Comparing to other sports: the NBA team that most resembles the Pittsburgh Steelers

Continuing my series on comparing the Pittsburgh Steelers to a team (or teams) in other sports, I thought I would continue with the NBA as the NBA Finals are getting underway.

In my second entry of this series, I am going to look at the National Basketball Association. The NBA started about 26 years after the NFL did, but it was not until the 1940’s or so where the NFL started to find stable ground after the war merging teams.

So, what NBA teams most resemble the Steelers and why?

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In my last article in which I compared NHL organizations, I started with the resemblance of a historic franchise and the number of championships. Compared to NFL history, the NBA does not have the number of teams winning championships as the NFL does.

In short, the NBA has had two teams dominate the league for most of its existence. The Los Angeles Lakers (16) and the Boston Celtics (17) have combined for 33 NBA Championship wins out of 71 total seasons (including this year).

That is almost half (46.5%) of the entire history of the NBA where one of these two teams has won the NBA Championship. Furthermore, those two teams have played each other in the NBA Finals 12 times. 17% of the NBA Finals played have not featured one or the other: they have featured both teams playing against each other.

The Minneapolis/Los Angeles Lakers alone have been to the NBA Finals 31 times out of 71 seasons, therefore it is safe to say there is more dominance by two teams in the NBA, as opposed to the NFL, where parity is more spread out.

My point is that this will not be a sound comparison of an NBA franchise to that of the Pittsburgh Steelers, because the nature of both leagues is very different in terms of total dominance.

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Super Bowl Era

To make this comparison more even, I’m going to start during the Super Bowl Era of the NFL (1967) and when the NBA evolved from 9 teams to 14 (1968) which, at least in theory, created more competition. The Pittsburgh Steelers (obviously) lead the way in the NFL era with six Super Bowl wins.

By comparison, the top four teams with NBA Finals victories during this period of time include the Los Angeles Lakers (11), Boston Celtics (8), Chicago Bulls (6), and the San Antonio Spurs (5).

Since the championship rings are not going to line up as nicely as they did with the NHL, so where do we go from here? Let’s look at the historic use of coaches. I believe that in order to accurately compare the Pittsburgh Steelers and another team from another league, coaching history matters and should be considered.

The Steelers pride themselves on having numerous coaches who are Hall-of-Fame-worthy and win Super Bowls. From Chuck Noll to Bill Cowher, and now Mike Tomlin, coaching has been the foundation of Pittsburgh’s teams for several decades.

Two of the NBA teams above won all of their championships with just one coach. The Chicago Bulls won six championships with Phil Jackson, and the San Antonio Spurs won five with Gregg Popovich. The Lakers employed Bill Sharman, Pat Riley, and the previously mentioned Phil Jackson (who left Chicago for L.A.).

Celtics coaches include Bill Russell, Tom Heinsohn, and we can possibly current coach Brad Stevens in that mix, although he hasn’t won the big one yet.

That being said, we come full circle back to the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics.

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All-Time Great Players

Next on the list is a comparison of all-time great players. The Steelers have Rod Woodson, Mike Webster, Lynn Swann, John Stallworth, Jack Lambert, Franco Harris, Jack Ham, Joe Greene, Mel Blount, and Jerome Bettis, to name a few.

The Boston Celtics have had Larry Bird, Bill Russell, John Havlicek, Kevin McHale, Paul Pierce, and Kevin Garnett, to name a few.

The Los Angeles Lakers at one time or another had Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain, Shaquille O’Neal, Jerry West, George Mikan, Elgin Baylor, Kobe Bryant, and others.

Yes, I’ve left quite a few players off of both teams, including veterans like Bill Walton, Ray Allen, Karl Malone, and others who had a cup of coffee with these great franchises, but how long do you want this article?! (Though naming a few of them does strengthen the argument!)

What do all three teams have in common? They all have an immense amount of all-time great players, and there is no shortage of players going into the Hall of Fame from any team.

Now that we’ve seen an excerpt of the top players, in what other ways can we separate and compare the NBA teams?

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How about the fan bases?

I would say that each of the three fan bases are one of the best in each respective league. When traveling, you will see no shortage of jerseys for each team.

No matter how poorly they are doing, fans will still show up and root their team on. (Even recently when the Lakers were at the bottom of the NBA, there were still people showing up to watch the game… mostly to see Kobe Bryant but still.)

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Is there a perfect comparison? I do not think so. Both the Lakers and the Celtics are so closely tied throughout history, it is hard to distinguish a real difference between the two.

Personally, I might lean more towards the Lakers comparing to the Steelers better. Since the late 1960’s, they have won more championships, had more Hall of Fame players, and have had more Hall of Fame coaches go through their franchise, but that’s my opinion.

You could argue either way as to whether or not you think the Lakers or the Celtics compare to the Steelers more. Sure, it’s easy to look at championships, but even when we look at both leagues, starting from the same time, the Lakers and Celtics both compare favorably to the Steelers.

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