The NBA is part of a “big four” of America’s most beloved and popular sports leagues, alongside the MLB, NFL and NHL. With that comes a storied legacy dating back to the 40s when it was known as the BAA, or Basketball Association of America. Today, the popularity of the NBA has reached global status and its teams are some of the most well-known franchises in the world. However, there are some teams that are truly a cut beyond the rest thanks to their enduring presence in the winningest games. The teams presented here are in no particular order and this list is not a ranking, but instead a celebration of the most decorated teams in basketball’s history. If the NBA had its own Mt. Rushmore of teams, these would be first-ballot contenders for such a collection.
One cannot start a discussion about the greatest NBA teams without the Boston Celtics. The Celtics paved the way for great basketball dynasties to come forth, having dominated in both the ‘60s and the ‘80s. To be such a presence in one decade is remarkable in itself, but the Celtics ended up doing it in two, cementing their importance in the annals of basketball forever. In the span of 13 years (1957-1969), Bill Russell’s Celtics won an unprecedented 11 championships, which is something that hasn’t been replicated today. Two decades later, superstars Larry Bird and Kevin McHale led the team to three more Finals wins.
After a long drought without any NBA titles for the city of Boston, the Paul Pierce era was taken to the next level with the help of superstar signings Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, forming a “Big 3” for Boston. 2008 marked the first championship win for all three players and it impacted yet again another generation.
San Antonio Spurs
Though their playstyle and the way they win championships isn’t flashy by any means, the Spurs have always accomplished what they set out to do when it really mattered most. Thanks to the tutelage of Gregg Popovich, the Spurs were a well-known name in the 2000s, having made every Playoff season in that decade.
Under his guidance, the Spurs won the 2003, 2005 and 2007 championships, with the latter one being a sweep against a LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers. Led by “The Big Fundamental” Tim Duncan as their star player, the Spurs strong-armed their way as a dominant force in the very stacked Western Conference, but their path to glory didn’t stop there. In 2014, Poppovich anchored the Spurs once again to a championship, this time with then-rising star Kawhi Leonard helping the team out significantly.
Los Angeles Lakers
Just as deserving to be in the same conversation as the Boston Celtics are their perennial rivals, the Los Angeles Lakers. They too have achieved championship greatness over multiple decades, with the most recent win being in 2020. Both LA and Boston have met a whopping 12 times in the NBA Finals, and through the years the Lakers have been home to countless stars in their lineup.
Home to numerous legendary icons of the game such as Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’ Neal and Wilt Chamberlain among others, the pantheon of players that have worn the purple-and-gold is simply immense. This makes the more famous Tinseltown team (sorry, Clippers) inevitably one of the NBA’s greatest.
It’s hard to think about the NBA without thinking of the greatest player the organization has ever had, Michael Jordan. By extension, when talking about which teams should make the conversation for great dynasties, the Chicago Bulls should be on that list, too.
With “His Airness” on the frontcourt and with coaching captained by the great Phil Jackson, the Bulls have a rare feat of having a flawless NBA Finals record, winning all six of their Finals appearances in the ‘90s. Furthermore, all the classic showdowns with teams such as the Utah Jazz and Boston Celtics go hand in hand with very memorable moments throughout the team’s lifespan (The Flu Game or Steve Kerr’s buzzer-beater, anyone?)
While the Bulls have unfortunately not reached the heights they had when Jordan was onboard, it still does not tarnish the legacy that they have and with that reason, they deserve to be included – and maybe even mentioned first – when talking about the greatest teams the NBA has to offer.