Do NBA Teams Have Captains?

Professional sports teams are made up of a mix between veteran players and inexperienced players.  The NBA is no exception to this.  Veteran players are often relied upon by younger players, and the organization asks veteran players to help set the culture both on and off the court.

In other sports, teams select captains to act as leadership among the players.  Baseball teams usually only have one captain while football teams will have several.  If you are watching the NBA, you may be wondering if they handle things in a similar way.  Do NBA teams have captains?

Yes, some NBA teams have designated captains.  While all NBA teams are eligible to designate a captain, not all teams choose to.

The decision to have a captain is usually decided by the coaches and front office personnel.  If coaches and management think it is a good idea to elect a team captain(s), there are multiple ways coaches use to select captains.  Some coaches will select a captain themselves while others will put it to vote by the players. 

An NBA team may choose to elect several players as captain. In this article we will discuss what leadership qualities NBA teams are looking for in a captain, and why some NBA teams choose not to have a captain. 

Why Do NBA Teams Elect a Captain?

All players are eligible to be elected as a team captain, but NBA teams prefer to elect captains who have a long track record of professionalism and excellence both on the court, in the locker room, and in the community.   As we discussed above, not all NBA teams will elect a captain.  An organization may choose to elect a captain for several reasons, such as:

  • Inexperienced Roster – If a large portion of the roster is made up of inexperienced players, the organization may feel it is best to elevate one of their veteran players to captain to serve as a role model for the younger players. 
  • Rising Superstar – Becoming a great player on the court does not guarantee that a player will be a natural leader.  If an organization wants to challenge a young superstar to take the next step and learn to lead a team in all areas – including off the court – they may assign captain duties to the player to help begin that process. 
  • Coach Preference – The acting team coach might prefer to have a team captain.
  • Players Ask For It – Sometimes the players will ask coaches to assign a captain.  This may be due to the respect that a veteran player naturally garners from his other teammates. 

What Does an NBA Captain Do?

NBA captains lead by example both on and off the court.  While both are important, the more important role is almost always his leadership off the court.  A team captain does not have to be the team’s best player. 

Being an NBA player is a job.  For the first time in their lives, NBA rookies enter the league and have no other responsibility during the day except basketball.  There are no classes to attend or jobs to work.  The only focus is basketball.  This may seem like fun, but with great opportunity comes great responsibility.  Captains help set standards and monitor results.  Let’s discuss the roles of a captain on and off the court. 


The role of a captain on the court will differ depending on the individual.  Team captains are not necessarily the best player on the team.  Regardless, on the court they will be asked to lead by example with effort and results.  It’s hard to ask players to follow a leader who doesn’t produce positive results on the court.  Again, this does not mean they have to lead the team in scoring and minutes, but they need to be effective players.  Why would young players want to follow the lead of someone who doesn’t know how to succeed?

During games the role of being a captain will include meeting with referees and the opponent team captains before the game.  This is a very simple meeting, usually done at half court 10-15 minutes before tip where referees may discuss a few points of emphasis and ask for any player feedback.  These discussions are usually very uneventful and rarely consequential.  Nevertheless, it will be the role of the captain(s) to represent the team. 


NBA players must learn how to be professionals.  Poor work ethic will not cut it in the NBA.  Competition is too great and the margin for error is too slim.  There is a thin line between winning and losing, and organizations will not tolerate players with sloppy work ethic and poor professionalism.  A team captain must know what it takes both in practice and training.   An organization will expect the captain to set the standard by example. 

A captain is a voice for leadership in a locker room.  Some players take guidance and leadership better from fellow teammates.  The captain knows how to be a professional in front of the media and in the community.    They model to younger players how to interact professionally with coaches.    

A captain also helps police a locker room.  Coaches and management do not know everything that ever happens in their locker room and to the players on the team.  The captain may be aware of issues that coaches are not.  Because of this, captains can act as a first line of defense for organizations, policing the locker room and making sure other players are rising to the standards expected. 

Captains often serve as a bridge between players and coaches.  The captain may choose to make it policy in the locker room that players must come to him first with problems, and then he takes the issue to management.  How a captain chooses to run a locker room will be different depending on the individual and organization. 

What Qualities Make A Good NBA Team Captain?

  • Communication – Leaders represent.  It is hard to represent the feelings of others if you cannot communicate.  A captain must have the skills to communicate both with players and coaches.  Although leading by example is important, there are often situations where direct communication is needed. 
  • Professionalism – Showing up on time.  Displaying superior work ethic.  Treating others with respect.  Dealing positively with criticism.  These things matter and will be a requisite of any successful team leader. 
  • Community Outreach – Fans are the most important part of the NBA.  Without them, there would be no league.  An NBA franchise can act as a heartbeat of a community, pumping excitement and driving economic success.  Giving back and having a positive relationship with the community is an important part of being a professional.  Captains will need to set the standard and teach young players how this is done. 
  • Basketball Skill – Although not required, great players on the court often make the best captains.  It is very easy to demand excellence from others, and to lead as an example, when you yourself show results on the floor.  Young players want to succeed in the NBA.  They respect great players and naturally look to them for guidance.  This makes being a captain much easier for superstars. 

Why Would an NBA Team Not Elect A Captain?

Some teams may choose not to elect a captain simply because they don’t think they have a natural fit on the team.  This does not mean that coaches don’t like their roster, but perhaps they think the best players are too young and the veteran players don’t have enough pull to lead.  Not every veteran player is a natural leader. 

In circumstances like this, even more pressure will be put on a coaching staff to lead.  They will need to have a very open line of communication with the players.  An assistant coach may be a bridge of sorts between the players and the head coach, soaking up part of the responsibility of a team captain.

A team like this may be hoping that one of their younger stars elevates himself and accepts the challenge of leading. 

Paul Johnson

Paul has been with us from our beginnings. He focuses on a wide range of sports, including NFL, NBA, MLB and golf.

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