What makes a great championship team? And what makes one better than the other? These are the questions we tackled when putting together our list of the 75 best NBA teams of all time list, which is featured in our SLAM Presents top 75 NBA Teams of All Time special issue.
At this point in the list, we’re getting into dynasty territory. Clutch moments and high-pressure situations were the norm for these squads, many of whom won multiple championships over a three to five year period. Different.
From iconic three-peats to historic dubs, here’s our picks for No. 32-22:
32. 2004-05 San Antonio Spurs
Coach: Gregg Popovich
Roster: Brent Barry, Bruce Bowen, Devin Brown, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Dion Glover, Robert Horry, Linton Johnson, Sean Marks, Tony Massenburg, Nazr Mohammed, Rasho Nesterovic, Tony Parker, Glenn Robinson, Malik Rose, Beno Udrih, Mike Wilks
The Spurs and Pistons came into the season having split the previous two NBA championships, and both upset higher-seeded opponents (the Suns and Heat, respectively) in the Conference Finals that spring. That set up a title bout that made up for a relative lack of star power with heavyweight intensity and dominant D. Five of seven Finals games ended with the losing team not breaking 80 points. The series ended with Tim Duncan securing his third ring.
31. 1963-64 Boston Celtics
Coach: Red Auerbach
Roster: John Havlicek, Tom Heinsohn, KC Jones, Sam Jones, Jim Loscutoff, Clyde Lovellette, Johnny McCarthy, Willie Naulls, Frank Ramsey, Bill Russell, Tom Sanders, Larry Siegfried
Yawn, another title run, but at least Boston got a new Finals opponent to break up the monotony. The San Francisco Warriors tried to play immovable object to the Celtics’ unstoppable force, and in Wilt Chamberlain, the Dubs at least had the firepower. But Boston had the balance, experience and pedigree: John Havlicek and Sam Jones led the offense, and Bill Russell did his usual work, dominating defensively and on the glass to lead Boston to its seventh championship in eight tries.
30. 1969-70 New York Knicks
Coach: Red Holzman
Roster: Dick Barnett, Nate Bowman, Bill Bradley, Dave DeBusschere, Walt Frazier, Bill Hosket, Don May, Willis Reed, Mike Riordan, Cazzie Russell, Dave Stallworth, John Warren
When a new decade brought an end to the Celtics’ dominance, the Knicks asserted themselves as the class of the League. Behind MVP Willis Reed’s 21.7 ppg and 13.9 rpg and Walt Frazier’s stylish 20.9 points and 8.2 dimes per, New York rolled to the League’s best record and a Finals meeting with the Lakers. What followed was a seven-game classic against West, Wilt and Baylor, best remembered for Reed’s Game 7 effort on a bum leg that inspired his teammates to victory.
29. 1981-82 Los Angeles Lakers
Coach: Paul Westhead, Pat Riley
Roster: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jim Brewer, Michael Cooper, Clay Johnson, Magic Johnson,Eddie Jordan, Mitch Kupchak, Mark Landsberger, Bob McAdoo, Mike McGee, Kevin McKenna, Norm Nixon, Kurt Rambis, Jamaal Wilkes
Pat Riley was second choice. When Paul Westhead was fired (at Magic Johnson’s urging) 11 games into the ’81-82 season, Lakers owner Jerry Buss named Jerry West head coach. Only West didn’t want it, so Riley—the former player turned broadcaster turned inexperienced assistant—got the gig. Duly motivated, Magic, Kareem and Jamaal Wilkes led L.A. back to the Finals, where they bounced the Sixers in six. Showtime was in effect, and one of the greatest coaching careers was born.
28. 2001-02 Los Angeles Lakers
Coach: Phil Jackson
Roster: Kobe Bryant, Joe Crispin, Derek Fisher, Rick Fox, Devean George, Robert Horry, Lindsey Hunter, Mark Madsen, Jelani McCoy, Stanislav Medvedenko, Shaquille O’Neal, Mike Penberthy, Mitch Richmond, Brian Shaw, Samaki Walker
The third title of the Shaq-Kobe axis didn’t come easily. That Western Finals series with Sacramento was brutal, and there were those who thought the Lakers shouldn’t have won it. But they did, and then L.A. dusted Jersey in the Finals, behind another overpowering performance from O’Neal. The dynamic duo was again tremendous, while Derek Fisher provided stability at the point, and supporting players like Rick Fox and Robert Horry stepped up when needed.
27. 2006-07 San Antonio Spurs
Coach: Gregg Popovich
Roster: Brent Barry, Matt Bonner, Bruce Bowen, Jackie Butler, Tim Duncan, Francisco Elson, Melvin Ely, Michael Finley, Manu Ginobili, Robert Horry, Fabricio Oberto, Tony Parker, Beno Udrih, Jacque Vaughn, James White, Eric Williams
These Spurs scored when they needed to, and they moved the ball like no one else. But the real strength of the team was on defense, where San Antonio could stifle rivals, just like it did Cleveland in the Finals sweep. Tim Duncan was a no-frills frontcourt star, with point guard Tony Parker’s creativity and Manu Ginobili’s flair and passion the keys to the team’s success. Role players like Bruce Bowen and Michael Finley helped complete a pure team.
26. 1980-81 Boston Celtics
Coach: Bill Fitch
Roster: Tiny Archibald, Larry Bird, ML Carr, Terry Duerod, Eric Fernsten, Chris Ford, Gerald Henderson, Wayne Kreklow, Cedric Maxwell, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish, Rick Robey
After Magic Johnson got his title in 1980, it was Larry Bird’s turn. He and the Celtics waged a year-long battle with the Sixers that culminated with a seven-game Eastern Finals series that featured three big Boston comebacks. Kevin McHale and Robert Parish were interior forces, while Tiny Archibald, Chris Ford and Cedric Maxwell patrolled the perimeter. The Rockets were tough in the Finals, but they weren’t tough enough to stop the Celtics machine.
25. 1989-90 Detroit Pistons
Coach: Chuck Daly
Roster: Mark Aguirre, William Bedford, Joe Dumars, James Edwards, Dave Greenwood, Scott Hastings, Gerald Henderson, Vinnie Johnson, Stan Kimbrough, Bill Laimbeer, Ralph Lewis, Dennis Rodman, John Salley, Isiah Thomas
The Bad Boys went back-to-back with the same formula that won their first title: ferocious defense, timely offense and a Mean Streets attitude. Isiah Thomas smiled a lot, but he was a killer. Joe Dumars quietly piled up the points. Bill Laimbeer made no friends inside. Dennis Rodman rebounded and defended like a dervish. Mark Aguirre scored in many ways. James Edwards was a force in the post. And nobody wanted to mess with John Salley.
24. 2008-09 Los Angeles Lakers
Coach: Phil Jackson
Roster: Trevor Ariza, Shannon Brown, Kobe Bryant, Andrew Bynum, Jordan Farmar, Derek Fisher, Pau Gasol, DJ Mbenga, Chris Mihm, Adam Morrison, Lamar Odom, Josh Powell, Vladimir Radmanovic, Sasha Vujacic, Luke Walton, Sun Yue
The first of back-to-back titles was Kobe Bryant’s initial one as undisputed leader of the Lakers and redemption for the Mamba. A year after losing in the Finals to ancestral rival Boston, the Lakers piled up 65 wins—third most in franchise history—with Bryant leading the way but receiving plenty of help from Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum inside. The anticipated Finals matchup with Cleveland and LeBron James didn’t happen, so L.A. whipped Orlando instead.
23. 2007-08 Boston Celtics
Coach: Doc Rivers
Roster: Ray Allen, Tony Allen, PJ Brown, Sam Cassell, Glen Davis, Kevin Garnett, Eddie House, Kendrick Perkins, Paul Pierce, Scot Pollard, James Posey, Leon Powe, Gabe Pruitt, Rajon Rondo, Brian Scalabrine
Depending on how you define it, the Super Team era started in Boston in the summer of ’07, when future Hall of Famers Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen joined Paul Pierce to give the Celtics their best team in (at least) 20 years. Behind Pierce’s scoring, Allen’s shooting and KG’s two-way play, the Cs posted an NBA-high 66 wins and bounced LeBron and the Cavs en route to the Finals, where they renewed their rivalry with the Lakers. Not long after, they hung banner No. 17.
22. 1992-93 Chicago Bulls
Coach: Phil Jackson
Roster: BJ Armstrong, Ricky Blanton, Bill Cartwright, Joe Courtney, Jo Jo English, Horace Grant, Michael Jordan, Stacey King, Rodney McCray, Ed Nealy, John Paxson, Will Perdue, Scottie Pippen, Trent Tucker, Darrell Walker, Corey Williams, Scott Williams
The Lakers and Pistons had taken some of the magic out of title repeats by the time the Bulls
won their second straight, but no team since the Celtics’ ’60s dynasty had won three in a row. The Bulls felt like making history. The formula by now was familiar: Jordan averaged League-
highs in points (32.6) and steals (2.8), Scottie Pippen was a terror at both ends and Chicago made the big plays when it mattered, edging Barkley and the Suns in the Finals to seal the threepeat.