Let’s lay out some criteria. We are going to go back to a time before 2010. We will look at the first 65 years or so of NBA teams to take out of the melting pot of the current NBA battles in Orlando. Second, we will promise to be, hand on heart, unbiased in our assessment of the great teams – whether it is the Celtics from ‘65 or the Bulls from ‘97, we will give them their fair credit. But, we also think the 87 Lakers team deserves something of a victory lap too.
The question we ask is how these championship teams would compare to one another. A tough debate to have – we expect to prompt some controversy – just what we enjoy!
Before we get to our completely subjective list of the greats, we want to give honorable mentions to the Phili 76ers from the 1966-’67 season who were led by the great Wilt Chamberlain. Then, there is the O’Neal and Bryant duo in the 2001-’02 season who led the Lakers to 58 wins. Finally, the Celtics from 2007-’08 who won 65 games and had that rare prize of three star players in Pierce, Allen and Garnett. The Celtics almost got into the top 10 for beating Kobe Bryant’s Lakers in the finals to take the championship, but we felt a little bitter!
#10 1972 – 72 New York Knicks
Imagine walking on court with Walt Frazier, Willis Reed, Dave DeBusschere, Earl Monroe and a host of other all-star nominees. In this awesome season, they won 57 games but that was not what set them apart. They beat the 68-win Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals and stole the NBA championship from the great Lakers. In a team when everyone could rock, you had the absolute team.
#09 1991 – 92 Chicago Bulls
Obviously, this is likely to be one of a few entries for the Bulls from the 1990s – when the franchise was undoubtedly at its peak. However, in the 1991-’92 season, they cruised through, dominating with 67 wins – thanks in no small part to Michael Jordan and Scottie Phippen. However, the strength was in the coaching, in our opinion, as every player on the roster knew his role – Grant took the rebounds, Armstrong, Hodges and Paxson specialised in three-points and king and Perdue were a presence at the low-post. This is what you get when you hire a veteran leader in Bill Cartwright.
#08 1982 – 83 Philadelphia 76ers
Erving was 32 when the season began and was at the end of an illustrious career. Therefore, it feels even more historic that the team finally climbed the impossible mountain to take the championship. While Erving didn’t do it alone, the season championship will be seen as his as he took over 21 points per game. This team deserves a place on the list for no other reason than they they beat Magic Johnson and Abdul-Jabbar’s Lakers in the championship final – plus we love a scrappy underdog come good.
#07 1970 – 71 Milwaukee Bucks
With a 66 win season, any team would deserve a place on this list of greats. Again, we have a star coming to the end of his career in Oscar Robertson and he had yet to win the NBA Championship. This year saw Robertson as the veteran among a young Bucks squad – but this included Kareem Abdul-Jabbar – the rookie who soon established himself as the team’s star man. While Robertson seemed to walk himself through the season, his ball distribution was genius.
#06 1996 – 97 Chicago Bulls
We almost thought we would miss the 1990s out, such was the dominance of the Bulls in this decade. Michael Jordan and Scottie Phippen continued to dominate, in no small measure to the great vision of the coach Phil Jackson. Also, check out the NBA Final against the Utah Jazz and you will watch one of the greatest games in history.
#05 1988 – 89 Detroit Pistons
Woah! Hold off on that loud yell at the computer screen. Sure this team was hated – but they won 63 games in this season. They may have played fast and loose with the rules about physical contact but there is no doubting the dominance. While some people saw this physical play as against the ethos of basketball, others drew the conclusion that this was a case study in defensive intensity. No one was going to drive freely to the basket when Rodman, Salley and Laimbeer were in the way! Why are they on the list? Well, they beat the Bulls and the Lakers on the way to the championship – stepping over Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson. Challenge us now!
#04 1971 – 72 Lakers
Let’s just list the players on the roster and leave it there: Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, Wilt Chamberlain, Gail Goodrich and Happy Hairston. They hold the record for 33 victories in a row.
#03 1985 – 86 Boston Celtics
In the season before this one, the Celtics had beaten the LA Lakers to the championship. Therefore, they entered this season highly motivated and confident. In this iconic Celtics season, they won 67 games in the regular season and dominated the postseason against the Bulls, Hawks and Bucks. They beat the Houston Rockets in the finals to bring the championship back to Boston.
#02 1995 – 96 Chicago Bulls
Some would place these number 1 but only because they had dominated the decade rather than that they demonstrated the features of the greatest of all time. The Bulls were relentless this season, as they wanted to return the title to Chicago. However, the fact that it relied on Johnson being part of the roster (he had played baseball in the previous season) for us places them one step down from the top.
#01 1986 – 87 LA Lakers
After an awful season in 85-86, the Lakers turned it around in this stellar year with 65 wins in the regular season before going on to take the championship. It was a picture-perfect example of resilience after failing to reach the finals the year before even though they won 62 games and the Celtics were lording the championship. Magic Johnson and Kareen Adbul-Jabbar were just astonishing this season – and there was amazing talent throughout the roster, with Scott, Gree, Cooper, Thompson and Rambis.
Have you enjoyed reading this article? Then make sure to check out our piece on the ten most influential Lakers’ players to date.