The term ‘worst NBA champion’ seems like an oxymoron in the sense that any team that manages to lift that elusive Larry O’Brien trophy cannot by definition be a bad team. Ask any NBA player, and they’ll tell you that it doesn’t matter how you get the “W” as long as you get it.
While that may be true, not all NBA champions are created equal. Even though the NBA finals have brought us some tantalizing rivalries and captivating moments that glorified teams and built dynasties, there were many times when newly crowned NBA champions were underwhelming or even just plain boring.
Worst NBA champions
Breaking down the worst teams to win an NBA title could get ugly fast, so a disclaimer is warranted. These teams are still champions, but it just so happens that their rise to NBA glory wasn’t too glamourous.
It could be that they dominated their opponents, played a beat-up injured team, or just had no business winning. Whatever the reason, they made their way to this list.
So let’s get into it, the top 10 worst NBA champions.
10. Mavericks (2010-2011)
This Dallas Mavericks team is definitely one of the worst teams to win an NBA title simply because there were much more capable teams that should have won that year.
Yet the Mavs swept the Lakers in the first round, lost only one game to Kevin Durant and the Thunder in the Conference Finals, and beat LeBron’s super team in six in the Finals. It’s a remarkable run, but it shouldn’t have happened considering the talent they were facing.
9. Pistons (2003-2004)
Just like the Mavs in 2011, the Pistons had no business winning the title in 2004. The Lakers had just signed Gary Payton and Karl Malone, and the Pacers finished the season with 61 wins looking like the favorites to come out of the East.
The Pistons were a scrappy defensive-minded team who managed to stun the Pacers in six games in the Conference Finals and then destroy the Lakers in five to win the title.
8. Pistons (1989-1990)
Make no mistake, the “Bad boy” Pistons were a very good team and well-deserving of the title. This would be their second of a back-to-back Larry O’Brien trophies, and the third time they knock Michael Jordan out of the playoffs.
They were extremely physical on defense, and well-balanced on offense, but the bad boy attitude was starting to decline, and they barely managed to scrape past the Bulls in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Their title run ended up being anti-climactic, facing a lackluster Blazers team in the Finals where they cruised to a 4-1 victory. The bad boy Pistons gave us some amazing basketball, however, this title run was not one of them.
7. Lakers (2001-2002)
It seems sacrilegious to include a Lakers team headlined by Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal on the worst NBA champions list, but that’s precisely why they’re here.
The Lakers had already won back-to-back titles and finished the regular season winning 58 games. The only challenge they faced in the playoffs was from the Kings, who took them to seven games, but that was pretty much it.
They faced a Nets team in the Finals that never really had a chance against them, especially with Shaq dominating the interior. They ended up cruising to the title and sweeping the Nets in an anti-climactic fashion.
6. Spurs (2006-2007)
For the span of 15 years between 1999 and 2014, the San Antonio Spurs seemed to be an aging team that never really aged. Even though they managed to win five titles in that period, and somehow always remain relevant, it wasn’t always as competitive as it seemed.
In 2007, Tony Parker was playing great basketball, Manu Ginobili was shooting the lights out, and Tim Duncan was just too big and too fundamental. They managed to make it to the finals without any real competition. In fact, their Western Conference Finals opponent, the Utah Jazz, had 51 wins that season, and their Finals opponent, the Cavaliers had only 50 wins.
The Cavs were in too deep against a seasoned Spurs team that swept them despite the amazing efforts of a young LeBron James.
5. Lakers 2009-2010
As constructed, this Lakers roster was not one of the all-time greats, to say the least. With Pau Gasol as their second option, and Andrew Bynum their third, it’s almost surprising they even lifted the Larry O’Brien trophy to begin with.
The Lakers’ path to the Finals was also not very competitive. They ousted the young Thunder, the up-starting Suns, and then met a banged up and aging Celtics team in the Finals. They closed the series in seven games, but only because the Celtics lost Kendrick Perkins due to injury in Game 7.
4. Heat (2005-2006)
Shaq was always a force to be reckoned with, and pairing him with Dwyane Wade paid dividends right from the get-go. The only problem is that this Miami Heat team was a one-hit-wonder that faded the next season and made us all wonder whether they’re one of the worst teams to win an NBA title.
When you put up an amazing Finals performance and win Finals MVP, as D-Wade did, you have to back it up the next season. The Heat finished their season only six games above 500. They were also swept in the first round by the Chicago Bulls.
Even though they won a chip, their follow-up season makes them one of the worst NBA champions.
3. Rockets (1993-1994)
The reason the Rockets find themselves on the worst teams to win an NBA title list is because of Michael Jordan. Actually, it’s because of the absence of Michael Jordan.
Let’s face it, if MJ hadn’t decided to go play minor league baseball and retire at his utmost peak, the Bulls would have probably won their fourth consecutive title.
Even without Jordan, the Bulls almost beat the Knicks. They would have also beat the Rockets if Jordan wasn’t pursuing a game he had no business playing in.
With that being said, The Rockets’ championship that year will forever be tainted by the ghost of Michael Jordan.
2. Spurs (1998-1999)
This is the famous lockout season when the first three months were lost. As a result, the season was shortened to 50 games.
Considering these technicalities, it was hard for any team to separate from the rest of the herd with just 50 games on the schedule. The Spurs ended the season with the best record in the west 37-13 but did not face any true competition on their way to the title.
They didn’t face the hot Jazz team in the Conference Finals, and they played an eighth-seeded Knicks team in the Finals that was without Patrick Ewing. Needless to say, they swept them.
With everything considered, this Spurs team has to be one of the least deserving NBA champions.
1. Lakers (2019-2020)
This Lakers roster has to be the worst NBA champion considering how the season unfolded.
With Covid putting the season on hold, and then the bubble being the solution, many teams struggled to find rhythm playing in a gym without any crowd and living secluded from the outside world.
The Lakers faced the Heat in the Finals, and LeBron proved to be too much for Jimmy Butler. But the bubble will forever have an asterisk on the Lakers’ 17th banner.