The NBA is currently loaded with as much talent as they’ve ever had. Recent champions like the Milwaukee Bucks and Golden State Warriors have fielded some truly impressive rosters. But do they stack up against the greatest NBA teams of all time? Which teams have staked their claim as the best in NBA history?

Greatest NBA teams of all time

When ranking the greatest NBA teams ever, I didn’t want to just look at their season records and whether or not they won the title. Instead, I wanted to know how hard the road they took to get there was. Who are the teams that toppled giants on their way to the mountain top? What Hall of Famers were vanquished so they could taste gold? Of course, every championship is hard to win, but some runs are undoubtedly more impressive than others.

*To avoid this list being 90% Celtics, Lakers, and Bulls, I usually pulled the best teams from each dynasty; Unless the teams were impressive for different reasons. For example, the Chicago Bulls had distinctive rosters and faced different levels of competition for each three-peat.

25) 1980-81 Celtics

This is the season Larry Bird, Cedric Maxwell, and Kevin McHale graduated. Tiny Archibald and Robert Parish finally got their hardware to prove they’re among the best at their positions in NBA history, too. This is the start of one of the best teams in NBA history.

Beyond winning the title, the icing on the cake was the Eastern Conference Finals matchup against the 76ers. The Sixers, led by Dr. J, smoked Boston the season before, beating them 4-1. In 1981 both teams entered the playoffs with a 62-20 record. The result is one of the most incredible playoff series of all time, which ended with the Celtics beating the 76ers 91-90 at home in the Boston Garden.

 
 
 
 

24) 2011-12 Heat

The 2011-12 Miami Heat weren’t the regular season juggernauts the following year’s team ended up being, but LeBron got to exorcise some demons these playoffs.

LeBron and the Heat went up against the Boston Celtics’ big three in the Eastern Conference Finals, and it was a war. Once the Celtics went up 3-2 and were heading back to Boston for game six, everybody had LeBron written off as a choker.

However, he responded with a 45-15-5 stat line, and the rest is history. The Heatles would go on to extinguish a hot Thunder team in the NBA Finals and firmly place themselves as one of the greatest NBA teams of all time.

23) 2008-09 Lakers

This team should be higher cause they were regular season titans. The Los Angeles Lakers went 65-17 during the season and finished third in offensive rating and sixth in defensive rating.

Unfortunately, their playoff resume is underwhelming. Instead of meeting LeBron or the big three Celtics in the Finals for a rematch, Kevin Garnett got injured, and the Cavaliers were upset by the Orlando Magic, who Kobe and company saw off pretty easily.

22) 2010-11 Mavericks

This may be the sweetest-tasting gold in NBA history. For over a decade, Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks were banging on the door but couldn’t get in. Prior to the 2011 playoffs, Dirk’s Mavericks had won 60 games on three separate occasions, lost a championship, and were on the receiving end of the single most embarrassing series loss in basketball history.

Following a dramatic Finals loss against the Miami Heat in 2006, the Dallas Mavericks came out firing on all cylinders for the 2006-07 season. They won 67 games and finished the season top-five in both offense and defense. It didn’t matter, the Mavs ended up losing to the eighth-seeded Warriors in six games. Many had written Dirk off for good. The German big man didn’t just get labeled as a choker; he was considered soft as well.

Fast forward to the 2010-11 season, and the Mavericks were an afterthought. They were a good but not great team (57-25, 8th in offensive and defensive efficiency). And the league had its eyes on another team. LeBron James had teamed up with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami to form everybody’s least favorite super team. Nobody expected Dirk and the Mavericks to flip the script.

The Mavericks beat the super-team Heat in six to win the championship and swept the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers. They also beat the Oklahoma City Thunder in five games. If you don’t remember that OKC team, they had James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka, and Kevin Durant. The Mavericks won the title and beat the best of the best to get there.

21) 1969-70 Knicks

Willis Reed was immortalized in game seven of the 1970 NBA Finals for scoring the first four points and amping up the crowd on a torn quad. However, it was Walt Frazier who won the game. Frazier balled out. He put up 36 points and 19 assists(!) in the clincher against a ridiculously talented Los Angeles Lakers team.

Not only did the Knicks beat a team with Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain, and Elgin Baylor to win the title, but every team they faced on their way to the championship was loaded with hall of fame talent. First, they battled a Baltimore Bullets team fronted by Earl Monroe and Wes Unseld. Next, they topped a Bucks team led by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. That Bucks team would win the title the following season.

20) 1998-99 Spurs

15-2 in the playoffs, and on their journey to the championship, they killed the hopes of the Kevin Garnett Timberwolves, Kobe and Shaq Lakers, Rasheed Wallace Trail Blazers, and a weird Knicks team being led by Latrell Sprewell and Allan Houston after an injury to Patrick Ewing.

It was a bizarre season due to the lockout (many players thought the whole season would be lost), but it’s an all-time playoff scalp list and dominant playoff run.

19) 1964-65 Celtics

Of the 11 Boston Celtics teams that won a championship between 1957 and 1969, this was the most talented. Every great player from that era was either in his prime or entering it. Bill Russell won the MVP that season, and he was flanked by fellow Hall of Famers Sam Jones, Tom Sanders, John Havlicek, Tom Heinsohn, and K.C. Jones.

The Celtics led the league in defensive efficiency and pace that season. They beat a stacked 76ers team led by Wilt Chamberlain in seven games before wiping out the Jerry West-led Lakers 4-1.

18) 1966-67 76ers

The NBA’s ultimate ‘Happy learned to putt’ moment was Wilt Chamberlain learning to trust his teammates. The ’66-’67 Philadelphia 76ers are considered one of the greatest NBA teams of all time for a good reason. They were armed with five Hall of Famers; Larry Costello, Billy Cunningham, Hal Greer, Chet Walker, and Wilt Chamberlain.

Instead of attempting to get another scoring title, Wilt stepped back and dished out the assists. He averaged nearly eight assists per game, and the Sixers rolled through the regular season and playoffs. Philly was 68-13 during the regular season and went 11-4 through the playoffs. They were also first in offensive rating and third in defensive rating. They trampled teams with Oscar Robertson, Jerry Lucas, Rick Barry, and Nate Thurmond, plus the Bill Russell dynasty Celtics on the way to their championship.

17) 1984-85 Lakers

This era is among the most talented in NBA history, so the fact that the Lakers managed to go 62-20 during the regular season and 15-4 during the playoffs is beyond impressive. In addition, as a team, they shot a ridiculous 55% from the field.

Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, James Worthy, and the Showtime Lakers were the real deal. However, this wasn’t even their most impressive team of the decade.

16) 2007-08 Celtics

One of the greatest NBA super teams, this is where the league we have today started. Every superstar perked up when Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen joined Paul Pierce in Boston and immediately won a championship.

How good was the NBA’s first conglomerate? Incredible. They went 66-16 during the regular season and capped it off by beating Kobe and Pau’s Lakers in the NBA Finals. The C’s had one of the greatest defenses of the modern era and were able to squeak out rock fights against LeBron’s Cavs and a perennially contending Pistons team.

15) 2015-16 Cavaliers

Lost in all the hoopla of what a monumental upset the Finals were, this Cavs team doesn’t get the credit they deserve as one of the top NBA teams ever. This offense is one of the greatest offenses in league history — they just weren’t the Warriors. LeBron running point while Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love, J.R. Smith, and Channing Frye firebombed the court was a thing of beauty.

The Cleveland Cavaliers’ tear through the Eastern Conference wasn’t anything special. All the drama was saved for the NBA Finals showdown against the 73-9 Golden State Warriors. After going down 3-1, LeBron and Kyrie caught fire. King James averaged 36.3-11.6-9.6 over the last three games, while Kyrie scored 30 points per game.

14) 2012-13 Heat

Until Kevin Durant joined the Warriors, this was the greatest NBA super team of all time. The Miami Heat felt like basketball fully realized during the 2012-13 season. Never more so than when they went on a 27-game winning streak and felt like they might have been the best team in NBA history.

The Heat won 66 games during the regular season before things slowed down during the playoffs. The Pacers and Spurs pushed them to seven games, and San Antonio would’ve ruined the whole thing if not for Ray Allen’s heroics.

Miami proved they not only had talent but had heart (and some luck) when they battled back after the Finals trophy was rolled out onto the floor during game six for the Spurs. If they got lucky in game six, they got good in game seven. LeBron played one of the most clutch games of his career, and the Spurs couldn’t find an answer.

13) 2013-14 Spurs

After one of the more disastrous meltdowns in NBA history, the Spurs fixed themselves by reinventing basketball. While the Heat, Lakers, and Celtics were rolling out unbalanced rosters reliant on top-end talent, San Antonio rolled out a roster with six players averaging between 10 and 20 points per game without a single player cracking 20.

They led the league in assists and net rating and were top ten in nearly every category that matters.

Kawhi Leonard, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili won 62 games during the regular season before ripping through the playoffs. They beat the Miami Heat in just five games for the championship.

12) 1982-83 76ers

The Philadelphia 76ers are the forgotten giants of the 80s. Especially this team. Moses Malone and Julius Erving were on another level. To paint the picture of how phenomenal this team was, they went 65-17 in the regular season, 12-1 in the playoffs, and SWEPT the Showtime Lakers in the NBA Finals. Malone led the series in rebounds and points — he was an unstoppable force.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, one of the greatest players in NBA history, was crushed by Moses Malone. Kareem averaged seven rebounds a game. Moses averaged 18! The Lakers didn’t have an answer for the hulking big man, and he secured the 76ers place among the greatest NBA teams ever.

11) 1971-72 Lakers

Their 33-game winning streak remains the longest in the history of the NBA. They finished the season 69-13, a record that stood until Jordan’s Bulls broke it during the 1995-96 season. And they were flush with talent — Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, and Gail Goodrich led a formidable group.

The Lakers were first in offensive and defensive rating, and the good times continued to roll in the playoffs. After dispatching the Kareem-led Bucks in six games, L.A. smoked a New York Knicks team with four future Hall of Famers (Frazier, Jerry Lucas, DeBusschere, and Earl Monroe).

10) 1989-90 Pistons

I went with this Detroit Pistons team over the previous years because I thought the playoff run was more impressive. Yes, they swept the Lakers and Celtics during the ’89 playoffs, but that was at the tail end of their dominance, especially the Celtics.

This Pistons team swept the Reggie Millers Pacers, went 4-1 against Patrick Ewing’s Knicks, beat Jordan’s Bulls in seven, and capped it all off by demolishing Clyde Drexler‘s Trail Blazers 4-1 in the Finals. Their seven-game war with the Bulls is one of the best series in NBA history. Isiah Thomas, Joe Dumars, and Dennis Rodman managed to beat the Bulls by 20 points in game seven!

9) 2014-15 Warriors

The first Warriors title team doesn’t get the shine they deserve. Golden State had the best defensive rating, second-best offensive rating, and led the league in net rating by three points. They dominated the regular season. The Golden State Warriors also changed the way basketball was played.

2014-15 will forever be the season basketball broke wide-open, primarily due to Steve Kerr‘s understanding of how to fit puzzle pieces together. When Mark Jackson looked at Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green, he saw three flawed players who didn’t fit into the mold of a traditional basketball team. When Steve Kerr inherited those same players, he saw players who could revolutionize the game.

Curry would run around off-ball like the Tasmanian Devil. He turned the sport into a war of attrition, forcing players to chase him around the court for miles each game. Then once their prey was utterly drained — the Warriors would deploy the death lineup to finish them off. As a result, Golden State won 67 games and the NBA title this season and kicked off the most impressive dynasty since the Kobe and Shaq Lakers.

8) 1996-97 Bulls

This Chicago Bulls team wasn’t as dominant as the previous years, but it still boasts the second-best net rating in NBA history, won 69 games, and was capped off with one of the more memorable Finals in NBA history.

The ’97 NBA Finals against the Utah Jazz featured Karl Malone missing two free throws as Scottie Pippen told him “the Mailman doesn’t deliver on Sundays.” to secure game one for the Bulls. Game five was Jordan’s historic flu game, and they clinched game six due to a clutch shot by Kerr and a steal by Pippen. It was all the drama you could pack into a single series. The Chicago Bulls’ third-best team of their dynasty is still one of the ten greatest NBA teams of all time — impressive.

7) 1970-71 Bucks

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s coming-out party was the Milwaukee Bucks laying waste to the league at every checkpoint. Kareem won the MVP, the Bucks won 66 games, led the league in offensive and defensive rating, and tore through the playoffs, going 12-2.

Oscar Robertson and Cap sent home Wilt Chamberlain, Wes Unseld, and Earl Monroe on their journey through the playoffs.

6) 2000-01 Lakers

One of the top NBA teams ever and an all-time rope-a-dope team. The 2000-01 Lakers went 56-26 during the regular season, finished eighth in net rating, and were only 21st in defensive rating. That doesn’t sound like one of the greatest NBA teams of all time, especially a team worthy of the top ten.

The Lakers flipped the switch for the playoffs in a way no team had done before or since. They swept the Portland Trail Blazers, Sacramento Kings, and even the great San Antonio Spurs on their way to the NBA Finals. Once they made the finals, they dropped game one to Allen Iverson‘s 76ers before returning to their pillaging ways. During their 15-1 run through the playoffs, the Lakers won by an astonishing 14 points per game. They were Thanos with the Infinity Stones.

5) 1990-91 Bulls

This might top the ’11 Mavs and the ’67 76ers titles as the sweetest championship in NBA history. Michael Jordan was the face of the league, but not only could he not win an NBA title, he hadn’t even made the Finals. Those pesky Bad Boy Pistons kept blocking his way.

So he did what all the greats do — retooled his game not only to get better himself but elevate his teammates as well. His Airness still had his otherworldly athleticism, and he perfected his fadeaway to avoid having to fight through contact for every basket. He learned to get his teammates involved as well.

Both changes paid off. The 1990-91 Chicago Bulls went 61-21 during the season, led the league in offense and net rating, and coasted through the playoffs going 15-2. They slayed the Pistons 4-0 before smashing the Lakers 4-1 and winning the title. During the NBA Finals, Jordan averaged over 11 assists per game. He officially arrived as the best player on the planet, and the Chicago Bulls would go down as one of the greatest NBA teams of all time.

4) 1986-87 Lakers

The most magical Magic Johnson season on record. The Showtime legend, formerly known as Earvin, spent 82 games blowing the roof off stadiums around the U.S. The Magic Man was tenth in points per game and first in assists. After piling up 65 wins during the regular season, the Lakers tore through the playoffs and beat an incredible Boston Celtics team in six games.

The 1986-87 season was the official passing of the baton to Magic Johnson, who cemented himself as the best player in the league—finally wrestling the Lakers away from Kareem and the league away from Bird before MJ took over.

3) 1985-86 Celtics

The 1985-86 Boston Celtics have a strong argument for the best team of the 1980s. 67-15, first in net rating and defensive rating, and third in offensive rating. Adding a slightly rejuvenated Bill Walton to a team that rostered Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish, and Dennis Johnson was unfair.

I would have argued for the greatest NBA team of all time, but their dance partner didn’t show up for the NBA Finals.

So instead of getting to square off against the Los Angeles Lakers for an epic showdown and top their incredible season with the ultimate crown jewel, they’re only the third greatest team of all time.

2) 2016-17 Warriors

“You know Golden State is one of the best teams I’ve ever played…ever assembled. And then they added Kevin Durant.” LeBron James perfectly summarized how everybody felt with that quote prior to the NBA Finals.

This is the greatest NBA super team ever. While the 2014-15 Warriors broke basketball wide-open, this version of the Warriors just broke basketball. It wasn’t fun for a season, and while everything they accomplished this year was impressive, it wasn’t exciting. Still, talent-wise, this may be the best team ever assembled.

1) 1995-96 Bulls

The Kevin Durant Warriors may have had more talent on paper, but it’s the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls that hold the record for the best net rating of all time. In addition, they were first in offensive and defensive efficiency, a feat that hadn’t been accomplished since the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers.

The Bulls went 15-3 through the playoffs and capped off their record-breaking season by beating a stacked Seattle SuperSonics team 4-2 in the NBA Finals. Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, Steve Kerr, and Toni Kukoc came together to form a team that was fun as hell.

These Chicago Bulls had everything you could want in a team and were actually fun to root for. They’re not just the best NBA team of the 90s but the greatest NBA team of all time.

Leave a Reply