The thing about the NBA that is so unique is the ever so slight championship window for many teams. Even some of the greatest NBA teams of all time did not always stick around for the long haul. The evolution of “superteams” is nothing new to the NBA, despite what social media continues to think is ruining the association. We count down the five greatest NBA teams of all time, beginning at number five.
Five Greatest NBA Teams Of All Time
5. Detroit Pistons – 1988-1989
Kicking off the countdown of the greatest NBA teams of all time, the Bad Boy Pistons revolutionized the game of basketball in the 1990s. The 1988-89 season sparked a change in how basketball was played through the course of the next decade, and the birth of one of Michael Jordan’s most formidable foils. Not only were they extremely physical with their play, but they were a legitimately elite basketball club, concluding the season with a 4-0 sweep of the Los Angeles Lakers.
Led by Isiah Thomas and Bill Laimbeer, whenever the Detroit Pistons came to town, there was an added feeling of tension and hostility in the air. You knew they were going to ruin opponents mentally, and perhaps hurt them physically. They were the bad guys, and they loved it, and they embraced it. While they certainly did not have the respect of their opponents, they had a chemistry like none other.
While the Bad Boys Detroit Pistons of the 1990s may not always be the first team that comes to mind when talking about some of the greatest NBA teams of all time, depending on who you ask, their contribution to the game, and their role as the league’s antagonist over the course of a decade, easily put them as one of the game’s best to ever take the floor.
4. Los Angeles Lakers – 1986-1987
Continuing with an adversary of the Pistons in the late 1980s, the 1986-1987 Los Angeles Lakers were out for vengeance after a disappointing end to the 1985-1986 season, where they were bounced from the Western Conference Finals by the Houston Rockets. In the twilight of his career, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was as impactful down low as ever, playing off of Magic Johnson’s brilliance.
Johnson’s 1986 season alone was magnificent, as he paced the Lakers to their 10th franchise championship. He led the league in assists once again at 12.2 per night, and averaged 23.9 PPG, a career high for him. The Lakers finished that season with 65 wins that year, and steamrolled through the postseason with a record of 15-3. The Lakers matched their rival Boston Celtics with another ring of their own after Boston captured their a year prior.
There have been many legendary Lakers’ teams assembled over the years, each winning multiple rings in their respective eras, but the 1986-1987 Lakers were something special, the Showtime basketball on display was something to behold in the late 80s. Now, are the 2022 version going to be as good? A look at this site here will give fans insight on how the bookies see things.
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3. Golden State Warriors – 2016-2017
Arguably the greatest team in the modern era, and maybe the greatest team of all time if you ask a 14 year old today, the assembling of Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green in Golden State in 2016 was a marvel to behold. After news broke that Durant was leaving Oklahoma City to join the Warriors, who finished with the best regular season record of all time a season prior, there were fans who dismissed the game of basketball altogether as they saw no point in tuning. There were also some who appreciated the type of dynasty that was being formed and would etch their name into history.
Over the last decade, there have been two worthy Golden State teams in consideration for being among the five greatest NBA teams of all time. The team with the best record in NBA history, without Kevin Durant, was a tough cut, and that is due to the end of that season-long campaign. Not only did they lose in the NBA Finals, but choking the way they did in 3-1 fashion, nearly tarnishes everything that team accomplished. In the words of the 1996 Bulls, “It don’t mean a thing, without the ring”
That all being said, in hindsight, we have to appreciate what we got to witness, seeing Durant, Curry, and Thompson, three of the best shooters of all time, and arguably two top ten players in history (my top ten at least), was something we may never see again. This team got the job done, which was expected for a team adding Durant, and though they did not stick around long, the 2016-2017 Warriors remain one of the greatest NBA teams of all time.
2. Boston Celtics – 1985-1986
For some, this may be the standalone greatest team of all time. The 1985-1986 Boston Celtics exemplified what playing as a team and being truly great was all about. They were constructed as the ideal NBA team in any era. A facilitating lead guard, a shooter on the wing, a superstar forward, and two dominant bigs underneath, with a hall of famer off the bench.
The 85-86 Celtics concluded the season with 67 wins and a dominant postseason showing, knocking off the Houston Rockets in six games in the NBA Finals. The most storied franchise in all of basketball has hoisted the championship trophy 17 times over the NBA’s 75 years, but the ’86 team was far and away the most special. They were skilled, tough, united, and most of all, they were truly great. As a Celtics fan, it pains me to keep them from the top spot, but sitting at number one, in my opinion, is undeniably the best among of the greatest NBA teams of all time.
1. Chicago Bulls 1995-1996
Fans who were not around to watch the 1990s Chicago Bulls got to live through the saga through The Last Dance back in 2020. And those who were, were reminded of how special that bunch was, especially that final season. However, one team in particular sets itself apart from the rest, and that is the ’95-’96 Bulls.
Having owned the best regular season record in NBA history, before it was broken by the Warriors 20 years later, Michael Jordan and the Bulls were on top of the NBA. The team dominated the landscape of the NBA, knocking off the best the league had to offer. The team had two extensively long winning streaks of 18 and 13 in the same season, which is expected of a team to win 72 of 82 games.
The team from top to bottom remains probably the most well-constructed of any to ever take the floor. They had a leader who teammates and opponents respected, a star player to work off him, and a supporting cast that was fully bought in to goals that were bigger than themselves.
Without question, the 1995-1996 are at the top of the greatest NBA teams of all time.
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