As we make our way down our SLAM’s TOP 75 NBA Teams of All Time list, the teams in this group separate themselves from the pack with one word: championships. We know we mentioned earlier that you don’t have to win a ‘chip to be included on this list, but when it comes to ranking the best teams of all time, you can’t ignore the heavy hitters who captured the hardware in the end.
From dominant big threes and electrifying duos to all-around greatness, here’s our top 43-33:
43. 1958-59 Boston Celtics
Coach: Red Auerbach
Roster: Gene Conley, Bob Cousy, Tom Heinsohn, KC Jones, Sam Jones, Jim Loscutoff, Frank Ramsey, Bill Russell, Bill Sharman, Bennie Swain, Lou Tsioropoulos
The greatest rivalry in NBA history began, for all practical purposes, in the spring of ’59, and it foreshadowed the decade to come. Led by veteran guard Bill Sharman’s 20.4 ppg, five Celtics averaged better than 15 ppg en route to the League’s best record. They needed seven games to dispatch Syracuse in the conference finals, setting up a first-ever Finals meeting with the Minneapolis Lakers. Three Cs averaged 20-plus, Bill Russell pulled down 22.1 boards per and Boston swept their way to the title.
42. 2002-03 San Antonio Spurs
Coach: Gregg Popovich
Roster: Mengke Bateer, Bruce Bowen, Devin Brown, Speedy Claxton, Tim Duncan, Danny Ferry, Manu Ginobili, Anthony Goldwire, Stephen Jackson, Steve Kerr, Tony Parker, David Robinson, Malik Rose, Steve Smith, Kevin Willis
The Kings, Mavs, Spurs and Timberwolves all finished ahead of the three-time-defending-champion Lakers in ’02-03, but one of them would still have to beat L.A. when it mattered. Led by Tim Duncan, fresh off a second straight League MVP award, and second-year point guard Tony Parker, San Antonio got its chance in the second round and dispatched Shaq and Kobe in six games. They handled Dallas and New Jersey in similarly businesslike fashion en route to the chip.
41. 2018-19 Golden State Warriors
Coach: Steve Kerr
Roster: Jordan Bell, Andrew Bogut, Quinn Cook, DeMarcus Cousins, Stephen Curry, Marcus Derrickson, Kevin Durant, Jacob Evans, Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala, Jonas Jerebko, Damian Jones, Damion Lee, Shaun Livingston, Kevon Looney, Alfonzo McKinnie, Klay Thompson
The three-peat was never a given, but it was right there,
within reach. As injury-impacted NBA championships go, this one is right up there. With Steph, KD and Klay, the Dubs were the scariest offensive team in the League; but a mix of minor and major injuries to the Splash Bros, Durant and much of the supporting cast in May and June were too much for the Dubs to overcome. Toronto got them in six games in the Finals. You just know they’d love a do-over.
40. 1993-94 Houston Rockets
Coach: Rudy Tomjanovich
Roster: Scott Brooks, Matt Bullard, Sam Cassell, Earl Cureton, Mario Elie, Carl Herrera, Robert Horry, Chris Jent, Vernon Maxwell, Hakeem Olajuwon, Richard Petruska, Eric Riley, Larry Robinson, Kenny Smith, Otis Thorpe
Go ahead and attribute Houston’s first title to Michael Jordan’s baseball flirtation. Others have done it, and it’s just wrong. The Rockets excelled at both ends of the court, had all-time great Hakeem Olajuwon and his Dream Shake in the middle and boasted a versatile lineup of fierce gamers like guards Kenny Smith and Vernon Maxwell and rugged Otis Thorpe. Houston outlasted the Knicks in a classic Finals series and deserves a title with no asterisk.
39. 1983-84 Boston Celtics
Coach: KC Jones
Roster: Danny Ainge, Larry Bird, Quinn Buckner, ML Carr, Carlos Clark, Gerald Henderson, Dennis Johnson, Greg Kite, Cedric Maxwell, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish, Scott Wedman
After two years of watching hated rivals Philadelphia and the Lakers hoist the trophy, Boston reclaimed its rightful spot atop the NBA. Or at least that’s how Celtics fans figured it. Call the roll: Larry Bird, Robert Parish and Kevin McHale were up front. Dennis Johnson, Cedric Maxwell and Gerald Henderson handled the backcourt. The Celtics had way more regular-season victories than anyone else and won a thrilling seven-gamer over L.A. to take the title.
38. 2011-12 Miami Heat
Coach: Erik Spoelstra
Roster: Joel Anthony, Shane Battier, Chris Bosh, Mario Chalmers, Norris Cole, Eddy Curry, Mickell Gladness, Terrel Harris, Udonis Haslem, Juwan Howard, LeBron James, James Jones, Mike Miller, Dexter Pittman, Ronny Turiaf, Dwyane Wade
Although LeBron James had taken his talents to Miami a year earlier, the Heat hadn’t won a title. In the lockout-shortened ’11-12 campaign, James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh & Co. changed that. The Big Three were a force all season, and a strong supporting cast helped fuel a focused postseason run. The seven-game Eastern Finals series with Boston was a grind, but the Heat dominated OKC in the Finals to take the title.
37. 1972-73 New York Knicks
Coach: Red Holzman
Roster: Dick Barnett, Henry Bibby, Bill Bradley, Dave DeBusschere, Walt Frazier, John Gianelli, Phil Jackson, Jerry Lucas, Dean Meminger, Earl Monroe, Luther Rackley, Willis Reed, Tom Riker, Harthorne Wingo
If it’s possible, the Knicks five-game wipeout of L.A. in the Finals was actually an anticlimax after their thrilling Eastern Finals upset of the Celtics. The Knicks were the consummate collection of team players. Backcourt men Walt Frazier and Earl Monroe were practically unguardable. Dave DeBusschere was a force inside, while Bill Bradley patrolled the wings. Jerry Lucas was the League’s best passing big man, and Willis Reed could still hang with the best centers around.
36. 1999-2000 Los Angeles Lakers
Coach: Phil Jackson
Roster: Kobe Bryant, John Celestand, Derek Fisher, Rick Fox, Devean George, AC Green, Ron Harper, Robert Horry, Sam Jacobson, Travis Knight, Tyronn Lue, Shaquille O’Neal, Glen Rice,
John Salley, Brian Shaw
This was the first of three straight for the Big Brother-Little Brother Lakers. Shaq and Kobe were together for three seasons before ’99-00, and although their relationship wasn’t always the warmest, their talent was overwhelming. There was just no stopping the Diesel. O’Neal overpowered defenders and swept the boards clean, while Bryant provided offense from all over. Glen Rice was a potent outside weapon, and a cast of veteran winners completed the Laker machine.
35. 1979-80 Los Angeles Lakers
Roster: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Ron Boone, Marty Byrnes, Kenny Carr, Jim Chones, Michael Cooper, Don Ford, Spencer Haywood, Brad Holland, Magic Johnson, Mark Landsberger, Butch Lee, Ollie Mack, Norm Nixon, Jamaal Wilkes
Showtime made its NBA debut in Magic Johnson’s rookie season, when the 6-9 point guard brought fun back to the Lakers and kick-started perhaps the League’s most entertaining decade. Johnson revitalized center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and served as the trigger for a raucous L.A. attack that was bolstered by Norm Nixon, Jamaal Wilkes and Jim Chones. The Lakers ruled the West and finished off Philadelphia in six, with Johnson scoring 42 in the Finals-clinching victory.
34. 2014-15 Golden State Warriors
Coach: Steve Kerr
Roster: Leandro Barbosa, Harrison Barnes, Andrew Bogut, Stephen Curry, Festus Ezeli, Draymond Green, Justin Holiday, Andre Iguodala, Ognjen Kuzmic, David Lee, Shaun Livingston, James Michael McAdoo, Brandon Rush, Marreese Speights, Klay Thompson
The Warriors’ first title in 40 years—and the first of three in four seasons—was accomplished primarily by the never-ending shooting of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, whose solution to tough defenses was simply to move back another step or two. Draymond Green handled the tough work and never backed down from a soul, while Harrison Barnes and Marreese Speights did what was necessary. The Warriors dumped the Cavs in six to take the crown.
33. 1976-77 Portland Trail Blazers
Coach: Jack Ramsay
Roster: Corky Calhoun, Johnny Davis, Herm Gilliam, Bob Gross, Lionel Hollins, Robin Jones, Maurice Lucas, Clyde Mayes, Lloyd Neal, Larry Steele, Dave Twardzik, Wally Walker, Bill Walton
The Blazers weren’t overpowering during the regular season, but by the playoffs, they had become the perfect team, working as a highly efficient unit under coach Jack Ramsay. It all started with Bill Walton, a pivot savant who could pass, score and rebound. Maurice Lucas provided the muscle, with Lionel Hollins, Dave Twardzik, Bob Gross and Larry Steele willingly playing supporting roles. Portland overcame Julius Erving’s high-flying Sixers in the Finals with textbook unselfish basketball.
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