With the National Basketball Association (NBA) finals underway, I thought it might be appropriate to discuss some of this league's trivia. Bear in mind that I'm an extremely casual NBA fan--I've done my best to confirm all of this, but it's possible I've overlooked some things. As usual, if any mistakes are noticed, I'd appreciate any readers bringing these to my attention, and I'll fix them. Most of these will be bits about the playoffs, or even the finals.
1) Since the NBA went to its 16 team playoff format for the 1983-84 season, only one #8 seed has made it to the finals--the 1998-99 New York Knicks (who lost to the San Antonio Spurs). This was an unusual season, though, shortened significantly from a labor dispute.
2) Three teams with losing regular season records made it to the finals. These were the 1956-57 St. Louis Hawks (regular season record of 34-38), the 1958-59 Minneapolis Lakers (33-39), and the 1980-81 Houston Rockets (40-42). All of these teams lost in the finals, although the Hawks did take the Boston Celtics to 7 games.
3) The lowest seeded team to win the NBA title was the 1994-95 Houston Rockets, versus the Orlando Magic. As a #6 seed, the Rockets didn't have the home court advantage in any of the playoff series that year.
4) The team with the worst record to make the playoffs was the 1952-53 Baltimore Bullets, who finished a putrid 16-54 (.229 winning percentage). How was this possible, you might ask? Back in those early NBA days, the top four teams in each 5 team division qualified for the playoffs, meaning only 2 of the total 10 teams didn't qualify for the postseason. And to think people now complain that the regular season doesn't mean that much, that too many teams make the playoffs!
5) The team who has won the most NBA titles is the Boston Celtics, with 17. The Minneapolis/Los Angeles Lakers are a close second with 16 titles. These two are also the top two in total finals appearances, although it's flipped. The Lakers are first with 31 appearances (record of 16-15), while the Celtics have 21, with a record of 17-4.
6) The Celtics were the most dominant U.S. major pro sports league team ever, winning an incredible 8 consecutive titles between 1959-66 (and 11 in 13 years!). For comparison, the MLB record is 5 in a row, for the 1949-53 New York Yankees, and the NHL record is 5 consecutive, for the 1956-60 Montreal Canadians. For college teams, the UCLA Bruins won 7 in a row from 1967-73 (and 10 in 12 years) in men's basketball, and the North Carolina Tar Heels women's soccer team won 9 national titles in a row from 1986-94.
7) Moving in the opposite way, 7 current teams have never even made it to the finals, much less won one. These are the Buffalo Braves/San Diego and Los Angeles Clippers (around since 1970), the Denver Nuggets (since 1976), the Charlotte Hornets/Bobcats (since 1988), the Minnesota Timberwolves (since 1989), the Vancouver/Memphis Grizzlies (since 1995), the Toronto Raptors (also 1995), and the New Orleans/Oklahoma Hornets/New Orleans Pelicans (since 2002).
8) Now let's list the individual players who won the most NBA titles.
11 Bill Russell, center, with those dominant late 50's/60's Boston Celtics.
10 Sam Jones, guard, also with those Celtics.
8 (tie) Tom Heinsohn, forward/center, same Celtics.
8 K.C. Jones, guard, Celtics.
8 John Havlicek, forward/guard, Celtics.
7 (tie) Jim Loscutoff, forward, Celtics (played in 6 ).
7 Frank Ramsey, forward/guard, Celtics.
7 Robert Horry, forward, with the Houston Rockets (2), Los Angeles Lakers (3), and San Antonio
6 Bob Cousy, guard, with those same Celtics.
6 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, center with the Milwaukee Bucks (1), and Los Angeles Lakers (5).
6 Michael Jordan, guard, all with the Chicago Bulls.
6 Scottie Pippen, forward, with those same Bulls.
9) Since the 1968-69 season, the NBA has named a NBA finals Most Valuable Player (MVP). Michael Jordan has won the most, with 6, or every Bulls title. Four players are tied for second, with 3 MVP's. These are Magic Johnson, Shaquille O'Neal, Tim Duncan, and Lebron James. James, of course, is still active, and could add to his total.
10) Only one man has been named the finals MVP for a year in which his team lost the series, or the equivalent to the NFL's Chuck Howley. This would be Jerry West, with the 1968-69 Los Angeles Lakers.
11) The record for finals futility is 8 appearances, no wins, for poor Elgin Baylor, with the Los Angles Lakers. It gets worse--Baylor retired during the regular season in 1971-72. That same team finally broke through and won it all a few months later.
12) Now let's go to the list of most titles won by a head coach.
11 Phil Jackson, with the Chicago Bulls (6), and the Los Angeles Lakers (5).
9 Red Auerbach, all with the Boston Celtics.
5 (tie) John Kundla, all with the Minneapolis Lakers.
5 Pat Riley, with the Los Angeles Lakers (4), and the Miami Heat (1).
5 Gregg Popovich, all with the San Antonio Spurs.
No other coach has more than 2. Popovich is the only man still actively coaching.
13) I was unable to confirm this definitively, but allegedly, power forward/center Rasheed Wallace (1995-2010, 2012-13) had his 2003-4 Detroit Pistons title ring refitted for his middle finger. Perhaps the (in)famously combative Wallace wanted to aggravate anyone who asked to see his ring. To be fair, current center Andrew Bogut, who won a title with the 2014-15 Golden State Warriors, supposedly did the same thing.
Now let's switch from playoff/finals related trivia, into general NBA fun facts.
14) Obviously, basketball players are justifiably known for being significantly taller than most other athletes, or people in general. But sometimes shorter guys managed to make the NBA. The shortest ever was Muggsy Bogues, who played, at point guard, for 4 teams from 1987-2001, most notably with the Charlotte Hornets. Bogues was only 5'3". The next shortest was guard Earl Boykins, who stands 5'5". He played from 1999-2010 with 10 teams, most notably with the Denver Nuggets.
15) Conversely, the tallest NBA player ever was 7'7" Gheorghe Muresan, who played from 1993-97 with the Washington Bullets and New Jersey Nets. Manute Bol is sometimes listed as also being 7'7", but other sources claim he was "only" 7'6 and three-quarters of an inch. Bol played from 1985-95, most notably with the Washington Bullets and Philadelphia 76ers.
16) The record holder for most assists dished out in one game is not a great player, like John Stockton, Magic Johnson, Jason Kidd, etc., but the fairly mediocre Scott Skiles, who played from 1986-97 as a point guard. On December 30, 1990 he had 30 assists while playing for the Orlando Magic, versus the Denver Nuggets.
17) Similarly, the record for most steals in a game is held by two fairly pedestrian players. Larry Kenon, a forward who played from 1972-83, had 11 in a game for the San Antonio Spurs versus the Kansas City Kings on December 26, 1976. Kendall Gill, a shooting guard/small forward, had 11 in a game for the New Jersey Nets versus the Miami Heat on April 3, 1999. Gill played from 1990-2005.
18) The youngest man to play in an NBA game was the recently retired center Andrew Bynum, who was 18 years, 6 days, when he suited up for the Los Angeles Lakers on November 2, 2005.
19) Small forward Charles "Bubba" Wells holds an unlikely NBA record. He fouled out (was removed from the game after receiving 6 fouls called against him) in an incredible 3 minutes of playing time while with the Dallas Mavericks versus the Chicago Bulls on December 29, 1997. There's a story behind this. Bull player Dennis Rodman was notorious for being a very poor free throw shooter. So, in an early version of the so-called "Hack-a-Shaq" strategy, Wells was instructed to intentionally foul Rodman, in the hopes that he wouldn't make many of the resulting free throws, and the Mavericks could get back in the game. Alas, Rodman defeated this ruse by making 9 of the 12 free throws. Center Travis Knight holds the playoff record for this, fouling out in 6 minutes of playing time while playing for the Los Angeles Lakers in a 1999 game.
20) The lowest scoring NBA game was played on November 22, 1950, between the Fort Wayne Pistons and the Minneapolis Lakers. The Pistons prevailed 19-18!. Games like this helped prompt the development of the shot clock for the 1954-55 season.
21) The Jones family was the Delahantys of the NBA. Four brothers played in the NBA (or one less than the number of Delahantys in MLB). They were:
Caldwell Jones, a center/power forward for 17 years (1973-90) in the ABA and NBA, most
notably with the Philadelphia 76ers. He was both a starter and a reserve, and
was once named an All Star in the ABA.
Charles Jones, another center/power forward, who played from 1983-98 (15 seasons) most
notably with the Washington Bullets and Houston Rockets. Charles was mostly
a reserve player, but he did win a title with the Rockets in 1994-95.
Major Jones, a power forward for 6 years, 1979-85, with the Houston Rockets and Detroit
Pistons. He was also mostly a bench player.
Wilbert Jones, a power forward/small forward for 9 years (1969-78) in the ABA and NBA. He
played on several teams, including the Miami Floridians and the Memphis Tams.
(The ABA had some odd, comical team names.)