The best players in the world often win the championship for their team. This is normally the case throughout NBA history because basketball is the sport where star players have the biggest impact. Taking the likes of Kevin Durant, LeBron James, and Giannis Antetokounmpo for example, each one of these players has been regular-season MVPs and has been regarded as the best payer in the world at some point.
But which teams have managed to win championships without having a past, present, or future MVP of the league? Only 3 teams have managed to achieve this and they all were a part of one franchise: the Detroit Pistons. The Pistons have an incredible history of winning and superstar players, but not one of them ever won an MVP during the 1989, 1990, and 2004 championship seasons. There might also be a 4th team added to this rare list once Kawhi Leonard completes his future Hall of Fame career.
1989 Detroit Pistons
The “Bad Boy” Pistons were at their best in the 1989 season, finishing with a 63-19 record. No team could match up with their guards (Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars) and their bigs were intimidating and forceful (Bill Laimbeer and Dennis Rodman) on the defensive end. That is why they wiped the floor in the playoffs before sweeping the Los Angeles Lakers in 4 games. Joe Dumars captured the 1989 Finals MVP after averaging 27.3 PPG in the series.
Not a single member of this Pistons team made an All-NBA Team, averaged over 20 PPG, or even made the top-20 list of scorers during the season. Rather, the team played hard on both ends and completed one of the greatest championship seasons by a team ever. Led by their tough-as-nails guard Isiah Thomas, the Pistons would go on to repeat as champions the following season.
1990 Detroit Pistons
The 1990 Pistons returned as a force in the East once again and finished with a very solid 59-23 record. Detroit let the NBA landscape know they were coming for another title after they held a 25-1 record at one point following a blistering streak of performances in the months of January and February. This time, it was Isiah Thomas who would get the bulk of the recognition.
Making the Finals in a showdown against Clyde Drexler and the Portland Trail Blazers, Thomas would put the team on his back in multiple performances in the Finals. Despite not coming close to winning an MVP during the regular season, Thomas was undoubtedly the Finals MVP for the Pistons in the Finals. Thomas even had a 22-point 3rd quarter in Game 4 which would give Detroit a commanding 3-1 lead.
2004 Detroit Pistons
In typical Pistons fashion, teamwork was the main factor behind championship success in another NBA season. The 2004 Pistons did not have a single player who was capable of winning a regular-season MVP, but they had a championship roster built on defense and efficiency. Acquiring Ben Wallace, Richard Hamilton, and Rasheed Wallace to join the developing Chauncey Billups and Tayshaun Prince would prove to be the keys to shocking the world in 2004.
The Los Angeles Lakers still had Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant on the roster, while Karl Malone and Gary Payton added some more star power to an already stacked team. But the Lakers, as talented as they were with 2 legitimate MVP candidates, could not deal with the Pistons’ teamwork on the court. In 5 games, Detroit shocked the world by defeating the Lakers and ending one of the most dominant dynasties in NBA history. The 2004 Pistons also became just the 3rd team in NBA history to not have a single MVP on the team while winning a championship.
Could The 2019 Toronto Raptors Be Added?
The other team that will likely be added to this list is the 2019 Toronto Raptors. The Raptors had a superstar in Kawhi Leonard, but he was never going to win an MVP Award over the likes of Giannis Antetokounmpo, James Harden, or LeBron James. Rather, Leonard took the regular season in his stride and would miss games due to “load management”.
Still, the Raptors completed one of the most unlikely runs for an NBA championship when they made it to the Finals against the Golden State Warriors led by Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green. Both Durant and Thompson would not finish the series due to major injuries, giving Leonard the opportunity to deliver an NBA championship to the city of Toronto. It is likely Leonard will never win an MVP Award, so when his career is up, his Raptors team could be the 4th team to win a title without the best player in the game.
Credit for an idea: Basketball Is My Religion/Instagram