For years, the Western Conference has had the stigma of being the stronger conference in the NBA. Teams such as the Spurs, Lakers, and Warriors have dominated the last 2 decades of professional basketball and they have some of the greatest players ever. Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal, Stephen Curry, and Kevin Durant have all dominated the Western Conference by capturing 15 out of the last 22 NBA titles.
Western Conference teams have also captured 27 NBA titles in comparison to the Eastern Conference teams which have a total of 23 NBA titles (Since the 1970-1971 NBA season, when the NBA divided the teams in two conferences, Western Conference have won 27 titles, while Eastern Conference won 23).
The Los Angeles Lakers have captured the most NBA titles with 12 for the West, followed by the San Antonio Spurs with 5, Golden State Warriors with 4, and Houston Rockets with 2. Obviously, the likes of Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, and Hakeem Olajuwon have all contributed the most to these Western Conference champions. The Los Angeles Lakers in 2020 led by LeBron James were the most recent NBA champion representing the West.
For the East, the Boston Celtics and Chicago Bulls have won the most NBA titles with 6 each. Of course, as the conferences were formed in 1971, Bill Russell's Celtics are not counted among other great teams. The Celtics have had a host of legendary players such as Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Paul Pierce capture NBA titles for the East. Michael Jordan and the legendary Bulls Dynasty are responsible for Chicago's 6 NBA titles. The Detroit Pistons and Miami Heat have 3 titles apiece led by the likes of the Bad Boy Pistons, Finals MVP Chauncey Billups, Dwyane Wade, Shaquille O'Neal, and LeBron James. The most recent Eastern Conference champions were the Toronto Raptors in 2019.
The amount of historical prowess for the Western Conference might actually skew reality, as the Eastern Conference has some of the best players in the world right now. Multiple Eastern Conference teams have fantastic chances to reach the NBA Finals and the postseason is no longer a cakewalk. When looking at the totality of NBA history, the Western Conference does not have the advantage either. The East has defeated the West 8 more times in All-Star Games since 1951, with the record standing 37-29. With NBA history and a competitive conference in 2021, does the East usurp the West?
Here is the complete breakdown of the current West vs East superstars and a conclusion on which conference is truly better when looking at the current landscape and NBA history.
Eastern Conference Superstars
The Eastern Conference is no longer the weaker conference. The East has the 2-time reigning MVP in Giannis Antetokounmpo, and the Brooklyn Nets are the most talented team in the entire league on paper. Kevin Durant, 4-time scoring champion and 2-time NBA champion, paired with James Harden and Kyrie Irving gives the East 3 more superstars.
Joel Embiid is probably the favorite for the MVP Award so far with his dominant play and Jayson Tatum has elevated his game to superstar status. Jimmy Butler, while having a slow start to the season, is always going to show up in the biggest moments and no one works harder than him.
Zach LaVine is playing extremely well right now and he deserves to have the status of superstar. Russell Westbrook, on the other side, is not playing well this season, but he will back into his triple-double mode.
With 10 dominant superstars in the East, the rest of the conference is filled with other top players. Jaylen Brown is developing into an All-Star in his own right, and Bam Adebayo is almost as important to the Heat as Jimmy Butler is.
Bradley Beal is the single best scorer in the game averaging 34.9 PPG, and if he finds his way to another team, he might start getting recognized as one of the best players in the world. Other stars such as Pascal Siakam, Trae Young, are also players who can dominate games and deserve to be mentioned as well.
List of Eastern Conference Superstars: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant, James Harden, Joel Embiid, Kyrie Irving, Jayson Tatum, Jimmy Butler, Bradley Beal, Russell Westbrook, Zach LaVine
Western Conference Superstars
The Western Conference has been the dominant conference for years. We have seen how the Lakers, Mavericks, Warriors, and Spurs managed to capture 15 of the last 22 NBA titles. The West has seemingly had the greater players and the Road To The Finals has always been tougher in the West. In today’s game, the NBA also has some all-time great players playing in the West although the East has cut it extremely close.
LeBron James, the best player in the world, resides in the West for the second season in his career with the Lakers alongside superstar Anthony Davis. LeBron and Davis captured the NBA title in 2020 and will likely capture another one or two in the coming years. Kawhi Leonard, 2-time Finals MVP, is also one of the top players in the NBA who plays in the West. Luka Doncic is most possibly the next face of the NBA once LeBron James calls it quits, Nikola Jokic might be the best center in the NBA and his passing ability is truly special to watch.
Damian Lillard and Paul George have been perennial All-Stars for years now, and their ability to explode on the offensive end is key to their team’s success. Stephen Curry is the greatest shooter in NBA history and the reason the NBA game is played the way it is, and truly he was been one of the most influential athletes of all-time.
Chris Paul is one of the best point guards in NBA history, and whenever he plays, that team could beat anyone in the league. After Anthony Davis, the New Orleans Pelicans have another superstar in Zion Williamson, and his goal for this season should be to play in the NBA playoffs.
The remaining list of NBA stars in the West are also extremely talented players such as Donovan Mitchell, Devin Booker, and Jamal Murray. Mitchell, Booker, and Murray are incredibly talented scorers who are thriving as secondary stars on their teams. Other stars such as CJ McCollum and Rudy Gobert deserve a mention as well.
List of Western Conference Superstars: LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Anthony Davis, Kawhi Leonard, Luka Doncic, Nikola Jokic, Damian Lillard, Paul George, Chris Paul, Zion Williamson
The NBA is a very competitive landscape right now, with more parity than in previous years. When looking throughout the history of the NBA, the Eastern Conference has always had the upper hand in comparison to the West. The East has had more success than the West over NBA history, as the Eastern-Conference superstars defeated the Western Conference superstars with 37 wins to 29 wins.
Players such as Michael Jordan, Bob Cousey, Oscar Robertson, Isiah Thomas, and Allen Iverson have all represented the East in big wins over the years. Bob Pettit, the NBA’s first MVP winner, won the All-Star Game MVP 4 times representing the East which is tied for the most in NBA history.
The Western Conference has had the likes of Magic Johnson, Tim Duncan, Shaquille O’Neal, and Chris Paul lead the West to wins over the East. Lakers legend Kobe Bryant has 4 All-Star Game MVPs, which is the most in NBA history alongside Bob Pettit. The West has actually won the past 6 out of 7 showdowns before the new All-Star format was put in place.
All-Star Games aside, the distinction between the superstars that have played in the West vs. the East is also interesting to see when looking at the current crop of players. For the past several years, LeBron James has been claimed “The Beast of the East” by running riot over the likes of the DeMar DeRozan-led Raptors, the Jayson Tatum-led Boston Celtics, the Atlanta Hawks, and the Paul-George led Indiana Pacers. LeBron and his teams were far better and that is why he made an incredible 8 straight NBA Finals appearances.
For the last 8 years, the Western Conference was a much more competitive landscape. The likes of the San Antonio Spurs, Los Angeles Lakers, Dallas Mavericks, Oklahoma City Thunder, Memphis Grizzlies, and Houston Rockets have all battled it out for Western Conference Finals appearances. The Road to The Finals was much tougher in the West and that is why so many fans consider the West to be massively more competitive.
But when looking at the talent at both conferences in 2021, this is no longer the case. The East has at least 3 out of the 5 best players in the world on one team, while the other two reside in Los Angeles with the Lakers. The East also has 2 top teams in the East with the Bucks and Nets; along with the talented 76ers (who hold the best record in the East), the Miami Heat (who made the Finals last year), and the Boston Celtics who are ready to compete for a chip. The West legitimately has the Lakers and Clippers playing at their best right now and they are the 2 teams with any shot of winning the title.
The amount of talent in the East is extraordinary, especially with the James Harden trade, and the East seems to be back on top as the NBA’s best conference. NBA history has shown that the East has had more wins in All-Star Games, the greatest ever players such as Michael Jordan and Larry Bird, and the best current crop of talent in the NBA.