Revisiting the Greatest Dynasties in the NBA
Over the NBA’s long and prestigious history, there are multiple teams and players who have left an everlasting impact marking important eras. There’s a reason why these teams could assert dominance over the league and enjoy such success which made it worth a trip down the memory lane. When we talk about the greatest dynasties ever, we are not looking at the assembly of players, but profound team achievement in the form of championships. The criteria to make a cut for this list is multiple finals appearances including titles. While it’s tough to compare eras, for now, we will just try to mention them in chronological order:
5 Championships in 5 Finals Appearances during 1948–1954
Los Angeles hasn’t been the first home of the Lakers. Their dominance in the league also dates back to the period NBA didn’t exist formally. Minneapolis Lakers were champions in NBL (National Basketball League) which later merged with BAA (Basketball Association of America) to birth the now known NBA. You could say they were the first NBA champions. In the period of six years, they made it to 5 finals winning them all. George Mikan was the star of this team, the original big man who changed the game with his rebounding, shot-blocking and hook shot. So much so, that the league had to introduce several new rules such as goaltending and shot clock. Yeah, these Lakers lost in the lowest-scoring game in NBA history, 19–18. Once Mikan retired at the young age of 29 due to his injury-ridden career, the Lakers had to wait for their next resurgence.
St. Louis Hawks
1 Championship in 4 Finals Appearances during 1956–1961
Hawks were the next in line after the Lakers in the late 50s. Similar to the Hawks of the recent era, they were the bottom dwellers until they drafted Bob Pettit. They also traded for Cliff Hagan and Ed Macauley who were the key players with Pettit for their success. They made a successful run for the championship but one of their strategies would come back to haunt them later. While trading for Hagan and Macauley, Hawks traded their draft pick, Bill Russell, to the Celtics. The rest was history….. for Celtics and the end of the Hawks’ dynasty.
Bill Russell and Boston Celtics
11 Championships in 12 Finals Appearances during 1956–1969
Hawks’ trade turned out to be a masterstroke for the Red Auerbach’s Celtics. NBA has never seen such dominance and it’s impossible to repeat this feat. Bill Russell has more rings than fingers to wear them. Do not forget, this was a loaded squad with multiple Hall-of-Famers. Bob Cousy, Jon Havlicek, Sam Jones, KC Jones, Bill Sharman, Tom Heinsohn. When it comes to winning, no dynasty comes even close. But the only argument people have against Bill Rusell or this generation of Celtics is the way the league functioned. There were a total of 10 teams leading to a shorter regular season and playoff run compared to the current gruelling season. Regardless, Bill Russell faced a different kind of challenge — racism. He and a few others stood up for their rights which has made it easier for the players in the future to voice their opinion. You don’t just name the NBA Finals MVP trophy after someone if not for their legendary career. Arguably one of the greatest centers, his rivalry with Wilt Chamberlain has been for the ages. Once he retired in 1969, Celtics wasn’t the same formidable threat. Result: The league was up for grab and no team could go back-to-back in the 70s.
Los Angeles Lakers
1 Championship in 9 Finals appearances during 1961–1973
Ever wonder who’s the man in the NBA logo? None other than Jerry West. Jerry West was a great two-way player, intimidating on offence and tough on defence. He even has a rare quadruple-double to his name. He remains the only player to be named Finals MVP to end up on the losing side. Along with another fierce competitor, Elgin Baylor, the Lakers were a thorn in every team’s path. Yet, the opponent could pluck them out on a majority of the occasions. This Lakers team finally reached the promised land in multiple tries once the team traded for “The Great Dipper” Wilt Chamberlain. A single title feels like an underachievement for a roster with Wilt, Jerry West and Elgin Baylor in the lineup. Once this trio disbanded, the Lakers had to wait further to strengthen their position.
New York Knicks
2 Championships in 3 Finals Appearances during 1969–1973
Noticed that you will find a character in every TV show based out of New York who is a Knicks fan. Even though the team has been a laughing stock in this century, Knicks ruled the NBA for a noteworthy period. Walt Clyde Frazier wasn’t just famous for his flashy jackets but also his defence on the opposition. Willis Reed was a force to be reckoned with on both sides of the floor. He managed to win All-Star game MVP, regular-season MVP, Finals MVP in the same season while also making All-NBA First Team and NBA All-Defensive First Team. That’s just bonkers. DeBusschere and Lucas were important role players for this team in beating the Lakers for both of their titles. The Madison Square Garden is yet to see a new championship banner hang in the rafter.
1 Championship in 4 Finals Appearances during 1976–1983
76ers weren’t making many strides until the ABA merged into NBA bringing Julius Erving to the league. The league was dominated by big men and dunking was a common sight. Dr J went further and posterized his opponents. His reverse lay-up under the basket from behind the backboard is still one of the most iconic shots ever. Once Moses Malone joined forces with him, 76ers became a title favourite. Moses Malone was a beast on the board. His rebound stats were unprecedented. Something similar to the likes of Oscar Robertson, but better. After winning the title in 1983 and drafting Charles Barkley in 1984, 76ers looked like the team to beat. However, it became difficult for them to squeeze past Larry Bird’s Celtics and the rising Pistons towards the latter half of their 76ers run.
Showtime Lakers and Celtics Rivalry
5 Championships in 9 Finals Appearances during 1979–1991 for Lakers
3 Championships in 5 Finals Appearances during 1980–1987 for Celtics
The reason to mention these two dynasties together is the way their rivalry took the league to new heights. NBA didn’t garner much attention in those days and the competitiveness between the two most successful franchises of all time provided a much-needed boost to the television ratings and viewership. The fans were witnessing something new. Kareem and Magic were the quintessential Guard-Center pairing that dominated the decade of the 80s. Kareem’s skyhook with Magic’s visionary passing skills were the key ingredients for the Showtime era. The greatest point guard with arguably the greatest centers of all time. They had a great supporting cast of James Worthy, Michael Cooper, Bob McAdoo, Byron Scott with a fierce coach Pat Riley. No team in the West could stack up against these Lakers making them the favourite to reach the Finals.
On the other hand, Boston Celtics were making life tough for the teams in the East. Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish, Danny Ainge, Dennis Johnson — it was a dream roster. With 76ers and Pistons in the East, Celtics’ faced a tougher road to the Finals. Their rivalry in the Finals with the Lakers is parallel to none. These were the two original super teams and between them won the title pretty much every year. They faced off 3 times in the Finals with the Lakers winning twice. Magic and Bird’s rivalry revolutionised the way today’s players adapt their style of play. Point Guards weren’t supposed to be as athletic and big as Magic. Forwards weren’t as lethal shooters as Bird. You now have players out of college with alley-oops, bounce passes and shooting from the range in their skill set. It wasn’t the same back then. You will find Kareem, Magic and Bird pretty much in everyone’s top 10 greatest players ever. Celtics-Lakers Rivalry came to a close at the end of the 80s with the rise of Bad Boy Pistons and Michael Jordan.
Bad Boys Pistons
2 Championship in 3 Finals Appearances during 1987–1990
They truly were the bad boys. Remember the Jordan rules. You would not have come out of a match without a bruise or a scratch. It wasn’t just the defence but they were also good at putting numbers on the board. Their leader Isiah Thomas was a tough lad who arguably gets underlooked as one of the best point guards in the history of this league. The team reputation did cost him his place in the 1992 Dream Team. Laimbeer, Dumars, Mahorn, Rodman, Salley completed this tough lineup. They truly deserve more respect than they get for dethroning the Celtics and Lakers. They had a great coach in Chuck Daly. They inflicted some pain because they suffered more at the hands of their opponents. Once Michael Jordan learned to get past this Pistons, the Bad Boys were soon forgotten. The end of this dynasty could not be summed up better than their whitewash by the Bulls and Pistons’ refusal to shake hands at the end of the match.
6 Championship in 6 Finals Appearances during 1990–1998
NBA was ushering into a new era where it gained global popularity. Credit to the GOAT, Michael Jordan. Jordan was heads and shoulders above the rest way before the Bulls won any title. The world had never seen anything like it on the basketball court. His ability to stay in the air for that long and literally take off from the free-throw line left everyone puzzled. He would petrify the defenders and bully the scorers. Still, he was an individual threat rather than a collective one. Phil Jackson and Tex Winter introduced the triangle offence and Michael started trusting his teammates. Pippen, Rodman, Harper, Kukoc, Paxson, Armstrong, Grant, Kerr, Longley became an integral part of both the 3-peat. This Bulls team also boasted of the best regular-season record of 72–10 and won the Finals in 1996. Still, this team never had the same identity without Jordan and Phil Jackson. Once Jordan and Phil left Bulls for the good in 1998, the team never made another Finals appearance.
2 Championships in 2 Finals Appearances during 1993–1995
When Michael Jordan took a sabbatical in 1993, the league was up for grabs. The team who made the most of this opportunity was Houston Rockets. Their back-to-back championship run is often undermined by the argument “What if Jordan never left and the Bulls continued to win?” It is tough to argue but it was also tougher to beat this Rockets team. Hakeem Olajuwon was a different animal in the post. His footwork, athleticism and skills made him the greatest center of the 90s. If he could not get it done in the post, his supporting cast of Drexler, Cassell, Maxwell, Kenny, Horry took care of the business from the midrange and three-point. Once Jordan returned in 1995 with a vengeance, it was all but over for the Rockets and other teams in the league.
Los Angeles Lakers
5 Championships in 7 Finals Appearances during 1999–2010
The Lakers failed to regain the magic of the 80s for a long time. But all their prayers would be answered by the acquisition of Kobe and Shaq. Shaq is the most dominant big man of all time in the NBA. Kobe was seen as the second coming of Jordan and Jordan gladly passed over the baton. This duo steamrolled the opposition by winning a 3-peat in the early 2000s. They still have the best postseason record of 15–1. Derek Fisher, Horry, Rick Fox, Shaw, Salley, Harper were crucial for the success of this team. Despite the winnings, the animosity between Kobe and Shaq grew to an extent leading to Shaq’s departure from the team. The team struggled for a few years until they traded for Pau Gasol. His pairing with Kobe along with Fisher, Bynum, Odom, Artest, Walton brought another couple of titles.
San Antonio Spurs
5 Championships in 6 Finals Appearances during 1998–2014
Gregg Popovich, arguably, is the greatest coach to bring out the talent in a player perceived below par. He has turned Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili into Hall of Famers. Spurs became a consistent force in the West by making the playoffs every year for 22 seasons. With the help of the greatest Power Forward of all time, Tim Duncan, the Spurs brand of basketball resonated with excellence. Pop has been an exceptionally smart coach who tries to make the game look simple, efficient and effortless. Along with the trio of Duncan, Parker and Manu, Spurs has hosted quality players in this period such as Bruce Bowen, David Robinson, Robert Horry, Kawhi Leonard. However, as the core players grew older and other teams grew stronger, the Spurs struggled to make a deeper run into the playoffs finally losing their playoff streak in 2020.
2 Championships in 4 Final Appearances during 2010–2014
The entire league was put to notice when LeBron James and Chris Bosh decided to join Dwyane Wade in South Beach. This was heavily criticised as LeBron seemingly took a shortcut to win a title in his peak changing the balance of the power in the NBA. Even in their introductory press conference, they joked about winning several titles together. However, they failed short in the first season itself losing to Mavericks in the Final. Once LeBron took charge, they managed to win back to back. Heat’s role players Ray Allen, Battier, Chalmers, Udonis Haslem also made important contributions at pivotal moments during the Championship run. They lost to Spurs in the 2014 Finals in a rematch of the 2013 Finals. The Big 3 decided to part ways and LeBron returned home to the Cavaliers. Heat was never the same team again as LeBron managed to bring the Cavaliers from rock bottom to the top of the Eastern Conference.
1 Championship in 4 Final Appearances during 2014–2018
LeBron James has ruled the Eastern Conference for 8 straight years. He has single-handedly carried his teams to the Finals. Cavs were in a slump until LeBron came to the rescue. Their season took an immediate reverse turn and they reached the Finals. Cavs faced the Warriors for 4 straight Finals winning only once in 2016. LeBron with Kyrie, Kevin Love, Thompson, JR Smith, Jefferson achieved the impossible by coming back from 3–1 down in the Finals especially against the team with a 73–9 regular-season record. LeBron fulfilled his promise to bring a championship to the city of Cleveland in more than 50 years. Once Kyrie left Cavs in 2017, LeBron was left with the daunting task of taking this team past a loaded Warriors squad. Cavs got swept in the Finals and LeBron left for the Lakers. Cavs went back to being one of the worst teams in the league.
Golden State Warriors
3 Championship in 5 Finals Appearances during 2014-present
Warriors have been the best team of the last decade. They have played beautiful basketball with great passing, prolific scoring and insane shooting from the backcourt. They have the greatest back-court offence in the history of basketball. The Splash Brothers. Steph Curry, the greatest shooter ever, the first unanimous MVP of the league and is a threat as soon as he steps beyond the half-court. Klay Thompson, whose jump shot is slightly better but equally dangerous. These two have shattered all the records and shot lights out on a regular basis. Draymond Green, Iguodala, Livingston, Looney, Bogut provided depth to this squad. Once Kevin Durant joined this squad in another heavily criticised superstar move, it became unfair for the competition. They looked unstoppable until KD and Klay got injured in the 2019 Finals and the Raptors stopped them in their tracks. KD left for Brooklyn to form another super team and Klay has been injured for the past 2 seasons. It makes you wonder if this is the end of this dynasty but it is still too early to call it.
The current NBA season is underway and we are looking at the formation of another dynasty in the East. Brooklyn Nets with the trio of Harden, Kyrie and KD can achieve supremacy in this league if they put their minds to it. Lakers with LeBron and AD and Clippers with Kawhi and PG stand in their way. Only time will tell if we witness another period of dominance from either of these teams and make their way into this list.