With only 30 franchises in the NBA, there’s simply not enough to place one in every state. When you take into consideration that California alone has four teams (more than any other state), there’s even less to go around.
To put that into perspective, Texas is the only state that comes close with three NBA teams (Dallas Mavericks, San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets).
The four California NBA teams are the Lakers, the Clippers, the Kings, and the Warriors.
These four teams make up four of the five teams in the Pacific Division of the Western Conference, the other team being the Phoenix Suns from Arizona.
Why are there so many teams in the state of California?
Well, a lot of factors come into play. Let’s start with the market; if California was independent, it would be a top-10 economy in the world.
That kind of market is a magnet for professional sports teams because of lucrative sponsorship opportunities and media coverage.
Population is another huge factor. With around 39 million people and several major cities, teams can count on plenty of local fans who’ll be willing to pay for tickets.
You just don’t have those kinds of opportunities in other states.
The California NBA Teams
1. LA Lakers
Championship Wins: 17
Let’s start with the most established California team and arguably the league’s most marketable franchise. Surprisingly, the Lakers weren’t always located in LA. The team was initially based in the state of Minnesota for the first 12 years and were known as the Minneapolis Lakers.
The move to LA came in 1960 after the Dodgers, an MLB franchise, moved to LA. The Dodgers saw great financial benefits from the move which then led the Lakers to move to the West Coast.
Safe to say, the move to LA was a great success for the Lakers and there are now more Lakers fans than fans of any other NBA team.
The basketball team had already won five titles before the move, but it added a further 12 titles in LA and created some of the most memorable dynasties the league has ever seen. Becoming the NBA Champion in 2020 under Team Lebron, they are now tied with the Boston Celtics for most championship wins in NBA history.
On top of that, numerous NBA legends like Wilt Chamberlain, Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal and Lebron James have all served as players on the team.
Even those who aren’t basketball fans have heard of the Lakers and they epitomize the idea of Hollywood glamour. The courtside seats of their home games are full of A-list celebrities, and their stars have incredible opportunities for growing their personal brands off the court.
2. LA Clippers
Championship Wins: 0
Prior to the 2020-21 season, the Clippers were often seen as the Lakers’ underachieving, lesser cross-town rival. First formed in Buffalo, the team moved to San Diego in 1978 and then to LA six years later.
The reason for their reputation is their lack of Playoff success. They have zero titles to this day, and blowing a 3-1 lead to the Denver Nuggets in the 2019-2020 season’s playoffs despite the signings of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George have only reinforced this status.
The 2020-21 season finally saw them starting to reach their potential. Despite an unfortunate injury to Kawhi Leonard, they finally shed their second-round curse after beating top-seeded Utah Jazz in six games.
The Suns proved too strong in the Western Conference Finals, but the Clippers went down swinging. This means they got further than the Lakers, who lost in the second round. With this newfound success, it seems like the Clippers are finally shedding their second-fiddle status in LA.
The main reason for this success? New team owner Steve Ballmer. Ex-Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer bought the team after David Sterling, the team’s former owner, was forced out after he was publicly revealed to be a huge racist.
Sterling didn’t care much about the team’s success, but Ballmer revitalized them.
He gave them the resources they needed, put the right people in the right places, and helped forge a culture that made the Clippers one of the most desirable free-agent destinations in the League despite not being NBA title contenders before Kawhi and PG.
With the team looking healthier than ever, they’re a legitimate candidate for representing the Western Conference in the NBA Finals. Their first NBA championship may be coming sooner than you think.
3. Golden State Warriors
Championship Wins: 6
One of the League’s most recent dynasties was first founded in Philadelphia and moved to San Francisco in 1962.
Two of their six titles came before the move to California when they were still known as the Philadelphia Warriors. Their first championship after the move came in 1975 when they defeated the Washington Bullets.
But after decades away from the limelight, their 2014-15 season under their new head coach Steve Kerr was when the team not only took the NBA by storm, but arguably changed the way the game of basketball is played.
Their sharpshooting backcourt of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson has lead the NBA’s three-point revolution. Their dominance between 2014 and 2019 was arguably one of the most successful periods enjoyed by any team in NBA history.
During that time, the Warriors appeared in five consecutive NBA finals, winning three of them, and set the all-time regular season win record with 73 wins.
Had they not blown a 3-1 Finals lead in 2016, and had there been no devastating injuries to Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson in 2019, you could make the case that the Warriors could have gone for five straight titles. That would have put them comfortably ahead of the Chicago Bulls in terms of total championship wins, but instead they remain tied.
Today, they are a far cry from the dynasty that terrorized the League, but they may be a sleeping giant. Curry is still playing at an MVP level, Thompson is due to return next season, and they have some of the best coaches in the entire League.
4. Sacramento Kings
Championship Wins: 1 (as Rochester Royals)
Out of the four NBA franchises in California, the Kings were the last to move into the state, doing so in 1985 when they moved over from Kansas City.
They have also enjoyed by far the least recent success out of their in-state counterparts and the past 15 years have seen the Kings become one of the League’s perennial lottery teams.
They have unfortunately become the epitome of poor front office decision making and they have fallen off hard since the early 2000s when they were a legitimate title contender. The Kings have since been stuck in mediocrity and there didn’t seem to be a clear way forward.
They’ve recently acquired some interesting young pieces through the draft and their future could be bright if they continue drafting well and developing young talent. Given the team’s history, that’s a big “if” because there’s just too much uncertainty surrounding the Kings.
Coach Walton has been rumored to be on the hot seat for a while now and it’s unclear if he’s the right coach for this team.
Their lone championship came in 1951, but this team won’t be back to title contention any time soon. A lot of the blame for that goes on the ownership because their approach to managing the team is questionable at best and careless at worst.
The Kings are currently tied for the longest Playoff drought in NBA history at 15 years. With the Western Conference being as competitive as it is, they probably won’t be breaking that drought next season.
Which Californian NBA team is the best?
If you’re a Kings fan, sorry, but your team is not the answer here.
If you’re a fan of one of the other teams, you may have a claim.
If we’re talking all-time success, then the Lakers are the clear winner thanks to their rich history and 17 championships.
If we’re talking right now, it’s a toss-up between the Lakers and the Clippers. With the Warriors hopefully getting back to full strength, next season could see us having as many as three title contenders from California and NBA fans in California will be treated to some epic showdowns.
Why Does LA have two NBA teams?
With around 4 million inhabitants, Los Angeles is the second most metropolitan area in the US, second only to New York City. That means it has a market large enough to accommodate two NBA teams, and the city also has two NFL teams (Rams, Chargers) and two MLB teams (Dodgers, Angels).
New York City is the only other American city to be home to two NBA teams (New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets).