Approaching a topic that dates back to the inception of the NBA, back in 1949, requires careful deliberation. Both the composition of players and the success of the teams will be determining factors. Also, no franchise will be repeated for the sake of equal opportunity to other franchises. Sorry, 1971–72 and 1999–2000 Los Angeles Lakers.
While this list is about an individual season, the duration of dominance by the teams will be taken into consideration as well. This is based on the merit that sustaining a product over five years garners more acclaim than a product lasting one year. So, between Jordan’s 72–10 Chicago Bulls and Bill Russell’s dominant decade, let’s dig into the list of the NBA’s best teams of all-time.
5.) Boston Celtics, 1964–65
This Celtics squad was one of the NBA’s first true dynasties. While legendary Center Bill Russell’s 11 rings with the franchise is impressive, it did not come without the aid of his teammates. Boston ended the 1964–65 regular-season as a one-seed with a record of 62–18. It was the season that Celtics’ roster was filled with the most Hall of Fame talent among all their triumphant years.
Coached by Red Auerbach, Coach of the Year, the Shamrocks had Bill Russell, John Havlicek, John Thompson, Tom Sanders, Sam Jones, Tom Heinsohn, and K.C. Jones. Their NBA Finals opponents, the Los Angeles Lakers, were no slouches either as they had three present-day Hall of Famers and four All-Stars, including Jerry West and Elgin Baylor. However, Boston’s depth was insurmountable as they dismantled the Lakers in five games, 4–1.
4.) Los Angeles Lakers, 1986–87
This Los Angeles Lakers team was known as Showtime due to their flashy, fast-paced style of play. They were instrumental in prompting viewers to watch the NBA on TV throughout the 1980s. The dynamic duo of, MVPs, Magic Johnson, and Kareem Abdul-Jabaar played 12 seasons together, appearing in nine NBA Finals. Led by coach Pat Riley, the Showtime Lakers won five championships against some of the greater teams from that decade such as Julius Erving and Moses Malone’s Philadelphia 76ers and the Bad Boys Detroit Pistons.
In the 1986–87 regular-season they finished first in points per 100 possession while going on four-win streaks, each upwards of eight games along the way. A 65–17 win-loss record had them sitting pretty once the playoffs rolled around as they steamrolled their way to the Finals. They defeated Larry Bird’s Celtics for the Larry O’Brien trophy, only losing three post-season games in total. Other notable players from this Lakers squad included A.C. Green, Byron Scott, Michael Cooper, Mychal Thompson, and James Worthy. Also, the team averaged 51.6% on field goals for the year which is higher than any other team’s FG percentage since that season.
3.) San Antonio Spurs, 2013–14
The Spurs seemed to be an unmovable force in the NBA for over a decade behind the reigns of Gregg Popovich and his Big Three. The players of the historic Big Three were NBA legends Tony Parker, Manu Ginoboli, and Tim Duncan. The systematic brand of basketball the Spurs adopted during this era earned them four championships, with the first (2003) and the last (2014) coming 11 years apart. The durability of the players can be credited, in part, to load management. While Popovich denies intentionally load managing, this team was the catalyst behind the phenomenon of resting players to maintain their fatigue.
In this 2013–14 season, the Spurs won an NBA best of 62–20 regular-season games, and it marked their first consecutive trip to the Finals in franchise history. In the Finals, they faced the daunting Big Three of Miami consisting of Lebron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh. In these NBA Finals, they not only beat the Heat, but they broke up the defending champions (4–1), as James left Miami in the offseason. All credit cannot go to the Spurs’ Big Three, however, as a third-year Kawhi Leonard bloomed, winning the Finals MVP. The most crucial aspect of how the Spurs functioned, though, was their belief of strength in numbers. They led the league in assists for the season using a nine-man rotation with no one player averaging over 30 minutes a game.
2.) Golden State Warriors, 2016–17
The absolute dominance that the Warriors exhibited for half a decade was historic. The 2016–17 season, however, was the pinnacle of their domination. Coached by Steve Kerr they finished with a 67–15 record, breaking the NBA offensive rating record and being second in defensive rating that season. This team arguably had the best lineup of five players ever, with MVPs Steph Curry and Kevin Durant, alongside All-Stars Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and Andre Iguodala. These five players on the court at the same time outscored teams by a staggering 25.2 points per 100 possessions on average through the regular season and playoffs. This unit was so effective they led the team to the fourth-highest regular-season point differential ever at +11.6, in addition to the second-highest playoff point differential of +13.5.
The Dubs were so commanding they secured the best playoff win percentage ever, going 16–1, losing their only game to LeBron James’ Cavaliers in the Finals. Also, over the span of three seasons, they had the best-combined record in NBA history, going 254–54 (.825). One last aspect that shouldn’t be overlooked was their revolutionary impact on the three-point shot. These Warriors were the living embodiment of the NBA’s trend toward taking more threes. This was exhibited as they became the first team ever to have four different players make four three-point shots in a single game.
1.) Chicago Bulls, 1995–96
The greatest team of all time. The 1990s Chicago Bulls won six NBA championships in six Finals appearances, in consecutive seasons (when Michael Jordan was active for the whole year). The team’s peak performance occurred in 1995–96. Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, and Dennis Rodman were First Team All-Defensive that year, leading the team to the league’s top defensive rating. The player accolades go on from there as Air Jordan won his eighth scoring title and fourth MVP trophy. Alongside MJ on the First Team All-NBA was his running mate Scottie Pippen. Role players were the recipients of awards too as Rodman won his fifth rebounding title, and Toni Kukoc secured Sixth Man of the Year.
The Zen Master, Phil Jackson won Coach of the Year as his triangle offense was executed to perfection, resulting in the top offensive rating. By the ways of their offensive acumen, the Bulls accumulated the third-highest win difference ever at +12.2. As for their win-loss ratio, they put up the best combined regular-season and post-season record ever, totaling 87–13 (.870). The compilation of statistics and achievements make the determination simple. The 1995–96 Chicago Bulls are the greatest team in NBA history.