The Darkest Day In The History Of Each NBA Franchise
Perhaps one of the most definitive elements to being a citizen of any American city is the teams we root for. Particularly when it comes to basketball, the inches a team grinds for season by season are what makes it a sport that urban dwellers can relate to the most. The fans are there for every inch: the triumphs and bruises of rooting each year, speculating on trades, monitoring player development, screaming at the radio when management or ownership makes a boneheaded move, wishing it was your ACL that was torn instead… When two nobodies quietly share a diner counter for a cup of coffee before starting the early shift, the only thread that links the experiences of them both is the teams they love and support. It’s a cult culture, a tacit common ground that can bring us to our feet with no money to win, no family or personal gains, just pride for the colors we bleed. For all of those reasons, it’s so much harder to suffer some of the darkest tribulations franchises have seen. Beloved icons will come and go, thwarting cities or embracing others. When tragic events hit these towns, their teams and fans feel it too. Buckle up and grab a box of kleenex, as we dive into each NBA franchise’s darkest days.
29. ATLANTA HAWKS: LOSING OUT ON BILL RUSSELL
On the eve of the 1956 NBA Draft, the then-St. Louis Hawks made one of the most ill-fated trades one could possibly imagine: the rights to the second overall pick for two Hall of Famers in Ed Macauley and Cliff Hagan… Now, the myopic fan in the 1950s (who would now probably be rounding 100 years of age) might defend this move. After all, those two players did go on to be key parts of the Hawks only championship team in 1958. But there’s the rub… that number two pick they traded? Well, that pick turned into eleven–time Boston Celtic champion Bill Russell. Salt… meet wound. Maybe St. Louis had it coming though. After all, the rampant racism in the area at the time caused Russell to declare before the draft that he would not play for them anyway.
28. BOSTON CELTICS: TRAGEDY STRIKES…TWICE
Two of the most tragic moments on this list come from the NBA’s most storied franchise, the Boston Celtics. The year was 1986 and the Cs were amidst their historic Larry Bird-led run of contention. With the number two pick in the draft they took Len Bias, the forward out of University of Maryland who was meant to be the franchise cornerstone of the future, the guy who could give the ailing Larry Bird some relief on his decline. Shortly after his selection, national-headlines streamed in, reporting the untimely death of the young star, who had overdosed on cocaine. Not only did the moment destroy the hearts of the family, friends and fans of Bias, but it successfully nixed any chance the Celtics were hanging onto of being relevant in the post-Larry Bird era. Fast-forward one year later and the Celtics once again selected a young promising forward in Reggie Lewis, who played from ’87 – 1993 for the Celtics. Once again, one of the saddest moments in NBA history occurred for the same franchise, when Lewis collapsed during an off-season practice, and was pronounced dead on the scene of cardiac arrest. The two great talents have been honored in a slew of different venues, but these no doubt mark the darkest hours for the league’s brightest franchise.
27. BROOKLYN NETS: EUROSTAR TRAGEDY
It would be tough to confuse losing back-to-back finals in 2002 and 2003 as the darkest moments for the ABA-surviving Brooklyn Nets franchise, as this post will mark the third and final death in this count down. The then-New Jersey Nets were struggling when they traded for European star Drazen Petrovic in 1991, but they got more than they bargained for when he evolved into the team leader and one of the league’s more effective combo-guards who would eventually bring out the best in young talents Derrick Coleman and Kenny Anderson. The future was looking bright for the Nets, until it was cut tragically short, as Petrovic died in a car-accident during the summer of 1993. Not only did Petro take the league by storm, he made the Nets a playoff team with tons of promise, and paved the way for generations of European players to follow suit to join the NBA. Once again, death came knocking in this untimely and tragic ending, making this not only one of the darkest moments for the Nets franchise, but for the NBA.
26. CHARLOTTE HORNETS: STRIPPED OF IDENTITY
The Hornet fan base was actually amidst a priming Baron Davis-led playoff run when the truth set in: there would be no basketball in Charlotte next season. Due to discord between ownership and the city of Charlotte, the break was considered to be mutual as the team moved on to New Orleans, where they were re-named the Pelicans many years later. After seeing some real success with the ‘90s big 3 of Muggsy Bogues, Larry Johnson and Alonzo Mourning, the city was officially a basketball town. Nothing hurts more than to see a franchise bolt town. In this case, fortunately, it was only void of basketball for two seasons, as the league introduced the expansion Charlotte Bobcats. Looking back, this is one of the darkest moments for the franchise because not only were they stripped of their identity, but their actual name was given to another city, forcing them into a new and unfamiliar Bobcat persona, which turned out to be an overwhelming failure.
25. CHICAGO BULLS: MJ WANTS TO PLAY BASEBALL?
After winning the franchise’s first three rings in the ‘90s, Bulls fans had cleared their Spring calendars for the following five or six years, knowing that they couldn’t possibly miss contention, if not a championship run, as long as the man wearing #23 would be on the floor. And they were right to assume that! Much to the shock of the basketball world however, Michael Jordan announced in an off-season press conference in 1993 that he would be retiring from basketball after the death of his father, with the intention of playing Major League Baseball… it still bums people out to just read about it! MJ’s retirement not only shocked global spectators, but singlehandedly knocked the wind out of the Windy City. Michael’s absence in the 1993-4 season not only gave way for the Patrick Ewing led Knick-nemesis to finally get to the finals, but it broke up what could have been the most dominant NBA Finals streak outside of Boston, and certainly an unprecedented record for the modern-NBA global stage. Instead, Chicago fans had to settle for two three-peats. Not bad!