Making the NBA Finals is the goal and winning the championship is the dream. After the regular season, 16 teams make the playoffs. Each team has the goal of making it all the way. To win a title, you have to make the NBA Finals. For some teams like the Lakers, Celtics, and Warriors, it’s a regular occurrence. For other teams, they are waiting to dance in the Finals for the first time.
Six NBA teams have never made it to the NBA Finals. There are only three teams that have made at least 10 appearances. Three teams have technically lost in the Finals. Altogether, these are the most NBA Finals appearances by teams.
New Orleans Pelicans - 0
Since joining the league in 2002, the Pelicans have gone 20 years without qualifying for the playoffs. The team has reached the conference semifinals two times. One came in 2008 and the other came in 2018. Both Chris Paul and Anthony Davis were leaders of those clubs, but both eventually grew tired of coming up short and bolted for Los Angeles, the Clippers, and Lakers respectively.
Memphis Grizzlies - 0
The Grizzlies came into the league in 1995 as an expansion franchise and are still waiting on that first trip to the Finals. The team made the Conference Finals in 2013 but lost to the Spurs. The team featured all-time leading scorer Mike Conley Jr. and Defensive Player of the Year Marc Gasol. The best defense in the league was picked apart by Tim Duncan and Tony Parker though. Now, with Ja Morant in uniform, there is hope for the future.
Minnesota Timberwolves - 0
There was real hope in 2004. Kevin Garnett won the MVP and led the team to the best record in the West. However, the monster tandem of Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal denied that opportunity for the team. Since coming into the league in 1989, it’s the only time the team has come close to making the NBA Finals. Since 2004, the team has made the playoffs just once.
Charlotte Hornets - 0
The Hornets have reached the semi-finals four times, but have not made the second round in almost 20 years. The Hornets made the semifinals in 1993, 1998, 2001, and 2002, but lost each time. Even with Kemba Walker, the all-time leading scorer, the team never made it past the first round. Michael Jordan might be the best player ever, but he has come up short in organizing a championship team.
Denver Nuggets - 0
The Nuggets joined the league in 1976 as part of the ABA merger. The Nugget played for an ABA championship in 1976 but came up short against the Nets. The Nuggets are a literal definition of the phrase “close but no cigar.” The team has made the Conference Finals four times in 1979, 1985, 2009, and 2020. From Alex English, Carmelo Anthony, to Nikola Jokic, the team is still waiting on finally getting over the hump.
Los Angeles Clippers - 0
We all were thinking the same thing when the Clippers made their first Conference Finals in franchise history last year in the playoffs. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George were playing like men on a mission. Then, it was discovered that Leonard tore his ACL and missed the series. The Suns made the championship despite a stellar effort from George. With Leonard likely out the rest of this season, Clipper nation will look towards 2023 as their shot.
Indiana Pacers - 1 (0 Championships)
NBA Finals: 2000
The Pacers own an 0-1 record in the NBA Finals. Their only appearance was in 2000. You had Pacers legends Reggie Miller leading the team on the floor and coach Larry Bird leading the way. After years of playing second fiddle to Michael Jordan, the Pacers finally came through but were taken down by the Lakers and Finals MVP Shaquille O’Neal. In 2013 and 2014, Paul George and David West nearly led the Pacers to the Finals but were taken down by LeBron James and the Heat.
Toronto Raptors - 1 (1 Championship)
NBA Finals: 2019
The one time the Raptors made the NBA Finals was a golden opportunity. The Raptors went all-in on Kawhi Leonard and it paid off. The Raptors defeated the Warriors, who were hampered by injuries to Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson, to win their first-ever championship. The Raptors are the only team-based team outside the United States to win an NBA title.
Sacramento Kings - 1 (1 Championship)
NBA Finals: 1951
The Kings are 1-0 in the Finals but pick your poison. Yes, the team won a championship in their only NBA Finals appearance, but the team has yet to make it back since winning in 1951. It has been 70 years since the franchise has made an appearance and that was when the team was based as the Rochester Royals. The Sacramento franchise has not made the playoffs since 2006.
Utah Jazz - 2 (0 Championships)
NBA Finals: 1997, 1998
The Jazz made back-to-back appearances in 1997 and 1998, led by coach Jerry Sloan and the dynamic duo of Karl Malone and John Stockton. However, the Jazz came up short in six games both times against Finals MVP Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. The Jazz has since made the Conference Finals once in 2007. The team was the No. 1 seed in the West last year but came up short in the semifinals.
Orlando Magic - 2 (0 Championships)
NBA Finals: 1995, 2009
The Magic have relied on powerful centers to lead them to the promised land. In 1995, the Magic rode the coattails of Shaquille O’Neal but were upended by the Houston Rockets and Finals MVP Hakeem Olajuwon. Then in 2009, Dwight Howard led the Magic to upsets over league MVP LeBron James in the Conference Finals to make the NBA Finals. There, the team was defeated by Finals MVP Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers. Between both series, the Magic won just one game.
Brooklyn Nets - 2 (0 Championships)
NBA Finals: 2002, 2003
Technically, Brooklyn has never made the NBA Finals. The New Jersey Nets made the NBA Finals in 2002 and 2003. Both times, the Nets came up short. The first time was against the Lakers, where Shaq won his third straight Finals MVP to lead the Lakers three-peat. The other time came in 2003 against the Spurs, where Tim Duncan won a Finals MVP of his own. Today, the Nets have a shot to make it back with a legitimate big three on their roster.
Dallas Mavericks - 2 (1 Championship)
NBA Finals: 2006, 2011
Dirk Nowitzki will get to eat free in Dallas for the rest of his life. The 2011 Finals MVP led the Mavericks to their only appearances in the Finals in 2006 and 2011. Both times, the Mavericks played against the Heat. In 2006, the team lost to Dwyane Wade and Shaquille O’Neal after blowing a 2-0 series lead. In 2011, the Mavericks upset the Heat, led by LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh to win their first championship in team history.
Phoenix Suns - 3 (0 Championships)
NBA Finals: 1976, 1993, 2021
The old saying “third time's the charm” didn’t work for the Suns. The team made their third Finals appearance in 2021 but were defeated by the Bucks. Their 0-3 record stems from losing in the Finals in 1976, 1993, and 2021. The Suns remain one of the few franchises that have never won an NBA championship.
Portland Trail Blazers - 3 (1 Championship)
NBA Finals: 1977, 1990, 1992
The Trail Blazers won their only title in 1977, where they were led by Bill Walton. The team made the NBA Finals again in 1990 and 1992. Despite efforts from star Clyde Drexler, the team lost to the Pistons and Bulls respectively. Since then, the Trail Blazers have made the Conference Finals three times, winning a combined three games before falling to the Spurs, Lakers, and Warriors respectively.
Milwaukee Bucks - 3 (2 Championships)
NBA Finals: 1971, 1974, 2021
It took 50 years for the Bucks to win another title. In 1971, a young star in the making by the name of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar teamed up with Oscar Robertson to help hang a banner. Fifty years later, Giannis Antetkounmpo and Khris Middleton led the Bucks to the 2021 championship. The combination of Abdul-Jabbar and Robertson led Milwaukee to the Finals in 1974 as well.
Washington Wizards - 4 (1 Championship)
NBA Finals: 1971, 1975, 1978, 1979
During the 70s, the franchise was stellar. All of their appearances in the NBA Finals came under the Bullets name and featured Wes Unseld. The first time, the team lost to the Baltimore Bullets in 1971. Then, the team lost again in 1975. By that time, the team had lost eight straight games in the Finals before winning their first championship in 1978. The Bullets tried to run it back in 1979 but were defeated by the Seattle SuperSonics.
Oklahoma City Thunder - 4 (1 Championship)
NBA Finals: 1978, 1979, 1996, 2012
The Seattle SuperSonics made three appearances with the team when Seattle had the franchise. The team owns an overall record of 1-3 after Gary Payton came up short of leading the team in 1996, while the combination of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden fell short in 2012. The Thunder remains the only franchise since 1977 to win a title in one city and relocate to another. In 2008, the Thunder moved from Seattle to Oklahoma City.
Atlanta Hawks - 4 (1 Championship)
NBA Finals: 1957, 1958, 1960, 1961
The city of Atlanta has never hosted an NBA Finals. That is why when the Hawks made the Conference Finals last year, there was serious hype in Georgia. The Bucks ultimately won in six games to deny the opportunity. All four Finals appearances came when the team was based in St. Led by Bob Pettit, the Hawks made the NBA Finals four of five years, last making the Finals in 1961, and winning the title in 1958.
Houston Rockets - 4 (2 Championships)
NBA Finals: 1981, 1986, 1994, 1995
The 1994 and 1995 seasons ended with the best prize of all. With Michael Jordan out of the way, for the most part, Hakeem Olajuwon took over as the face of the NBA. Olajuwon led the Rockets to back-to-back titles. The 1995 team won the title as the No. 6 seed, which remains the lowest seed to win a championship. The team also made the NBA Finals in 1981 and 1986 but was defeated by the Celtics both times.
Cleveland Cavaliers - 5 (1 Championship)
NBA Finals: 2007, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018
Many like to point out the 1-4 record from LeBron James with the Cavaliers in the Finals. Let’s be honest. The Cavaliers don’t come close to making the Finals without him on the team. James led the team to the 2007 Finals before falling to an experienced Spurs team. From 2015 to 2018, the team made the Finals four consecutive years against the Warriors. In 2016, the team knocked off the 73-win Warriors to win their first-ever championship.
San Antonio Spurs - 6 (5 Championships)
NBA Finals: 1999, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2013, 2014
Tim Duncan and Gregg Popovich are household names in San Antonio. Then again, so are Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, David Robinson, and eventually Kawhi Leonard when that relationship gets mended. The Spurs won titles in 1999, 2003, 2005, and 2007. The team lost their first appearances in 2013 thanks to late heroics from Ray Allen and LeBron James. However, the Spurs got their revenge in 2014. The Spurs are the only franchise so far that has moved from the ABA to the NBA and won a championship. The others that moved with the Spurs were the Nets, Nuggets, and Pacers.
Miami Heat - 6 (3 Championships)
NBA Finals: 2006, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2020
The Heat has made the NBA Finals six times and Udonis Haslem has been on the roster for each of the appearances. In 2006, 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014, Haslem was either a starter or key contributor on those teams. The Heat won the title in 2006, 2011, and 2012. Then, the Heat made it back in 2020, but Haslem was more of a player’s coach at this point. The Heat remains one of five franchises ever to make four consecutive appearances in the Finals.
Chicago Bulls - 6 (6 Championships)
NBA Finals: 1991, 1992, 1993, 1996, 1997, 1998
All six championships that were won by Chicago were with head coach Phil Jackson, Michael Jordan, and Scottie Pippen. Jordan won six Finals MVPs, which included a three-peat from 1991 to 1993 and a second three-peat from 1996 to 1998. The Bulls are the only team in the NBA that has made the Finals more than once and owns no series losses. Based on winning percentage, the Bulls would override the Kings and Raptors for the best given their more appearances.
Detroit Pistons - 7 (2 Championships)
NBA Finals: 1955, 1956, 1988, 1989, 1990, 2004, 2005
The Fort Wayne Pistons qualified for two NBA Finals but lost both tries. It wasn’t until 1989 that the team won their first championship. Then, the “Bad Boys” Pistons ran it back in 1990 to complete the back-to-back. The group made an appearance in 1988 too, but were defeated by the “Showtime Lakers.” The team made back-to-back appearances in 2004 and 2005. Chauncey Billups captured the Finals MVP in 2004, while the Spurs took down the Pistons in 2005 in seven games.
New York Knicks - 8 (2 Championships)
NBA Finals: 1951, 1952, 1953, 1970, 1972, 1973, 1994, 1999
The storied franchise owns an overall 2-6 record in the FInals with their most recent appearance coming in 1999. That season, the Knicks shocked the world by becoming the lowest seed (No. 8) ever to make the NBA Finals. While the Knicks captured two titles in 1970 and 1973 over the Lakers, it’s been almost 40 years since New York has celebrated a championship.
Philadelphia 76ers - 9 (3 Championships)
NBA Finals: 1950, 1954, 1955, 1967, 1977, 1980, 1982, 1983, 2001
Three appearances came with the team based in Syracuse, while the other six were in Philadelphia. The Nationals went 1-2, while the 76ers own a 2-4 record. The 76ers were often greeted by the Lakers in the championship, where five of their six losses came at the heels of Los Angeles. The last time the team made the Finals was in 2001 when they were led by league MVP Allen Iverson. With eyes on Joel Embiid winning the MVP this year, could we see a repeat in history?
Golden State Warriors - 11 (6 Championships)
NBA Finals: 1947, 1948, 1956, 1964, 1967, 1975, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019
The Warriors won two championships with Wilt Chamberlain leading the way in Philadelphia. Since moving to California, the Warriors are 4-4. The Warriors lost title chances in 1965 and 1967 but completed a sweep in 1975. Then, Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green led five years of making the NBA Finals, where the team went 3-2, beating the Cavaliers three times while losing once and another loss to the Raptors. The Warriors are one of three teams to own double-digit appearances in the NBA Finals in the history of the game.
Boston Celtics - 21 (17 Championships)
NBA Finals: 1957, 1958, 1959, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1968, 1969, 1974, 1976, 1981, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987, 2008, 2010
History says that when the Celtics make the NBA Finals, they are likely going to win. From 1959 to 1966, Bill Russell and Bob Cousy led a successful run of eight straight titles. Another factor in history states that if the Celtics make the NBA Finals, they will be greeted by the Lakers. The Celtics own a 17-4 record in the Finals, with three of their losses coming to the Lakers. The Celtics also own the record for making the NBA Finals 10 consecutive years, a feat we may never see again. The Celtics have not returned to the Finals since 2010 and haven’t won a title since 2008.
Los Angeles Lakers - 32 (17 Championships)
NBA Finals: 1949, 1950, 1952, 1953, 1954, 1959, 1962, 1963, 1965, 1966, 1968, 1969, 1970, 1972, 1973, 1980, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1991, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2004, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2020
The Lakers and Celtics own the same amount of championships. While the Celtics may be more efficient, the Lakers own 11 more overall appearances. The team went 5-1 in Minneapolis and then made another 26 appearances in Los Angeles. The Lakers are 12-14 in California and own the record for most appearances. If you go back in time, the Lakers have appeared in the Finals in every decade since the 1940s. From Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, and LeBron James, there is enough star power to support how great the franchise has always been.