The NBA has become a sprawling juggernaut, spanning out over the globe. The core of the league is still 30 teams playing Basketball games in North America. In order to manage this massive fixture list that spans more than a continent, the 30 NBA teams have traditionally been split into Divisions.
How many NBA teams are in the Central division? There are 5 teams in the Central Division of the NBA; The Detroit Pistons, Milwaukee Bucks, Indiana Pacers, Cleveland Cavaliers and The Chicago Bulls. They compete in the Western Conference of the NBA.
The Division system has been around since the inception of the NBA in the 1940’s. The Central Division was re-formed in 1970 (having previously existed for the 1949-50 season) consisting of 4 teams; The Atlanta Hawks, Baltimore Bullets, Cincinnati Royals and the Cleveland Cavaliers. The majority of these teams moved over from the now defunct Midwest Division as the NBA expanded to 17 teams, from 14 and split into East and Western conferences.
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The Central Division is currently made up of the following 5 NBA teams;
- Cleveland Cavaliers (joined 1970)
- Detroit Pistons (joined 1978)
- Indiana Pacers (joined 1979)
- Milwaukee Bucks (joined 1980)
- Chicago Bulls (joined 1980)
Since its current inception in 1970 there have been 14 different franchises in the Central Division. Franchises that are no longer part of the Central Division are;
- Cincinnati Royals (1970–1972)
- Baltimore/Capital/Washington Bullets (1970–1978)
- Atlanta Hawks (1970 – 2004)
- Houston Rockets (1972 – 1980)
- New Orleans Jazz (1974–1979)
- San Antonio Spurs (1976-1980)
- Charlotte/New Orleans Hornets (1988–2004)
- Orlando Magic (1989 – 1990)
- Toronto Raptors (1995 – 2004)
The Cincinnati Royals played in the Central Division between 1970 and 1972. They were one of its original founders; they relocated to Kansas and joined the Midwest Division after just 2 seasons.
The Bullets Franchise is now known as the Wizards and based in Washington. They founded the Central Division in 1970 and competed under 3 names, Baltimore, Capital and finally Washington. In 1978 they were moved to the Atlantic Division.
The Atlanta Hawks were one of the 4 founding members of the Central Division in 1970. They competed in the Central Division until the 2004 expansion, when they moved to the Southeast Division.
The Houston Rockets joined the Central Division in 1972 after changing location from their original home in San Diego. They would move on again in 1980 to join the Midwest Division.
The New Orleans Jazz had a brief stint in the Central division between 1974 and 1979. Their departure from the Central Division was triggered by the Jazz relocating to their current home in Utah and joining the Midwest Division.
The San Antonio Spurs arrived in the Central Division fresh off the ABA merger. They would be moved to the Midwest Division along with their Texas rivals the Rockets in 1980.
The Hornets competed in the Central Division between 1988 and 2004, based in both Charlotte and New Orleans (2002-2004). They would be moved to the Southwest Division in 2004 following the latest NBA expansion.
The Orlando Magic would join the Central Division for 1 season only as an expansion Franchise before finding a longer term home in the Atlantic Division, after another 1 season stop off in the Midwest.
The Toronto Raptors joined the Central Division in 1995 as an expansion team. In 2004 they were moved to the Atlantic Division following another NBA expansion.
The Central Division has remained in its current form since 2004 following the most recent NBA expansion when the Bobcats Franchise was added.
Historically the most successful team in the Central Division has been the Milwaukee Bucks, who have won the Division title 10 times (at the end of the 2020-21 season). The longest serving franchise, the Cleveland Cavaliers (7) are in fourth place, behind Pistons (9) and Bulls (8). Lebron James can account for 6 of the Cavs 7 Central Division wins, while Michael Jordan can account for 6 of the Bulls 8 wins.
While it is not common practice to hang divisional banners and the goal of any competent NBA Franchise is to win the Larry O’brien trophy, there is a certain pride fans can take from knowing they are the best franchise in their Division that year. It’s always good to outdo your neighbors.