When the 2014 NBA Playoffs get underway next Saturday, the date will be a significant one in NBA history. April 19, 2014, will mark the first time that the NBA Playoffs have not included the Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers or New York Knicks — ever. In the pro basketball league's 68 years, at least one of those teams has appeared in the postseason tournament every single year.
Of course, that takes into account the fact that from 1947 to 1960, the Los Angeles Lakers were the Minneapolis Lakers. The record stands either way.
New York and Los Angeles represent, in that order, the two largest television markets in the NBA, while the Celtics are the league's most successful franchise in terms of championships won — and are the sole team in the seventh-largest NBA market. A playoffs tournament without the "Big Three" franchises means a probable hit to the all-important TV ratings for the NBA Playoffs.
But for NBA fans, this odd phenomenon has greater historical significance than mere Nielsens.
First, it should be noted that New York and Los Angeles markets will be represented in the NBA Playoffs anyway. The former New Jersey Nets are now playing their second season in Brooklyn. The Brooklyn Nets have already clinched a berth in the playoffs.
The "other" Los Angeles team, the L.A. Clippers, proved to be the primary Los Angeles team this season, clinching the NBA Pacific Division that usually belongs to the Lakers, who currently sit in last place. The Clippers look to take the Number Three seed in the Western Conference playoffs.
"It's horrible for the NBA that those markets may not be in the playoffs," said Lakers radio commentator Mychal Thompson, who played in four NBA Playoffs with the Lakers, including their back-to-back Chamionship winners in 1987 and 1988. "The NBA is a lot healthier business when those franchises are competing for championships, and they'll get back there."
But ESPN TV analyst and former Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy is less concerned.
"The league, just because of how it's grown and the depth of teams and organizations, I don't think it's a major deal," Van Gundy said. "Those teams have proven to be great organizations, and they'll be in the playoffs in the near future. Once in a while to not have them in doesn't impact the playoffs negatively at all."
Still, the NBA Playoffs will certainly lose some of their glamor without the three franchises that have, among them, won more than half of all the championships in NBA history among them — 17 for the Celtics, 16 for the Lakers and a pair for the Knicks.