Well, well, Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors are in a pickle. The Dubs set an NBA record with 73 victories, but unless they are able to stage a miracle comeback against Oklahoma City in the Western Conference finals, they’re toast.
And if they lose to the Thunder (or somehow make the Finals and lose to Cleveland), the Warriors will have no claim…none… to the title of NBA’s best team ever. It happens. In 2007, the New England Patriots finished the regular season unbeaten at 16-0 and yet lost to the Giants in Super Bowl 42. In 2001, the Seattle Mariners won 116 games, tying the 1906 Cubs for the most in MLB history. The Mariners were knocked out by the Yankees in five games in the ALCS. And the Cubs lost the 1906 World Series to their crosstown rivals, the White Sox, aka the Hitless Wonders.
In the NBA, teams with outstanding regular season records generally go on to win the championship. The 1996 Bulls (72-10), 1972 Lakers (69-13), 1997 Bulls (69-13) and 1967 76ers (68-13) were all crowned champs. The best team not to win a title was the 1973 Celtics (68-14), who lost to the Knicks in a seven-game, Eastern Conference Final.
The Warriors won the NBA title last year following a 67-15 regular season, tied for seventh best all-time. The 1986 Celtics, 1992 Bulls and 2000 Lakers all won championships after finishing 67-15. The 2007 Mavericks and this year’s Spurs also went 67-15, but were knocked out before the Western Conference Finals. The Washington Capitals were 49-11 in 1947, the NBA’s first season, but lost in the semifinals.
In the NFL, the 1984 49ers and 1985 Bears both finished 15-1 and won the Super Bowl. But three others teams, the 1988 Vikings, 2004 Steelers and 2011 Packers, were beaten before reaching the Super Bowl.
In addition to the Mariners and Cubs losing the World Series, the 1954 Indians (111-54) and Philadelphia A’s (107-45) in 1931 were also upset.
The Canadiens set an NHL record with 132 points in 1977 and won the Stanley Cup in the midst of a four-year championships run. But the 1996 Red Wings, with a record 62 wins and 131 points, were derailed by the Avalanche in the Western Conference Finals.
Football, basketball and hockey teams regularly finish with a .700 winning percentage. In the NFL for instance, 12 wins in 16 games accounts for .750. The Warriors finished with an .890 winning percentage this past season and the Spurs were .817. One more win would have put the Cavs over .700 as well. And in the NHL, a league which doesn’t count overtime losses as losses, good teams often boast winning percentages of .700 or better.
Baseball with its 162-game schedule is a different breed. To finish at .700 or above, teams must win a minimum of 114 games. The Cubs are challenging .700 in the early days of the season, and if they keep up the pace they could become the first team to have a .700 plus record in 15 years….and the first National League team to reach those heights in 107 years.
Throughout baseball’s long history, only nine teams have finished .700 or above. Here they are:
The .700 club
1906 Cubs 116-36 .763
1907 Cubs 107-45 .704
1909 Pirates 110-42 .724
1927 Yankees 110-44 .714
1931 A’s 107-45 .704
1939 Yankees 106-45 .702
1954 Indians 111-43 .721
1998 Yankees 114-48 .704
2001 Mariners 116-46 .716
The first three teams to achieve the feat were all NL clubs; the next six all AL. Yet only five of those nine teams went on to win the World Series.
The 1906 Cubs, pictured above, recorded the best regular season in history with 116 wins and a .763 winning percentage….yet lost the World Series to their cross-town rivals, the White Sox, aka the Hitless Wonders, in six games.
The next year the Cubs wound up with a .704 percentage, and swept the Tigers in the World Series (with one tie). The Cubs repeated as World Champs in 1908 – and haven’t won since.
In 1909 the Pirates won 110 games and took out Detroit in a seven-game World Series.
Three times the Yankees finished with .700 plus winning percentages — in 1927, 1939 and 1998. The Bronx Bombers followed through with World Series sweeps each time.
The Mariners set the AL record with 116 wins good for a .716 winning percentage in 2001, yet lost the ALCS to the Yankees in five games.
In 1954, the Indians win 111 games in a 154-game season, establishing the AL win percentage record at .721. Yet Cleveland was swept by the New York Giants in the World Series.
Finally, in 1931 the A’s won 107 games, but lost the World Series to the Cardinals in seven games.
The Yankees are not just lousy, they’re historically bad. In fact, their 8-15 start, is one of the worst in team history. If the aging Yankees continue their poor play, they could finish in last place for just the fifth time in their history. That happens to teams that can’t hit, pitch or catch the ball.
Now Joe Girardi knows how Harry Wolverton, right, felt more than a hundred years ago. Wolverton was the skipper of the worst team in Yankee history, the 1912 edition. Then known as the Highlanders, they were 50-102 for a .329 percentage — last in the American League, 55 games behind Boston. The Highlanders had a 7-16 record through 23 games
The 1908 Highlanders won 15 of their first 23 and then fell completely apart. They finished last in the AL at 51-103.
50 years ago, in 1966, the Yankees were 7-16 through 23 games. New York won just four of its first 16 games before Ralph Houk took over the managerial reins from Johnny Keane. The change didn’t help. The Yankees finished last in the American League for the first time since 1912 at 70-89.
25 years later, in 1991, the Bombers started 7-16 and stumbled to a fifth place finish in the AL East with a 71-91 mark under Stump Merrill. The previous year the Yankees finished seventh (and last) in the AL East at 67-95, yet still managed to win 10 of their first 23.