American sports are designed to be cyclical — losing teams get higher draft picks, giving them access to the most talented players who can help turn franchises around. Teams that maximize salary cap space and draft wisely can stay in title contention for years. But as star players retire or leave in free agency, even the greatest dynasties eventually crumble and once-successful franchises can face years of futility.
To determine once great sports franchises that have fallen on hard times, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the past successes and current struggles of teams in the NFL, NHL, MLB, and NBA, using data from the Sports Reference family of sites. Teams were selected based on their historical success — playoff appearances and titles — compared to their records in recent years. Teams that have recently won a title or that have never won one were not considered.
The Los Angeles Lakers were not considered for this list because they had the best record in the Western Conference when the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted the season. They had even already clinched a spot in the 2020 NBA playoffs. That would have ended their franchise-long six-season absence from the postseason. While six seasons was an unprecedented drought for the Lakers, there are many teams for whom missing the playoffs for years on end is business as usual. These are the hardest teams to root for.