In June of 2016 the city of Cleveland got their first professional sports championship in more than 50 years thanks to King James and his supporting Cavaliers. One title in more than five decades: not exactly a great run of success, but don’t bother Cleveland fans with that, for them the 21st century is their century. To hell with droughts, curses, fumbles, and John Elway.
Which cities and their fans are having the best century so far? Where’s the best place to be a sports fan? There are several ways to answer that question, but first let’s do it the simplest way: by titles.
Here’s a map showing the twelve U.S. cities with at least two titles in the four major professional sports leagues since 2001, through 2016:
It’s been Boston’s century thus far, people. That’s nine titles in 16 years* (and another in 2018 from the Red Sox), and at least one from each of their teams. No other city has had every one of their pro teams hoist a trophy in the 21st century, not even New York or LA, cities that have far more than the four teams Boston has.
Fans crave titles, so that’s the ultimate way to measure success. But there’s another way to look at this: playoff appearances. And let’s level the discussion by looking at team seasons in relation to playoff appearances. Cue the chart:
Sure, New York has produced the most playoff appearances in the 21st century, but this century hasn’t been as kind to The Big Apple as the previous one. New York has two baseball teams, two football teams, two hockey clubs, and two basketball teams (with the relocation of the Nets to Brooklyn). In all, they’ve had 117 “team seasons” this century to produce their 53 playoff appearances. NY’s playoff percentage of 45.3% ranks behind five cities that have teams in each of the four pro leagues. Boston, Philly, LA, Dallas, and Detroit have all had better success getting their teams to the postseason than New York. And when it comes to titles, Boston and LA have exceeded NY’s total this century and Detroit has matched it. So much for New York dominance.
Now I’ll take a closer look at some of the trends so far in the 21st century of sports.
Where and when was the best time to be a sports fan this century?
If you were living in New England and a Bahsten sports fan, October of 2007 to June of 2008 was like a dream come true. In October the Red Sox won their second World Series of the century, sweeping the Rockies. The Patriots refused to lose, winning each of their 16 regular season games and then marching to the Super Bowl with two more wins, becoming only the second team in NFL history to be undefeated going in to the Big Game. Brady and the Pats lost, but while that may have stung fans in New England, about four months later the Celtics won the NBA Finals.
Which fans have had the worst century?
It hasn’t been fun rooting for Minnesota thus far this century. Of the cities with teams in each league, Minnesota has the lowest percentage of playoff appearances and no title. The Vikings, Twins, Timberwolves, and Wild have made it to the postseason 23 times this century (35.9% of their seasons) but 16 times they’ve been bounced in the first round and they’ve never once gotten to the championship game or series in any sport.
Sure, Cleveland has a far worse playoff percentage (25%), and they’ve only has a dozen playoff appearances. But they have Lebron James and that NBA title against the most recently anointed “best team in basketball.”
Who are the most spoiled fans in America?
I’m going to have to go with the fans of Detroit. This century their hockey team has won two Stanley Cup titles while putting some of the best players in hockey on the ice and the Red Wings haven’t missed the playoffs. Meanwhile, the Pistons won an NBA title, advanced to another NBA Finals, and went to six straight “final fours” in the NBA playoffs. The Tigers were resurrected in the 21st Century, winning two pennants and capturing four straight division titles. During that stretch, the Detroit baseball club fielded a batting Triple Crown winner, a pitching Triple Crown winner, two MVPs who won the award a total of three times, two Cy Young award winners, and their owner, (who also owns the hockey team) has never shied away from writing big checks to keep the team competitive.
Sounds great, right? Well, if you listened to most sports fans in Michigan you’d think their teams stink. Detroit rooters have every right to bitch about the #SameOldLions, but otherwise, they should be happy with their success in the last 16 years. Their teams go to the playoffs more frequently than New Yok teams and they have as many championships in this century as New York, Houston, Toronto, Atlanta, Minnesota, and Washington D.C. combined (through 2016).
America’s most fickle fans
It comes down to either Atlanta or Los Angeles. I’ll pick the City of Angels. LA fans are so wishy-washy that they can’t even be bothered to root for their teams in enough numbers to keep them around. LA fans arrive late, leave early, and know less about their teams than any other fan base. There’s never been a “Dodger Nation” or a “Laker Nation,” because the fans are transient rooters who come and go based on how sexy their teams are. So far this century, LA has five titles, but three of those came from their NHL teams, which barely draw first page attention in the city. One of the other titles was won by the Angels, who were only LA in name for a while, as they are a distant second in popularity to the Dodgers, who have under-performed thus far in Century #21.
Best fans in sports
The city of Pittsburgh doesn’t mess around. They have three teams: the Steelers, Penguins, and Pirates. They don’t care about basketball and they never will. Each team has black and gold as their color scheme, so fans can wear any damn tee-shirt they want, thank you very much. And when Pittsburgh gets to the postseason, they make it exciting and they win. They have 24 postseason appearances since 2001 and they’ve won four championships (two by the Steelers, two by the Pens). That’s the second-best ratio of team seasons to titles among cities with at least three teams, trailing only Boston. Pittsburgh fans are smart, loyal and rabid, which is why they’re the best fans in sports.
The “Just win baby” award
Miami has never been considered a great sports city. It’s a city where you go to get sand between your toes, not tickets for a game. At one time, the Dolphins were one of the best franchises in sports, but those were back in the days when Buddy Hackett was still telling jokes to Johnny Carson. The Dolphins stink and the NHL in Miami is a joke. But the Marlins and Heat have made it a habit of delivering titles, even if they don’t always stay consistently good. Thus far in the 21st century, the Marlins have one playoff appearance and they made it worth while — winning the World Series. The Heat have won three titles in the last 16 seasons. It’s perfect for Miami — go to the pool and get some sun, we’ll let you know when it’s time to hoist another trophy. We’re not going to waste your time.
Best one-sport city
The fans in central Texas care about one thing and one thing only: basketball. San Antonio is a city where Tim Duncan is a god, Greg Popovich is cool, and their basketball team is legendary. The Spurs have made every postseason this century and won four NBA titles. Even though Duncan has hung up his big sneakers, the team has a great young core, so don’t be surprised if they keep chugging along, copping a championship every 3–5 years.
Dan Holmes is a freelance writer. Visit his personal website at danholmes.com