We’ll Know The Champs–Who Are The Chumps?

With Golden State’s victory over Cleveland last night in Game 4 of the NBA Finals, the Dubs have tied up the series and have gotten back on track towards winning their first title since 1975. A week from today at the latest, we’ll know which team gets to call themselves champs.

If that team is the Cavaliers, it will also mean that the NBA’s Champs-Chumps Ratio will go up by a few percentage points.

Your obvious question: what the hell is the “Champs-Chumps Ratio”? And if either the Cavs or the Dubs get to be Champs, who then are the Chumps?

The DFR: FandomIt is ironic that the Warriors are playing in these NBA Finals; it was their relentless futility that inspired the concept of the Champs-Chumps Ratio in the first place.

You can read the original article in which the Champs-Chumps Ratio was defined online, if you wish to explore the idea’s origin story. That publication is out of date now, and with the potential for a shift in the statistics presented by a possible Cavaliers’ championship, I decided that now was a good time to bring the C-CR into the DFR’s purview.


…if you’re a hoops fanatic who doesn’t live in Boston or Los Angeles or San Antonio…there’s a good chance that the Chumps may include you.


Simply put, the Champs-Chumps Ratio is the percentage of a league’s teams that have ever won that league’s championship. A high percentage is good; that means that there has been a lot of wide open competition–that is, plenty of competitive balance–in the league’s history. Let’s take a look at the all-time figures as they stand today:

Table 1 — Total Champions by League

LEAGUE

NBA

NHL

NFL

MLB

Total Teams

30

30

32

30

Championship Winners

17

18

23

22

Percentage

56.7%

60%

71.8%

73.3%

What stand out here? Baseball and football have been very competitive; only slightly more than a quarter of their teams have missed out on the championship train. The NHL scores lower in competitiveness; only three-fifths of the league’s teams have ever hoisted the Stanley Cup. (That figure may result partly from the fact that, until 1967, only the fabled “Original Six” teams even existed to compete for the Cup.) The numbers won’t change this year, as both the Lightning and Blackhawks have won recent titles.

And the NBA? Whew. Barely half of the Association’s teams have ever won a championship; and if the Warriors come back and claim the crown, it will stay that way. Only a Cleveland victory can pull the NBA into a tie with the NHL at 60%. Otherwise, the Association’s figures will remain 17 and 56.7%–the worst among the four leagues.

The figures in the above table reflect all-time championships among teams that are current members of the listed leagues. It does not include franchises that won a crown but later folded.

Also, there are other vagaries in these numbers besides disappeared teams. Since these are all-time figures, the Warriors are included in the list of NBA champions whether they lose to Cleveland or not due to their previous victories in 1975 and before. The NFL’s stats include pre-Super Bowl champions, but no AFL champions. (Including AFL champions would boost the NFL’s already impressive number of champs by 3 to 26.)

That’s also how teams like the Kings and Hawks make it into the champions column; both teams won NBA titles, in different cities from their current homes (and in the case of the Kings/Royals, under a different name). All that happened so long ago that few even remember that the teams won those crowns at all.

It is also worth noting that there are inherent differences in the calculations because all of the leagues have different histories, including the length of time during which they have existed. Baseball, after all, has been around over a hundred years (the numbers above reflect the “modern era,” from 1901); the NBA is a relative baby, having been birthed only in 1946.

So it makes some sense to limit the scope of the Champs-Chumps Ratio. That previous Warriors victory in 1975 stands as a good cutoff point (and served as such in the original study). We’ve had 40 years of seasons since then, and happily the leagues have followed roughly parallel expansion policies over these last four decades, so the number of competing teams has been nearly equal from one league to the next. If we limit the scope to champions from 1976 onward, here’s how the numbers shake out:

Table 2 — Total Championships by League, 1976–present

LEAGUE

NBA

NHL

NFL

MLB

Total Teams

30

30

32

30

Championship Winners

12

16

15

20

Percentage

40%

53%

46.9%

66.6%

Within this limitation, MLB stays strong; over the last 40 years, we’ve seen a diverse selection of teams win the World Series. Some of those teams won within the time frame, but haven’t won in a while: the Pirates, Mets, Royals, Blue Jays, Athletics, Twins. Still, most of those teams have been competitive at least, and recently in the playoffs, if not hoisting any trophies.

The NHL steps up into second place. Having teams like the Kings, Hurricanes, and Ducks winning first titles in the last decade and a half helped boost those figures, and gives the league the look of a competitive place to play.

On the other hand, the NFL takes a big hit when we cut down the time frame. As with everything football related, you can probably blame Team Floating Demon Head; the Patriots winning four Super Bowls in the last 15 years, along with ’80s dominance by the 49ers and Redskins, and recent dominance by old school franchises like Pittsburgh and Green Bay, has helped crowd out teams that might otherwise have inflated football’s numbers. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

And again, there’s the NBA. Even if a Herculean effort by LeBron James brings Cleveland its first ever basketball championship, the NBA’s recent Champs-Chumps Ratio will still only rise to 43%. Think about that: for 40 years, only two-fifths of the Association’s teams have won any championships. And if the “a.k.a. teams”–the Thunder (née Sonics) and Wizards (née Bullets) had not won titles back in the bad old days of the late ’70s–and nothing since–the Ratio would drop even lower. And remember, it will take a monumental effort by James next week for the NBA’s Champs-Chumps Ratio to rise above 40%. (This paragraph is in error; see the addendum in this post for a correction.)

See, Jazz, Suns, and Magic: you can win that elusive championship–all you need is the one and only best player on Earth on your roster.

The takeaway here is pretty straightforward: if you’re a fan of MLB or the NHL, your team probably has a good chance of winning a championship sometime soon. Things are a little more dire for NFL fanatics–but even so, we’ve seen the Seahawks and Saints both win first titles since 2009.

For NBA fans, however, the outlook is not nearly so good. It’s easy to figure out who the Champs are; they tend to be the same teams over and over again. If you are a fan of one of those privileged teams, you may be fine with the NBA’s level of competitiveness; you get to be a Champ on a regular basis. But as for the Chumps? Well, if you’re a hoops fanatic who doesn’t live in Boston or Los Angeles or San Antonio; if you live and die with some team from the NBA’s hinterlands…there’s a good chance that the Chumps may include you.

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