When the Toronto Raptors defeated the Golden State Warriors in Game 6 of the NBA Finals to capture the Larry O’Brien trophy, it was a rare moment in league history for a number of reasons. It was, of course, the first time that a non-American team was crowned king of The Association. Less rare — but still notable — is that it set us up for a season in which the NBA could crown a first-time champ two years in a row for the first time since the 1970s.
The Los Angeles Clippers, who have never won an NBA title, are the odds-on favorites to hoist the Larry O’Brien after adding Kawhi Leonard and Paul George in the offseason to a roster that already included All-Star Lou Williams as well as solid role players like Patrick Beverley and Montrezl Harrell.
If the Clippers can get the job done on the heels of the Raptors winning their first title, it would be the first time the NBA has seen consecutive first-time champions since the Seattle Supersonics won it all in 1979 following the Washington Bullets (now Wizards) and Portland Trail Blazers winning their respective first championships in 1978 and 1977.
Since then, 40 years of NBA titles have been won by only 12 teams (the Lakers, Celtics, 76ers, Pistons, Bulls, Rockets, Spurs, Heat, Mavericks, Warriors, Cavaliers and Raptors). Of those winners, eight (the Pistons, Bulls, Rockets, Spurs, Heat, Mavericks, Cavaliers and Raptors) were first-timers, but none of them ever won their first titles in consecutive seasons. For a top-heavy league that’s essentially been dominated by one-third of its members for four decades, having new teams win in back-to-back years would represent an exciting, and much needed, change of pace.
It would also give some hope to beleaguered fan bases in NBA cities like Indiana, Phoenix, Denver and Memphis that have never seen their teams win an NBA championship. (Of the NBA’s 30 current franchises, only 19 have won a title in their history).
Starting off the NBA season and almost being assured the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers would be playing for the title in June was starting to get old — but that preseason assumption changed last season when LeBron James went to the Western Conference and left a void at the top of the East. Thanks to adding Leonard prior to last season, the Raptors were able to fill it.
This season, thanks to Leonard’s departure to the Clippers, that void is open once again. While it likely won’t be filled by a first-time champ (unless the Pacers can beat their 50/1 odds and win it all), it will at least be a different team from last year, since the Kawhi-less Raptors do not project to be Finals-bound. The same cannot be said for Leonard’s new team in Los Angeles — and that’s a good, and potentially historic, development.