Western conference – NBA teams through history

The West also boasts 15 teams, hosted by cities roughly located west of the Mississippi. Just like in the East, the fifteen teams are divided into three 5-team divisions, the Northwest, Pacific and Southwest Divisions (sorted in alphabetical order), as shown below:

The Western Conference is often considered as more flashy and more offence-oriented than the East, as best illustrated by the L.A Lakers “Showtime” Era. Still today, seven out of the ten teams with the most points per game in the League are part of the West.

The West has also recently been an overall more competitive conference, with 9 out of 15 teams finishing the 2010-11 Season over .500 in winning percentage, against 7 in the East. But the best team record belonged to the Chicago Bulls, with 62 wins, surpassing the West’s San Antonio Spurs by one game.


The Western Division, ancestor of the Western Conference, was born in 1949 with the NBA, and originally included 6 teams: The Indianapolis Olympians (1949-1953), the Anderson Packers (1946-1951), the Tri-Cities Blackhawks (now Atlanta Hawks), the Sheboygan Red Skins (1938-1950), the Waterloo Hawks (1948-1950) and the original Denver Nuggets (1948-1950). In 1950, the overall number of teams in the League dropped from 17 to 11 and the Central Division disappeared, absorbed by the Western division who had already lost most of its own teams. The West now included 5 franchises:

The Western Division (1951.)
rochester royals logo
Rochester Royals
fort wayne pistons logo
Fort Wayne Pistons
minneapolis lakers logo
Minneapolis Lakers
milwaukee hawks logo
Milwaukee Hawks
indianapolis olympians logo
Indianapolis Olympians

Unlike in the East, where things were rather stable for the whole of the 1950s, the West saw many changes on the period. In 1953, the Olympians folded, leaving the division with only 4 teams. In 1955, the Hawks left Milwaukee and relocated – to St Louis, Missouri – imitated in 1957 by the Pistons and the Royals. The Pistons moved to Michigan where they became the Detroit Pistons and the Royals to Cincinnati, Ohio. In 1960, it was the Lakers’ turn to leave Minnesota and relocate to sunny California to become the Los Angeles Lakers. In following year, the newly-created Chicago Packers made their debut into the League as part of the Western Division, which now consisted of 5 teams. In 1962, the Warriors relocated to San Francisco and traded with the Cincinnati Royals for a spot in the West. The Chicago Packers briefly became the Chicago Zephyrs.

The Western Division (1962.)
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San Francisco Warriors
pistons 1962 logo
Detroit Pistons
la lakers 1962 logo
Los Angeles Lakers
st.louis hawks 1962 logo
St. Louis Hawks
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Chicago Zephyrs

In 1963, the Chicago Zephys left the Windy City, becoming the new Baltimore Bullets (with no relation to the previous team of the same name). Chicago got itself a brand new Western Division team in 1966 with the creation of the Bulls and as a consequence, the Baltimore Bullets got reassigned to the East. In 1967, it was the Detroit Pistons who started to play in the Eastern Division, while the West welcomed two expansion teams, the Seattle SuperSonics and San Diego Rockets. In 1968, the Hawks relocated again, this time to Atlanta where they are still today, and the Phoenix Suns make their debut in the league, playing in the West.

The Western Division (1969.)
san francisco warriors 1969 logo
San Francisco Warriors
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Phoenix Suns

Los Angeles Lakers
hawks 1969 logo
Atlanta Hawks

Chicago Bulls
seattle supersonics 1969 logo
Seattle SuperSonics
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San Diego Rockets

Finally it is before the start of the 1970-71 Season, with the arrival of three new franchises that the NBA was reorganized into conferences. The Western Conference, now with 9 teams was divided into the Midwest and Pacific divisions. The Atlanta Hawks became part of the East, while the Milwaukee Bucks and Detroit Pistons came back to the West, which was rounded up by the addition of expansion franchise Portland Trail Blazers. In 1971, the Rockets left Southern California and settled in Houston, Texas. The Warriors moved across the Bay to Oakland and were renamed the Golden State Warriors. In 1972, the Cincinnati Royals relocated to Kansas City and Omaha, Nebraska and became the Kansas City-Omaha Kings (and later the Kansas City Kings) playing with the Western Conference, while the Houston Rockets take their place in the East.

The Western Division before the ABA merger (1975.)
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Golden State Warriors

Los Angeles Lakers

Milwaukee Bucks
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Portland Trail Blazers
seattle supersonics 1975 logo
Seattle SuperSonics
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Kansas City Kings

Phoenix Suns

Chicago Bulls
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Detroit Pistons

1976 was the year the NBA absorbed its rival league ABA. As a result, 4 new teams joined the league, the New York Nets, the Indiana Pacers, the San Antonio Spurs and the new Denver Nuggets (with no connection to the original team). Both the Pacers and Nuggets started playing in the West.

In 1978, the Buffalo Braves relocated to the West Coast, and Conference, and became the San Diego Clippers, while the Detroit Pistons once again went back to play in the East. In 1979, the New Orleans Jazz relocated to Salt Lake City and started playing in the Western Conference under the name Utah Jazz. The Indiana Pacers took their place in the East.

The arrival of the 23rd NBA franchise, the Dallas Mavericks, in 1980, called for some realignment. The San Antonio Spurs and Houston Rockets were shifted to the West, while The Milwaukee Bucks and Chicago Bulls became part of the East.

The Western Division (1980.)

Golden State Warriors
la lakers 1980 logo
Los Angeles Lakers
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Utah Jazz

Portland Trail Blazers

Seattle SuperSonics
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Kansas City Kings

Phoenix Suns
san diego clippers logo
San Diego Clippers
nuggets 1980 logo
Denver Nuggets

Houston Rockets

San Antonio Spurs
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Dallas Mavericks

In 1984, the Clippers left San Diego to settle in Los Angeles, sharing duties with the Lakers in the City of Angels. In 1985, it was the Kings’ turn to move to California and find a home in Sacramento. The creation, in 1988 and 1989, of four new franchises, the Miami Heat, the Charlotte Hornets, the Orlando Magic and the Minnesota Timberwolves had limited impact on the Conference, as after a few seasons of bouncing around, only the Timberwolves would be permanently assigned to the West. In 1995, the conference welcomed its last expansion franchise to date, the Vancouver Grizzlies who have since then relocated to Memphis.

The Western Division (2003.)
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Minnesota Timberwolves
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Memphis Grizzlies
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Golden State Warriors

Los Angeles Lakers
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Utah Jazz
portland blazers 2003 logo
Portland Trail Blazers
seattle supersonics logo
Seattle SuperSonics

Sacramento Kings

Phoenix Suns
la clippers 2003 logo
Los Angeles Clippers
nuggets 2003 logo
Denver Nuggets
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Houston Rockets

San Antonio Spurs

Dallas Mavericks

Finally, in 2004, the Charlotte Bobcats, 30th and last to date expansion franchise joined the NBA. As a result, the league realigned the Conferences, dividing each one of them into three 5-team divisions. In 2008, the Seattle SuperSonics left the West Coast for Oklahoma and started playing as the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Most successful teams and players

The most titled franchise in the West is the Minnesota/Los Angeles Lakers, with a record 31 Western Conference championship rings, to which you can add 16 NBA titles, second only to the Boston Celtics’ 17 Larry O’Brien trophies. Their domination of the conference over the years has been total as the next teams, the San Antonio Spurs, the Houston Rockets and the St Louis/Atlanta Hawks each compile no more than 4 titles.

Out of the 62 official NBA Finals played since 1949, the Western division or Conference has emerged a winner 28 times, while the East did so 32 times. The reigning champions Dallas Mavericks, a Western Conference team, defeated the Miami Heat in the 2011 Finals. Out of the 28 championships claimed by the West, 16 of them belong to the Lakers and 4 to the Spurs.

While the Spurs’ victories all came between 1999 and 2007, with David Robinson and Tim Duncan as team leaders, the Lakers have always remained contenders: in the 50s while still in Minneapolis, in the 70s behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, in the 80s with Magic Johnson, at the turn of the millennium with Shaquille O’Neal and again recently behind Kobe Bryant.

Most players having played with several teams throughout the course of their careers, it might be hard to describe them as purely Western conference players, but we can certainly count players like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Kobe Bryant among the ones who have earned that distinction.

Since the MVP Award was implemented in 1956, it went 25 times to a Western Conference player against 32 times to the East. Among the multiple winners are Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (3 times with the Milwaukee Bucks and 3 with the L.A Lakers), Magic Johnson (3 times with the Lakers), Tim Duncan (twice with the Spurs), Karl Malone (twice with the Jazz), Steve Nash (twice with the Suns).The last player from the Western Conference to be voted League MVP was Kobe Bryant in 2008.

League MVPs from the Western Conference
1956. – Bob Pettit (St Louis Hawks)
1990. – Magic Johnson (L.A Lakers)
1959. – Bob Pettit (St Louis Hawks)
1993. – Charles Barkley (Phoenix Suns)
1964. – Oscar Robertson (Cincinnati Royals)
1994. – Hakeem Olajuwon (Houston Rockets)
1971. – Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Milwaukee Bucks)
1995. – David Robinson (San Antonio Spurs)
1972. – Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Milwaukee Bucks)
1997. – Karl Malone (Utah Jazz)
1974. – Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Milwaukee Bucks)
1999. – Karl Malone (Utah Jazz)
1976. – Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (L.A Lakers)
2000. – Shaquille O’Neal (L.A Lakers)
1977. – Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (L.A Lakers)
2002. – Tim Duncan (San Antonio Spurs)
1978. – Bill Walton (Portland Trail Blazers)
2003. – Tim Duncan (San Antonio Spurs)
1980. – Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (L.A Lakers)
2005. – Steve Nash (Phoenix Suns)
1987. – Magic Johnson (L.A Lakers)
2006. – Steve Nash (Phoenix Suns)
1989. – Magic Johnson (L.A Lakers)
2007. – Dirk Nowitzki (Dallas Mavericks)
2008. – Kobe Bryant (L.A Lakers)

Other Hall of Famers having primarily played in the Western Conference include Bob Pettit (Milwaukee/St Louis Hawks), Elgin Baylor (Lakers), Jerry West (Lakers), Rick Barry (Golden State Warriors), Pete Maravich (Hawks and Utah Jazz), Bill Walton (Portland Trail Blazers and Clippers), Alex English (Denver Nuggets), George Gervin (San Antonio Spurs), James Worthy (Lakers), Clyde Drexler (Portland Trail Blazers and Houston Rockets), Charles Barkley (Phoenix Suns and Houston Rockets), Hakeem Olajuwon (Houston Rockets), John Stockton (Utah Jazz) and Chris Mullin (Golden State Warriors).

The All-Star game

Since 1951, the Western All-Stars have traditionally worn red uniforms although from 1997 to 2002, players were allowed to wear their usual team jerseys.

The West has only won 25 of the 61 All-star games played (1999 All-Star Game was cancelled due to lockout) but won the last two contests in 2011 and 2012.

The 2011-2012. resume

The best record of the League currently belongs to Eastern Conference team Chicago Bulls, two games ahead of Western Conference’s Oklahoma City Thunder. Among the ten teams with the best records of the NBA, seven are from the Western Conference, while only three are from the East, but these three franchises, namely the Chicago Bulls, the Miami Heat and the Orlando Magic, make up most of the top 5.