The Rundown: The 10 Best Teams in NBA History

Above: This year's NBA MVP Golden State's Stephen Curry
Above: This year's NBA MVP Golden State's Stephen Curry

The 2014-15 NBA Finals tip off later tonight in Oakland with the Golden State Warriors meeting the Cleveland Cavaliers in a dream match-up that pits this year’s MVP, Golden State’s Stephen Curry, against the best player in the league for the last decade and the NBA version of “The Prodigal Son,” LeBron James, in a pairing that has a storybook ending no matter which team emerges victorious.

While James capping his homecoming season with an NBA title would be amazing – and position him to never have to win anything ever again and still be considered among the best to ever play the game – a victory for Golden State might be an even bigger deal.

The Warriors were outstanding during the regular season, running away with the Western Conference and posting a 67-15 record. That lands them in a five-way tie for the sixth best record in NBA history with the 1986 Boston Celtics, the 1992 Chicago Bulls, the 2000 Los Angeles Lakers and the 2007 Dallas Mavericks. Of the nine teams that have posted the same or better record in the history of the NBA, seven of them have gone on to win the NBA Championship that season, with only the Mavericks and the 1973 Boston Celtics coming up short.

As much as this is about winning the Larry O’Brien Trophy and standing as the best team this season, Golden State has a chance to put itself in the pantheon of all-time greats with a championship victory this year as well, something that continues to make their head coach Steve Kerr’s decision to take the Warriors job over the same position with the New York Knicks even more wise and lopsided.

Dude could have been 17-65, but instead he flipped that and is playing for a title in his first year as an NBA head coach. That’s good living.

With “The Dubs” in the mix to join the elite in NBA history, it’s only fitting that we give you a look at the teams they’re looking to join.

This is The Rundown.

Bill Russell’s Boston Celtics (1956/57 – 1968/69)

Rather than just picking out teams from individual years, there are going to be a lot of cases where a team that stayed together and won consistently for an extended period of time makes this list and you can’t start any list like that anywhere beside Bill Russell’s Celtics. The man whom the NBA Finals MVP trophy is named after won 11 titles in 13 seasons in Boston, coming up short in ’57/’58 and ’66/’67. There were plenty of other amazing players on these teams – Bob Cousey, Tommy Heinsohn, Sam Jones, John Havlicek – but Russell was the one constant on the floor throughout this dynasty.

Milwaukee Bucks (1970-71)

In just the franchise’s third year in the NBA, Lew Alcindor and Oscar Robertson teamed up to bring the Milwaukee Bucks their one and only NBA title. The day after the Bucks won the title, Alcindor adopted the Muslim name he’s still known by to this day, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. This squad won 20 straight during the regular season (a record at the time) and posted the third-best record in NBA history at the time by going 66-16. Alcindor averaged a ridiculous 31.7 and 16 double-double, while “The Big O” contributed 19.4, 5.7 and 8.2 in earning his one and only ring.

Los Angeles Lakers (1971-72)

This team held the distinction of having the best regular season record of all-time (69-13) until Michael Jordan and the 1996-97 Chicago Bulls bested their mark by three games. Just one look at the roster tells you everything you need to know about this team, a group that beat the New York Knicks 4-1 in the NBA Finals. Jerry West and Gail Goodrich were the best backcourt in the league, Wilt Chamberlain pulled down 19 rebounds a game and chipped in 15 points a night, and unsung guys like Jim MacMillan and Happy Hairston combined for 32 a game.

New York Knicks (1972-73)

Maybe it’s because I’m a sucker for Michael Rappaport’s outstanding When The Garden Was Eden 30 for 30 doc or because I want to give some love to one of the most passionate basketball fan bases around, but the last Knicks team to win the NBA title was pretty damn good. They didn’t have a historically great regular season – the Celtics did, going 68-14 under coach Tommy Heinsohn – but they got balanced play through the playoffs with five guys averaging 12.5 per game or more and a very strong eight-man rotation to return to the Finals and get revenge on the Lakers.

Philadelphia 76ers (1982-83)

This is a team that often gets overlooked or forgotten in “All-Time Greatest” conversations, but the “Fo-Fo-Fo” Sixers, who actually went fo-five-fo to win the title, were as good a collection as there has been in the history of The Association. Moses Malone averaged 25 and 15 with Dr. J contributing 21 a night as his partner in crime, while Andrew Toney, who had a brilliant five-year run at shooting guard, added just under 20 per to give the Sixers a nice Big Three for point guard Maurice Cheeks to spread the ball around to. In the playoffs, that foursome averaged 79.5 points per game as they won 12 out of 13 games to claim the title.

The Showtime Lakers (1979/80 – 1990/91)

Five titles and nine total Finals appearances in 12 years and they were so much fun to watch. The Showtime Lakers, quarterbacked by Earvin “Magic” Johnson and featuring James Worthy and Byron Scott running a fast-break offense, plus Kareem Abdul-Jabbar dropping “skyhooks” and A.C. Green, Michael Cooper and Kurt Rambis (and his glasses) doing the dirty work, were the most entertaining team in the league throughout their run. “Magic” did stuff that was unbelievable and Worthy was the perfect wingman for him, plus Pat Riley was the ideal coach for this flashy, high octane offensive squad.

Larry Bird’s Boston Celtics (1979/80 – 1987/88)

While Bird played until the 1991/92 season, the core of the Celtics’ run under “Larry Legend” was a nine-year stretch where they won three titles, made two more finals and advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals another three times. Only once in nine years did they miss out on being in the NBA’s Final Four. Anyone that grew up watching hoops during the ’80s can still tell you the starting lineup of this iconic group: Robert Parish at center, Kevin McHale at power forward, “The Hick from French Lick” at the three, Danny Ainge at the two and Dennis Johnson running the point. They were so good and Bird was the one that made it all work.

The Bad Boy Era Detroit Pistons (1986/87 – 1990/91)

This is the squad where my “five-year window” theory for championship success comes from because they came together, played exceptionally well, winning two titles, losing to the Showtime Lakers in another Finals appearance and made the Eastern Conference Finals on both sides of those three-straight Finals appearances and then faded out. Coached by Chuck Daly, the heart of this team was Isiah Thomas, but they were a group that really played well together. They were eight or nine deep and everyone contributed where they could and they played with an edge. Growing up in Southern Ontario at the time, it was a joy to watch this team come together and reach the pinnacle.

Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls (1988/89 – 1997/98)

Six titles in eight years, with two Eastern Conference Finals appearances tacked on at the start of the run and the only reason they didn’t win eight straight was because “MJ” took a two-year sabbatical, allowing Hakeem Olajuwan and the Houston Rockets to win back-to-back titles. Chicago went 934-228 during this 10-year run, including an NBA-record 72-10 mark in the 1995-96 season. The tandem of Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen is one of the best of all-time and there may not be a team that ever enjoys a similar run of success to what the Bulls managed over this 10-year stretch again.

The Duncan/Popovich San Antonio Spurs (1997/98 – Present)

Some people might want to call this one a stretch, but five titles in 18 years within the current NBA climate is outstanding and what’s even more impressive is that the Duncan/Popovich Spurs have never won less than 50 games in a full NBA season. The club’s best record in that run came in 2005-06 when they went 63-19, but it was probably the 2013-14 incarnation of the group that was the best of the bunch, as the core of Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli handed the reins over to young star Kawhi Leonard and got revenge on LeBron James and the Miami Heat to claim their fifth championship.

E. Spencer Kyte

E. Spencer Kyte is a freelance journalist based in Abbotsford, British Columbia, where he lives with his wife and dog. In addition to his work here, he writes about sports for Complex Canada and covers the UFC for various outlets. His mom also still tells him what to do on a regular basis, even though he’s nearly 40. He tweets from @spencerkyte.

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