Here’s a tougher-than-it-looks question we thought about a lot these past few months: What makes a good NBA team?
It sounds easy. Lots of regular season wins. A strong postseason record. A championship. And there you go: a good NBA team.
Which, yeah, that’s true. But when you decide to rank the 75 best NBA teams of all time—something we tasked ourselves with as a way to celebrate the NBA’s 75th anniversary—it gets a little tricky. Because the numbers do lie: a certain number of wins doesn’t necessarily reflect a certain level of dominance, nor does it take into account level of competition. And then there’s an intangible, incalculable factor, a feeling that certain teams give off that even if the game is close, or the series is close, they’re gonna come out on top. And they always do. That’s gotta count for something, right?
So this list was pretty damn impossible to put together. We tried our best, mostly guided by the idea that the way to measure the true quality of a team is to think about how much better they were than everyone else they played against. Some decent team in the 2000s would almost definitely destroy an excellent team from the ’70s if we teleported all of the players into the same dimension and let them go at it, but that’s not how this works. This is about dominating your era.
Another caveat: While it helps, you don’t have to win a championship to be on this list. For one, that’d result in just ranking every NBA champion, which while doable is just not that fun. And secondly, there were some incredible NBA teams that fell short of championships but were still so far ahead of the rest of the League (besides the champion) that they deserve to leapfrog some actual champions.
And then there’s the two teams in the 2016 Finals, which was maybe the toughest part of this list. You’ve got the record-setting 73-win Golden State Warriors and a great (but not otherworldly) Cleveland Cavaliers team. By almost every account, the Ws were a better squad, but the Cavs came back from down 3-1 to win the Finals. And a seven-game series is played to determine which team is better, so how could those Cavs be lower on this list? We decided they couldn’t, but that was tough. So they sorta met in the middle, and the Ws wound up many spots below where they otherwise would’ve been with one more win, and the Cavs catapulted even higher than they would’ve been had they won an ordinary Finals.
If you have an issue with the aforementioned paragraph or really anything on this list (and I certainly expect y’all to), you know how to reach us: @SLAMonline on Twitter, @SLAM on IG, @SLAM on TikTok, SLAM Magazine on Facebook and email@example.com to hit us via email. We want to hear some opinions, or just send us your lists—we’re genuinely curious. Hit slamgoods.com to order your issue now. — Adam Figman, Editor in Chief