Cleveland’s seven-game NBA Finals triumph over Golden State was filled with enough story lines for a book, let alone a blog post. Among the biggest: The team with the best record in NBA history goes down (losing the same number of games in the postseason, 9, as it lost in the regular season). LeBron James brings a championship to Cleveland — and in the process gives that city its first title in one of the widely regarded four major U.S. men’s pro sports leagues (the NBA, NHL, MLB and NFL) since 1964.
Quietly within the context of that last item, a torch was passed. Now that Cleveland has won a championship, the market that is on the hook as having the longest drought is none other than Minneapolis-St. Paul.
But before we go any further with that point, let’s delve into the idea of “major” and other caveats:
Your first — and very logical — question about this might be to ask, “What about the Lynx?” And no, I’m not forgetting their three WNBA titles in the last five seasons. Nor am I forgetting about the second-division soccer championships won by Minnesota teams, or any other title won by a local pro team. I’m only playing by the rules generally agreed upon when we talk about “major” championships.
As of now, the four aforementioned leagues — with millionaire athletes and massive TV contracts among the factors that give them separation from other leagues — are considered the big ones. Some have suggested Major League Soccer has become the fifth major league in the United States. WNBA supporters can make the rightful argument that as the best women’s basketball league in the world, the WNBA should be part of the conversation. For now, though, the general consensus is still that there are just four.
Also, this Minneapolis/St. Paul title drought designation is being measured against only those U.S. markets that have at least three pro teams spread among the NBA, NHL, MLB and NFL. Hence markets like Portland or Salt Lake City are not included. There are 18 U.S. markets that have at least three of those teams (Toronto also qualifies if we expand to North American markets and has won a World Series more recently than the Twins).
With those asides considered, these facts remain:
*The Twins were the last of the “big four” teams in Minnesota to win a championship, in 1991. Washington D.C. is close behind, with a Super Bowl in early 1992 (won in Minnesota, no less) being that city’s most recent “big four” title. The Boston area has won approximately 11 billion championships in that span, using rosters comprised of roughly 87 percent Minnesota connections.
*Perhaps just as cruel as the championship drought — which will reach 25 years in October, barring some sort of Twins miracle — is the fact that none of the “big four” teams in this market have even PLAYED for a championship during that span. The Vikings have been to three NFC title games. The Twins have made the postseason six times, going as far as the ALCS one year. The Wolves and Wild have both played in one Western Conference Finals series. So each team has been a step away from playing for a title at least once. But none have actually even been on the cusp of that championship.
*Let’s finish with a question: If you had to pick which team will be the one to break that spell — whether it’s within the next calendar year, the next 10 years or the next 50 years, however long you think it will take — who would you choose? Each of the four is compelling in its own way.
The Vikings? They seem to be the best option to win right now, given their NFC North title a season ago. But they also have their own tortured history.
The Twins? The last 2.5 months notwithstanding, they still have a promising young core of prospects and — lest we forget — they’re the only one of the four teams in question to have actually won a championship.
The Wild? Combine a new coach with a team that has made the playoffs four years in a row and a league in which even lower seeds can get hot and make a run to a title and you get a recipe for a possible Stanley Cup champ.
The Wolves? A franchise with a long history of mis-steps seems like it might have figured something out with this latest rebuilding effort. It’s not unbelievable to envision a future in which this core wins an NBA title.
As you ponder that, it’s also worth circling back on this one more time: the legacies of these four teams are all the more reason to appreciate just what the Lynx have accomplished.