizzlies was one of the more embarrassing moments for the franchise before it made the move to Memphis.
Basketball never did thrive in Vancouver, and Francis' refusal to play for the team that drafted him second overall in 1999 was just further proof that the team couldn't draw fans or keep marquee players. Francis' decision not to play for the Grizzlies was an omen that the club couldn't remain in Vancouver and thrive.
13. Washington Wizards: Gilbert Arenas and Javaris Crittenton Pull Guns
The 2010 incident that involved Gilbert Arenas bringing a gun into the locker room definitely ranks as the Washington Wizards' worst moment. Arenas and Javaris Crittenton pulled pistols on each other over a gambling debt.
The situation was a huge black mark on the Wizards organization and further cast a negative light on professional athletes' off-court behavior.
12. Orlando Magic: Shaq Heads for La-La Land
Losing Shaquille O'Neal to the Los Angeles Lakers in free agency was the first big blow in Orlando franchise history. Since then, more have come—but "the first cut is the deepest."
11. New York Knicks: Isiah's Sexual Harassment Suit
Isiah Thomas' sexual harassment suit during 2006 and 2007 was a low point for the New York Knicks organization.
The team was struggling on the court, and the franchise was in disarray. Thomas' playing legacy became tarnished by his behavior with Anucha Browne Sanders, and it's difficult to think of Zeke in the same light because of what happened in New York.
10. Toronto Raptors: Vince Rubs It in Raptors Fans' Faces
The lowest point in Raptors franchise history came during one last-second shot.
Vince Carter had spurned the organization by dogging it in his final season as a Raptor. Then, on November 21, 2008, Carter returned as a member of the Nets and won the game for New Jersey with a two-handed reverse dunk in overtime. Carter had 39 points, and the Nets erased an 18-point deficit to win the game in the extra period.
Suspecting that Carter was mailing it in for half a season wasn't as bad as confirming that suspicion while watching him punish his former team.
9. Golden State Warriors: Latrell Sprewell's Attack on P.J. Carlesimo
Latrell Sprewell's attack on P.J. Carlesimo in the 1997-98 season was one of the most infamous moments in sports history.
Sprewell forever damaged the unspoken bond between player and coach.
8. Chicago Bulls: Michael Jordan Walks Away in His Prime
Michael Jordan's retirement in 1993 following his father's death was one of the saddest days in Chicago sports history, not just in Bulls franchise history. No one was ready for MJ to walk away from the game.
The pain was softened when he returned to the league in 1995, but on October 6, 1993, we thought we had seen the last from the greatest player to lace it up—and Jordan was only 30 years old at the time.
7. Denver Nuggets: George Karl Diagnosed with Cancer
George Karl being diagnosed with cancer sent shock waves through the basketball world. Karl has fought for cancer research and education, and he's turned this bout with cancer into a positive thing. It helps to see Karl dealing with it so well.
However, Karl has been a great guy and a great coach for a long while, and it hurts to see him have to deal with this.
6. Cleveland Cavaliers: LeBron's Decision
LeBron James' betrayal of the Cavaliers was definitely the worst day in the franchise's history. They saw a homegrown hero "take his talents to South Beach."
Honorable mention goes to Michael Jordan's amazing buzzer-beater over Craig Ehlo in the 1989 playoffs.
5. Los Angeles Lakers: Magic's Retirement
Magic Johnson's retirement in 1991 was even more tragic than Michael Jordan's in 1993. Of course, that's because of the circumstances surrounding it.
When we heard Magic had contracted the HIV virus, none of us knew that he would still be smiling and doing game commentary some 21 years after that announcement.
4. Oklahoma City Thunder: Sleepless in Seattle
The Sonics leaving Seattle was one of the most heartbreaking things ever to happen to a fanbase. With Shawn Kemp and Gary Payton, the Seattle fans had just been treated to one of the best tandems in NBA history.
Excitement was running high again with a young Kevin Durant strutting in to save a franchise that had just lost Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis to trade and free agency, respectively.
Instead, the SuperSonics left Seattle to become the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Thunder are on the verge of tasting the ultimate NBA success, and the fans of Seattle are left without a team. I can't think of anything (outside of the deaths in this slideshow) worse than a dedicated fanbase not being treated to NBA basketball.
3. Indiana Pacers: Palace Brawl
The infamous "Palace Brawl" will forever haunt the Pacers organization. Metta World Peace, then known as Ron Artest, and Jermaine O'Neal found themselves engaged in a slugfest with fans. The incident cast a cloud over the entire 2004-05 season.
T-1. Brooklyn Nets: Drazen Petrovic's Death
Drazen Petrovic was on the verge of becoming a perennial All-Star, and the Nets were coming off a 43-39 season. Then on June 7, 1993, Petrovic got in a fatal accident on the German Autobahn.
The Nets franchise was set back a solid decade by Petrovic's death—after it had just begun to emerge from a long-lasting period of obscurity.
T-1. Boston Celtics: Len Bias and Reggie Lewis' Deaths
The Boston Celtics franchise has been both fortunate (in terms of championships won) and tragically unfortunate. Everyone knows of the storied legacy in Beantown, but often we are reminded that two of the worst events in professional sports history happened in Boston.
Those would be the deaths of Len Bias and Reggie Lewis. Bias died of a cocaine overdose. Lewis suffered hypertrophic cardiomyopathy and died on the basketball court.