Rare Accomplishment: Six Playoffs in First Seven Seasons

With the Atlanta Dream, now in its seventh season, set to make a sixth consecutive playoff appearance, we felt that was an accomplishment certainly worth celebrating. The Dream currently owns the WNBA’s second-longest playoff streak, behind only Indiana’s 10 straight years in the playoffs. But to do it in a team’s first seven seasons seems unheard of.

But is it? We already knew from research last season that the Dream became the first expansion team in WNBA history to make the playoffs in five of its first six years. Now that the streak has reached six times in seven years, we decided to go even further, and see if any expansion team in any of the so-called "Big Four" American sports leagues over the past 40+ years can match that achievement.

First, we checked Major League Baseball, and went all the way back to 1960 to find that the following teams have joined the league since then: Texas and the Los Angeles Angels (1961), Houston and the New York Mets (1962), Kansas City, Milwaukee, San Diego and Washington (1969), Toronto and Seattle (1977), Colorado and Miami (1993) and Arizona and Tampa (1998).

Did any of them make the cut? Not even close. In fact, only one team – the Arizona Diamondbacks with three – made more than one postseason appearance in their first seven seasons.

But to be fair, a comparatively small percentage of baseball teams make the playoffs each year. So what about a league where more than half of the teams make the playoffs? Next we checked the NBA, where the following eight teams joined the league as expansion franchises since the ABA/NBA merger in 1976: Dallas (1980), Charlotte and Miami (1988), Orlando and Minnesota (1989), Memphis and Toronto (1995) and Charlotte again (2004).

This time the total number of playoff appearances by the group jumped considerably, but again, no single team had more than four postseason appearances in its first seven seasons.

Likewise, the NHL sees more than half of its teams reach the postseason each year, so we checked the following nine teams, all of which joined the league since that same year in 1976: San Jose (1991), Ottawa and Tampa Bay (1992), Anaheim and Florida (1993), Nashville (1998), Winnipeg (1999) and Minnesota and Columbus (2000).

Still no success, and in fact, this time we failed to find a team that made more than three postseason appearances in its first seven seasons.

So our search for a team that could match the Dream took us to the NFL, where just four expansion teams have officially joined the league since the NFL/AFL merger in 1970: Tampa Bay and Seattle (1976), Carolina (1995) and Houston (2002), and you could make the case for the second installment of the Cleveland Browns in 1999 after a three-year hiatus.

Again, no team even came close to matching the Dream’s accomplishment. Tampa Bay’s three appearances made them the only team with more than one.

We considered going back even further, but if you’re not convinced by now that what the Dream has accomplished is an absolute rare gem of an achievement, you probably never will be. If there’s an example of another expansion franchise that pulled it off, by all means, let us know. But until then, let’s celebrate the Dream as the most consistently successful expansion franchise during its first seven seasons of the modern sports era.