In a time during the offseason when Oakland Athletics fans have the options of receiving either sad news or no news, let's temporarily shift our focus to happier times and more positive topics. With the season a painful memory, and the offseason a bittersweet farewell to old friends, we're going to have to cross into an entirely different sport to find our purely upbeat topic.
If you're an A's fan and you have even the slightest interest in basketball, then there's a good chance that you root for the Golden State Warriors. And even if you don't give two puntos about the NBA, there's still a good chance you're aware that the Dubs are on an amazing 16-game winning streak. They're firing on all cylinders, much like the A's were in the first half of 2014, and they're just rolling over everybody.
Of course, one of the most famous chapters in A's history is their 20-game winning streak from 2002. Given that the two teams play their home games about 50 feet apart and largely share fanbases, it's natural to wonder which streak is more impressive, and then to argue bitterly with your friends about who is right and who is stupid.
Writing about winning streaks can be a tricky thing. You don't want to be the guy who jinxes it. So let me make it clear that my intention is merely to look at what has already happened. While we might look to the future at the end of the post, this isn't a "Can the Warriors reach 20 wins???!!1" post. They're playing the Memphis Grizzlies in a few hours, on the road in Memphis, and the Grizz stand at 19-4 as the second-best squad in the NBA. Amazingly, the Dubs might not even be favored in this matchup, which is saying a lot for a 21-2 team on a franchise-best run. What's worse, Memphis has been one those teams who just seems to have Golden State's number in recent years, having won five of the last seven meetings, and Warriors center Andrew Bogut is out for the game with a knee problem. So if the Dubs lose tonight, it's because the Grizzlies are really good and not because we had a jinxy conversation about winning streaks.
Let's argue each team's case for most impressive streak.
The argument for the Warriors
The MLB season is 162 games. The NBA season is almost exactly half of that, at 82 games. Each contest carries twice as much importance, and 16 games in basketball are worth the same as 32 games in baseball. The A's streak lasted for one eighth of a season, and the Warriors have already won an entire fifth of their campaign without a loss.
One of the cool things about the A's streak was that they swept an entire division. To sweep a team in a series is one thing, but to consecutively sweep each team in a division one after the other is some next-level stuff. Unfortunately, that division was the AL Central. In 2002, it featured a 94-win champion in the Twins, in a year when the West and East were topped by 103-win clubs and the highest bidder for the Wild Card finished with 99 victories. It didn't have another team above .500, and it had a pair of 100-loss doormats. The Central was a joke that year, and that helped the A's tear through it like butter.
Granted, the Warriors have had a soft schedule too. Only three of their 16 opponents currently have winning records -- the Bulls, the Rockets, and the Mavericks. But it should be noted that 10 of the 16 games were on the road, and home-court advantage tends to be much bigger in the NBA than it is in MLB. (Furthermore, three of the next five games will be on the road as well, if the streak continues.)
Sure, they've gotten fortunate by missing some star opponents -- Miami without Dwyane Wade, Oklahoma City without Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, Houston without Dwight Howard, and New Orleans without Anthony Davis. But the Dubs themselves have been missing Andrew Bogut for the last few contests, and the big man is perhaps their most crucial and irreplaceable player, even more than the vaunted Splash Brothers. Injuries happen, and it's not like Golden State has lucked into a perfect bill of health while their opponents withered at the vine.
There you go. A similar number of games is more impressive in the NBA, especially when nearly two-thirds of them are coming on the road. Even bad teams are tough matchups on the road. And though their opponents were missing key players, the Dubs have had to make do without their full lineup as well.
The argument for the A's
Historical context, baby. The A's streak set an AL record going back 100+ years, showing how rare/difficult it was. You have to go back to 1935 to find an NL team who topped it (21 games, Cubs).
In the NBA, the Rockets had a 22-game streak in 2008, and the Heat did a 27-gamer just two years ago. The Dubs' 16-gamer isn't even the most impressive of the last decade in the NBA, or even the last two seasons:
27 (12-13 Heat)
22 (07-08 Rockets)
19 (08-09 Celtics)
19 (13-14 Spurs)
17 (06-07 Suns)
17 (06-07 Mavericks)
17 (12-13 Clippers)
Maybe it's just easier to get on a roll in basketball. Maybe more NBA teams tank looking for high draft picks, so the difference between the good and bad teams is more pronounced and there are more patsies to roll over. The all-time record is 33, by the 71-72 Lakers. The all-time record in MLB is 26, back in 1916, when it was such a different sport that you and I wouldn't even recognize it; case in point, that streak included a tie game, which was a thing then.
The Dubs' streak is tied for 20th all-time, going back to the 1940s*. The A's streak is tied for fourth going back to 1880s, and tied for 2nd if you don't count streaks that included ties:
26 (1916 Giants, included a tie)
21 (1880 White Stockings, included a tie)
21 (1935 Cubs)
20 (2002 A's)
20 (1884 St. Louis Maroons)
20 (1884 Providence Grays)
(... and no one else has reached 17 straight since before 1960.)
Each of the other 20+ streaks came at least 80 years ago, before NBA even existed. Heck, two of those teams don't even exist anymore, having folded before the 20th century dawned. Streaks in the high teens (17+) aren't an every-couple-years thing like they have been in 21st century basketball. Such runs appear to be more difficult in baseball, regardless of the extra length of the MLB season. Playing every single day is tough.
* Coincidentally, if the Warriors reach 20, their streak will also be tied for fourth-longest all-time in NBA history, just as the A's are fourth all-time in MLB history.
Sorry Warriors, but you've got some work to do if you want to pass the A's for most impressive Bay Area winning streak. First step would be at least matching the raw total of 20 wins and the raw rank of fourth-longest in league history. But on top of that, you need to at least post the longest streak in your own era, and that will mean exceeding the Heat's string of 27 wins. I'll give them a pass on the Lakers' record, since you could argue that the 70s were a different time, man, much like early-20th-century baseball.
I'll be rooting for the Dubs to keep rolling against the Grizzlies on Tuesday afternoon and beyond, but it's nice to know that the A's streak is safe in East Bay history ... for now.