The Doppelgänger: NBA/NFL Pairs

How do NBA and NFL franchises stack up against each other?

There are many similarities between the NBA and NFL. First off, both sports use a ball…pretty obvious. Second, the two leagues have teams in common cities (in fact 20 cities across the country have both a professional basketball and football team). Third, the leagues have both endured mergers that brought together an American and National league, guiding us into a modern era.

While recently pondering the most successful teams in both leagues, I came to realize that certain franchises in each league mirror another franchise’s history or prevalence. After some pairing up – and some reaching in a few instances – I have been able to match up all 30 NBA franchises with a counterpart in the NFL. For two of the 32 NFL franchises, I conjured up a pair to ensure that everyone is represented.

The Best of the Best

Championships mean everything in the sports world. And that’s why we’re going to pair up the Boston Celtics (and all 17 of their titles) with the Pittsburgh Steelers (and all six of their Super Bowl wins). Both teams here enjoyed the bulk of their success before the 1990s (for the Celtics) or the 1980s (for the Steelers), and both have won and lost a title within the past 10 years.

The Los Angeles Lakers are synonymous with winning basketball, and we’re going to pair them up with the Dallas Cowboys. Both are second in their respective league in total championships, and both dominated a specific decade en route to multiple titles (1990s for Dallas, 1980s/2000s for Los Angeles). It’s also uncanny to note that both teams won their first championship in 1972, and both teams have a rivalry with the aforementioned Celtics and Steelers.

The 1990s were a golden decade for the once stellar Chicago Bulls. Six championships put them on the map and match them with the San Francisco 49ers. Both teams enjoyed sustained success during a brief period (1982-1995 for the Niners, 1991-1998 for the Bulls). These two franchises also had the privilege of employing the Greatest of All Time in their respective sports: Michael Jordan and Jerry Rice.

Since 1999, the San Antonio Spurs have won all five of their NBA titles. The New England Patriots mirror this success with five Super Bowl wins of their own. What unites these two recent success stories even further, however, is their shared misery in the 2008 Super Bowl and 2013 NBA Finals respectively as both teams lost heartbreakers late in the game/series despite leading.

The Next Tier

Having won the first professional basketball championship in 1947, the Philadelphia (now Golden State) Warriors are the NBA’s iteration of the first Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers from 1967. These franchises have both tallied four championships, occurring in several different decades. Their championships in 2015 and 2011 have reestablished the two teams as contenders in both leagues.

Although they have stunk it up in recent years, the Philadelphia 76ers are a storied franchise with several championship seasons (dating back to their time as the Syracuse Nationals). Likewise, the Washington Redskins won four Super Bowls in their heyday, but neither team has won anything since the ‘80s/early ‘90s. Young stars like Joel Embiid and Kirk Cousins are excellent building blocks, however, for turning their luck around.

It took the Pistons franchise two championship losses while playing in Fort Wayne and another in Detroit before they finally won an NBA title in 1989, and they followed up their first by repeating in 1990. In similar fashion, the Denver Broncos lost their first four Super Bowl appearances before winning back-to-back titles in 1998 and 1999. The two franchises also secured a third championship in recent decades thanks to stalwart defenses.

The New York Knicks are a beloved NBA franchise that has fallen on hard times in recent years despite multiple titles in the 1970s. The Oakland Raiders match perfectly, here, as their four championships all came prior to 1985, and the 2000s/2010s were rough for the Raiders before a recent resurgence. We can also point to similar declines after championship appearances in 1999 and 2003 respectively.

The Celtics’/Lakers’ dominance over the years means there are fewer NBA titles to go around, so it was a little tough to pair up the New York football Giants and their four Super Bowl victories. I’m reaching a bit when I match them up with the Washington Wizards (formerly Bullets), and their shared titles in 1978. We can also point to the 2008 Super Bowl and 1978 NBA Finals as similar given the teams’ upset victories of favored opponents.

Moving on Down

The youngest NBA franchise to win a championship in 2006, the Miami Heat came into the league in 1988 and have amassed three total titles in their relatively short history. Similarly, the Baltimore Ravens came into existence in 1996 and quickly won their first title in 2000. A second Super Bowl win in 2013 made these two youthful franchises champions in the same calendar year.

The Houston Rockets have been to four NBA championships and won two in back-to-back seasons from 1994-1995. The Miami Dolphins mirror this franchise perfectly with their five Super Bowl appearances and back-to-back wins in 1973-1974. They also played host to top 10 players at their respective positions in Hakeem Olajuwon and Dan Marino.

A history of mediocrity has diminished the Atlanta (formerly St. Louis) Hawks since their lone championship in 1958. Along the same lines, the Kansas City Chiefs have been a perennial playoff disappointment since they won the Super Bowl in 1970. Both of these teams fell in early years to eventual multiple-title winners in 1957 and 1967, and both lost their most recent conference championship appearance.

The Cleveland Cavaliers won their first title in 2016, rejuvenating a city that had long sought for a championship. The New Orleans Saints know the joy of inspiring their fans all too well, having brought a Super Bowl championship in 2010 to a city devastated by Hurricane Katrina. Their respective titles helped gloss over both franchises’ less-than-ideal traditions of underperforming.

The Dallas Mavericks joined the NBA as an expansion team in 1980. After a couple decades of mediocrity, the Mavericks finally emerged as contenders and won their first title in 2011. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers joined the NFL in 1976, shortly before Dallas, and won their first Super Bowl in 2003. These lone championship wins are made even sweeter by the fact that the Mavericks and Bucs both upset dominant offenses in the Heat and Raiders.

Two franchises who have won a single championship in dominant fashion and really haven’t been heard from since are the Milwaukee Bucks and the Chicago Bears. The Bucks swept the Bullets en route to the 1971 NBA title, and the Bears steamrolled over the Patriots in the 1986 Super Bowl. Neither team has been a contender since the early to mid-2000s.

Even though they haven’t won a championship as their current iteration as the Oklahoma City Thunder, the former Seattle SuperSonics won it all over the Bullets in 1979. Similarly, the New York Jets won their first and only title in the 1969 Super Bowl over the Baltimore Colts. Coincidentally, both of these lone championships came at the expense of teams that once played in Baltimore.

With a win the 1977 NBA Finals, the Portland Trailblazers joined the ranks of teams to win a championship. This title came six years after the Indianapolis (then Baltimore) Colts won their first Super Bowl in 1971. Both teams returned to their respective championships in later years (1990 and 1992 for the Blazers, 2007 and 2010 for the Colts). It’s also worth noting that franchise saviors Bill Walton, Clyde Drexler, and Peyton Manning all went on to win titles with other teams late in their careers.

Given that the franchise went defunct and is not linearly related to the current Wizards’ franchise, the original Baltimore Bullets are my reach for a pair with the Los Angeles (formerly St. Louis and formerly Los Angeles) Rams. Both teams won a single championship in their time before either moving or folding.

The Lovable Losers

The last teams remaining with championships to their credit, the Sacramento Kings and Seattle Seahawks are actually linked due to choking away chances to win titles. Their franchise won a title in 1951 as the Rochester Royals, but the 2002 Kings held a 3-2 series lead over the repeat champion Lakers before bricking away a pivotal game seven. Sacramento almost certainly would have beaten New Jersey in the NBA Finals, similar to how the Seahawks would have won the 2015 Super Bowl if they’d run the ball from the 1-yard line. Oh well.

The Brooklyn (formerly New Jersey) Nets reached consecutive NBA Finals in 2002 and 2003 but lost both times. The Minnesota Vikings also lost consecutive championships in 1974 and 1975 (two of their four failing Super Bowl appearances). The two franchises are also infamously leaked to familial issues with Adrian Peterson’s child abuse and Jason Kidd’s domestic abuse.

Two teams that have repeatedly knocked on the door of the championship game or series are the Indiana Pacers and Philadelphia Eagles. The Pacers have lost in the Eastern Conference Finals seven times while the Eagles have lost in the NFC championship four times (including three straight from 2001-2003). Fortunately both franchises won multiple titles in previous leagues before the mergers.

The Memphis Grizzlies made their way to the 2013 Western Conference Finals, falling short to the Spurs. A bit of a stretch connects them to the Tennessee Titans who lost their sole Super Bowl appearance in 2001 to the Rams. These franchises are further connected by the fact that they moved from previous cities in Vancouver and Houston.

Again, we connect a team that lost in the Western Conference Finals – the 2004 Minnesota Timberwolves – to an NFL team that lost their only Super Bowl appearance in the Los Angeles (then San Diego) Chargers. Both teams have only had a handful of good seasons but employed two of the greatest players in history at their positions in Kevin Garnett and LaDainian Tomlinson.

The Orlando Magic are one of the youngest NBA franchises having come into existence in 1989, just six years before the Carolina Panthers first began playing in 1995. Coincidentally, 1995 was the year the Magic first reached the NBA Finals. Both of these teams have lost two championships (1995 and 2009 for Orlando, 2004 and 2016 for Carolina).

With a pair of championship defeats to their credit, the Phoenix Suns are paired perfectly with the similarly miserable Cincinnati Bengals. Neither team has been to a title game or series since the early ‘90s, nor do they seem to know what to do with explosive, young stars in Eric Bledsoe, Devin Booker, Andy Dalton, and A.J. Green.

This comparison is another stretch, but I’m looking specifically at the 2001 Eastern Conference Semifinals when Vince Carter missed a jumper that would have sent the Toronto Raptors to the Eastern Conference Finals. Similarly, the Arizona Cardinals were seconds from winning the 2009 Super Bowl before Ben Roethlisberger hooked up with Santonio Holmes.

The Utah Jazz are known around basketball circles as choke artists, having lost consecutive NBA Finals in 1997 and 1998 to Chicago. The Buffalo Bills are the only NFL team to lose consecutive championships to the same team (Dallas in 1993 and 1994) – a culmination of four straight Super Bowl losses. These two ‘90s-loving franchises can sulk together.

Given their choke job in the 2017 Super Bowl, I’m apt to leave the Atlanta Falcons off this list entirely. Instead, I’ll correlate them to two defunct NBA franchises, the Washington Capitols and Chicago Stags, whose dual championship losses mirror the Falcons’ two (the other coming in 1999).

The Fantastic Fucked Up Four

The New Orleans Pelicans franchise only came into existence in 2002 upon moving from Charlotte (known as Hornets at the time). The Jacksonville Jaguars, beginning play in 1995, are also the second youngest franchise in their respective league. Neither of these teams have a long enough history to blame them for the absence from championship games or series.

The youngest franchises in both leagues are the Charlotte Hornets and Houston Texans. Technically, the Hornets began play in 1988, but the team moved to New Orleans. The expansion Charlotte Bobcats entered the NBA in 2004, two years after the baby Texans, and were renamed the Hornets in 2014. Both teams have had minimal playoff success.

Aside from the fact that neither team has been to a championship since the league mergers, there really is nothing to link the Los Angeles Clippers to the Detroit Lions. Both teams are respectable of late and have made the playoffs, but their strongest similarity is the fact that they’ve been ass for the bulk of their histories.

Our last two teams are the Denver Nuggets and Cleveland Browns. Neither of these teams have been to their respective league championships, but my favorite similarity is the fact that both of their team names refer to turds. You’re welcome.