With every new NBA champion, followers of the league like to compare that team to the great ones of the past. As basketball has evolved throughout the years, fans have been treated to some truly dominant teams, some of which epitomized teamwork, others that succeeded with unrivaled talent. Those rare few that went truly untested in pursuit of a title, though, separated themselves and deserve to be in a class of their own.
Teams like the 73-win 2015-2016 Warriors set records and cruised through the regular season but came up short of winning it all. Dynasties like the 1990s Chicago Bulls or 1960s Boston Celtics sported several all-time great rosters, with a particular iteration reaching the highest peak. For this ranking, only teams that won it all made the cut. And to make the list more diverse, only a dynasty’s peak version will be included and not the previous or subsequent championship squads that may also be worthy of consideration.
With all that established, here are the top-10 NBA teams to ever touch the court.
10. 1964-1965 Boston Celtics
(62-18 regular-season record, 8-4 playoff record, +8.4 regular-season point differential, +7.8 playoffs point differential)
Bill Russell led the Celtics to a record 11 championships in his 13 seasons with the franchise. Boston fans enjoyed several all-time great teams in that span, with the 1964-1965 version of the Celtics being the season that showcased the dynasty’s greatness the most. 62 wins are the most by any of Russell’s teams during his run, and although the team did get pushed to the brink against Wilt Chamberlain’s 76ers in the Eastern Conference Finals, Boston proved it’s all-time great status with a one-point victory in game seven with the famous “[John] Havlicek stole the ball!” call on the game’s final play.
This Celtics team earned the best defensive rating in the NBA that season (84.2), according to basketball-reference, with Russell steering the ship on that end. Bob Cousy was two years removed from his legendary career at this point, but the roster still included six Hall of Fame players in Russell, Havlicek, Sam Jones, Tom Heinson, Tom Sanders and K.C. Jones. Hall of Fame coach John Thompson was also a bench contributor and exemplified the extremely high basketball I.Q. of this entire team.
9. 1982-1983 Philadelphia 76ers
(65-17 regular-season record, 12-1 playoff record, +7.7 regular-season point differential, +6.2 playoffs point differential)
Before Moses Malone was traded to the 76ers in 1982, Philadelphia lost three Finals in the previous six seasons. As great as Julius Erving was, he couldn’t get over the hump with Magic Johnson’s Lakers and Larry Bird’s Celtics in the mix. With Malone, however, the 76ers instantly became a basketball powerhouse and cruised to the organization’s first championship in 17 years.
Unfortunately for Philadelphia fans, their team hasn’t hoisted the Larry O’Brien trophy since this team won it all. Luckily, fans of the team got to watch the physically dominant duo of Erving and Malone tear through the league. When asked how many games it would take to win the title, Malone famously said “Fo, fo, fo,” referencing how many games each of the three playoff series would go. He came up short of his promise since the team lost game four of the Eastern Conference Finals after perhaps getting too comfortable with a 3-0 lead, but he and the team proved their worth anyway.
This 76ers squad was the league’s best rebounding team and got it done on both ends. Malone, Erving and Andrew Toney did the bulk of the scoring, Maurice Cheeks initiated the offense and picked the pockets of opposing guards and Bobby Jones was one of basketball’s most elite defenders in his day and wreaked havoc from everywhere on the court. All the aforementioned players are Hall of Famers and have their numbers retired by the organization besides Toney, although he garnered the all-time great nickname of “The Boston Strangler.”
8. 1970-1971 Milwaukee Bucks
(66-16 regular-season record, 12-2 playoff record, +12.2 regular-season point differential, +14.5 playoffs point differential)
In Oscar Robertson’s first season with the organization and just Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s second year in the NBA, the Bucks tore through the newly expanded league — which went from 14 teams to 17 that year — en route to the organization’s lone championship. Milwaukee held the league’s best offensive (103.9) and defensive ratings (93.1) that year and Abdul-Jabbar took home the MVP trophy with averages of 31.7 points and 16 rebounds on 57.7% shooting.
This Bucks team held winning streaks of 20 games and 16 games at separate points in the season as the play of Robertson, Bob Dandridge and John McGlocklin complimented the great center well. Abdul-Jabbar outplayed Chamberlain and Wes Unseld in their playoff matchups and asserted himself as the new best player in the league, which he would be for the next decade. Based on the numbers this Bucks team may look like it should rank higher on this list, but league expansion slightly diluting the league and Jerry West being injured for the Western Conference Finals were factors that couldn’t be ignored.
7. 00-01 Los Angeles Lakers
(56-26 regular-season record, 15-1 playoff record, +3.4 regular-season point differential, +12.8 playoffs point differential)
Of Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant’s three championship teams together, the 2000-2001 iteration totaled the fewest regular-season wins with 56. The previous season’s team won 67 games but were nearly eliminated by an inferior Portland Trailblazers bunch in game seven of the Western Conference Finals before a fourth-quarter comeback, which was punctuated by the famous “Kobe to Shaq!” alley-oop. Why the 2001 team is the best of the three is because of what it accomplished in the playoffs.
The team’s defense in the regular season was putrid compared to the season before, point guard Derek Fisher missed 62 games and O’Neal and Bryant missed a combined 22 games. When it all clicked in the postseason, though, Phil Jackson’s squad was unstoppable. They would have been the first and only team to go undefeated in the playoffs if not for Allen Iverson going berserk in game one of the Finals in his famous step-over Tyronn Lue game. Still, Los Angeles ran through the 76ers and three formidable Western Conference foes to tally one of the most stellar postseason runs in NBA history. When they were engaged, O’Neal and Bryant were the best basketball duo ever and proved it in 2001.
6. 1966-1967 Philadelphia Sixers
(68-13 regular-season record, 11-4 playoff record, +9.4 regular-season point differential, +9.3 playoffs point differential)
Wilt Chamberlain was famously a scoring machine during the first several seasons of his career. He achieved unbelievable individual feats but never coupled it with team success. In 1966-1967 he decided to focus more on the team’s play and his passing, which resulted in the first time he didn’t lead the league in scoring and also his first NBA championship. He notoriously came up short against Russell’s Celtics time and time again, only to change his approach to the game and trust in his teammates who finally came through for him.
This 76ers team’s 68 wins were the most ever in a single season up to that point. Chamberlain, Hal Greer, Chet Walker and Billy Cunningham all averaged over 18 points per game, and Chamberlain’s 7.8 assists per game also allowed Wli Jones and Luke Jackson to score in double figures. The team’s 125.2 points per game led the league and they ended Boston’s eight championships in a row by dismantling the bunch in five games. After years of failure, this season was an instance of everything coming together for a team to achieve true greatness.
5. 71-72 Los Angeles Lakers
(69-13 regular-season record, 12-3 playoff record, +12.3 regular-season point differential, +2.9 playoffs point differential)
Similarly to the previous team on this list, the 1971-1972 Lakers finally put it all together and formed one of the most dominant teams ever. Like Chamberlain, West had been bested repeatedly by the Celtics, and by the 1970s, the New York Knicks. This season, the Lakers lost Elgin Baylor to retirement nine games into the year and then immediately went on an NBA-record 33-game winning streak, which still stands to this day.
With West and Gail Goodrich both averaging over 25 points per game as guards, Chamberlain and Happy Hariston controlling the paint and Jim McMillian doing a little bit of everything, no other team could matchup up with them. Los Angeles carried their regular-season momentum into the playoffs and easily won it all. The team’s three losses in the postseason were all blowouts and why their point differential is low, but that shouldn’t take away from how much better this bunch was than their competition.
4. 1985-1986 Boston Celtics
(67-15 regular-season record, 15-3 playoff record, +9.4 regular-season point differential, +10.3 playoffs point differential)
The 1980s Boston Celtics led by Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish and Dennis Johnson helped popularize the NBA with the team’s rivalry with the Los Angeles Lakers. Bird is the last player to win three consecutive MVPs, which he did from 1984-1986, and the 1986 season is when he and the team simply couldn’t be stopped. It was the last of the team’s three championships, and although they didn’t face Johnson’s Lakers in the Finals again because they were upset by an up-and-coming Rockets squad led by Hakeem Olajuwon and Ralph Sampson, no team in the league was stopping this version of the Boston dynasty.
This Celtics bunch had the league’s best defensive rating (102.6), was No. 1 in rebounding and second in assists per game. All five starters averaged double figures in scoring, with Bird and McHale each earning over 20 points per game on efficient shooting. This team exemplified the ultimate team-play and got contributions from the entire roster, including the reinvented Sixth-Man of the Year Bill Walton. They endured 63 points in a playoff game from Michael Jordan and still won the game. Boston played as one and displayed some of the best passing and defense to date. Go watch the tape. They played the game how it’s meant to be played.
3. 1986-1987 Los Angeles Lakers
(65-17 regular-season record, 15-3 playoff record, +9.3 regular-season point differential, +11.4 playoffs point differential)
The foil to Boston in the 1980s, Johnson and Abdul-Jabbar’s Lakers won five titles in the decade. The 1987 championship team was the peak because of the ascension of Johnson and James Worthy who started taking more of the offensive burden as Abdul-Jabbar was aging. With all three players now playing harmoniously together alongside the support of Byron Scott, Michael Cooper and A.C. Green, no team in the league was getting in their way. Los Angeles was upset the previous season by the Rockets and missed yet another chance to face Boston in the Finals, and they were determined to one-up the great 1986 Celtics and did so by beating them handily in the Finals.
Seven players scored in double figures per game this season and the team earned the league’s highest team assists average and offensive rating (115.6). Their “Showtime” fastbreak style excited fans and ran opponents off the court, allowing Johnson to dethrone Bird as the league’s MVP. This version of the Lakers destroyed teams from all angles on offense with a flair for the dramatic, with Johnson’s famous “baby skyhook” in game four of the Finals putting the winning stamp on a tremendous championship campaign.
2. 2016-2017 Golden State Warriors
(67-15 regular-season record, 16-1 playoff record, +11.6 regular-season point differential, +13.5 playoffs point differential)
Kevin Durant infamously joined a Warriors team that won a record 73 games the season before and he and the team instantly became the most despised bunch in the NBA. Regardless of how you feel about what they represented and how they affected the league, the main reason they were so hated was that they were so good it was unfair to every other team. Golden State had the league’s three most prolific shooters, two MVP-caliber players and a top-2 defensive player in Draymond Green who was adept at finding those shooters open looks. Durant missed 20 games and they still won 67 games. It was as infuriating to watch as it was some of the best NBA basketball ever played.
The only real stain on this team’s resume is game one of the Western Conference Finals. The team was getting blown-out by 21 in the third quarter at home by the San Antonio Spurs before Zaza Pachulia slid his foot underneath Kawhi Leonard while contesting his jumper and injured the Spurs star. No one knows what would have happened if Leonard didn’t get hurt in that series, but his absence allowed the Warriors to rally to win that game and sweep the series against a lesser team. The Warriors’ only loss in that playoffs was in game four of the Finals when the defending champion Cavaliers avoided getting swept by hitting a Finals record 24 triples and put up 137 points.
Curry, Durant and Klay Thompson all averaged over 22 points per game and Green and Andre Iguodala provided great support. For as talented of a team as they were, the Warriors became one of the greatest teams of all time because of their unselfishness. They led the league with over 30 assists per game, and coach Steve Kerr’s motion offense often won games by the end of the third quarter and allowed his stars to rest. There probably won’t be another team in NBA history with four All-Stars so unselfish and dominant. At least fans hope so.
1.1995-1996 Chicago Bulls
(72-10 regular-season record, 15-3 playoff record, +12.3 regular-season point differential, +10.6 playoffs point differential)
This version of Jordan and Scottie Pippen’s 1990s Bulls famously set the record for wins in a season with 72, which remained the NBA record for 20 years before the Warriors won 73 games in 2015-2016. While this Chicago team was deep, defensive-minded and sported the best tandem in league history, the case against them being the greatest team ever is that they benefited from league expansion. The NBA grew to 29 teams in 1995 and the league’s bottom teams had no chance against a seasoned squad like the Bulls, so some of those 72 wins weren’t as legitimate as they would have been had new franchises had an opportunity to establish themselves.
Still, this Bulls team was spectacular and would have dominated in any era. With Jordan, Pippen, Dennis Rodman and Ron Harper in the starting lineup, perhaps no team in NBA history has had such a ferocious four defenders. They were switchable, athletic and determined to re-establish themselves as basketball’s best team, which they did easily. The supporting cast of Toni Kukoc, Steve Kerr and Luc Longley were also solid and savvy role players who could stretch the floor. After taking 18 months off before returning at the end of the previous season, Jordan reminded everyone that he was still the game’s best player and won the MVP and led the league in scoring. His signature post fadeaway was unstoppable as he bullied smaller guards and drew big men into fouls. To use a cliché, he was truly playing chess while everyone else played checkers.
The Bulls had the league’s best offensive (115.2) and defensive ratings (101.8) and tore through the playoffs. They did slip in the Finals and dropped two games after being up 3-0, but for nearly the entire season, Chicago made teams feel helpless.