What makes a good NBA team? The answer to that question might seem obvious: lots of regular season wins, a strong postseason record and a ‘chip. But, when we decided to rank the 75 best NBA teams of all time, it got a little tricky. The numbers do lie: a certain number of wins doesn’t necessarily reflect a certain level of dominance, nor does it take into account the level of competition. And then there’s the vibe that certain teams give off that even if the game is close, or the series is close, they’re gonna snag the dub. And they always do. That’s gotta count for something, right?
While it helps, you don’t have to win a championship to be on this list. There were some pretty 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.
This week, we’re unveiling who we think deserves to be included on this list, which is featured in our SLAM Presents TOP 75 NBA Teams of All Time special issue. Here’s our top 65-55:
65. 1983-84 Los Angeles Lakers
Coach: Pat Riley
Roster: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Michael Cooper, Calvin Garrett, Magic Johnson, Eddie Jordan, Mitch Kupchak, Bob McAdoo, Mike McGee, Swen Nater, Kurt Rambis, Byron Scott, Larry Spriggs, Jamaal Wilkes, James Worthy
The Lakers would have to wait one more year to finally beat the Celtics when it mattered most. Led by Kareem’s 26.6 ppg and 8.1 rpg in the series, the Lakers forced a Game 7 on the road. But whether it was the mystique of Boston Garden, that famously tricky parquet floor or simply a deep and talented Celtics team that had the benefit of homecourt advantage and League MVP Larry Bird, L.A. couldn’t quite vanquish its franchise kryptonite.
64. 1976-77 Philadephia 76ers
Coach: Gene Shue
Roster: Jim Barnett, Henry Bibby, Joe Bryant, Fred Carter, Harvey Catchings, Doug Collins, Darryl Dawkins, Mike Dunleavy, Julius Erving, World B. Free, Terry Furlow, Caldwell Jones, George McGinnis, Steve Mix
This Sixers squad might be best remembered for a roster that included future coaches (Doug Collins, Mike Dunleavy) and the fathers of future All-Stars (Joe Bryant, Harvey Catchings, Henry Bibby). Of course, Philly also had Dr. J in his first NBA season after a legendary five-year ABA run, and second-year big man Darryl Dawkins, a few years shy of his Chocolate Thunder prime. A fascinating roster, but no match for Bill Walton and the Blazers in the Finals.
63. 1967-68 Philadelphia 76ers
Coach: Alex Hannum
Roster: Wilt Chamberlain, Larry Costello, Billy Cunningham, Ron Filipek, Johnny Green, Hal Greer, Matt Guokas, Luke Jackson, Wali Jones, Bill Melchionni, Jim Reid, Chet Walker
Philly finished with the League’s best record, eight games clear of the Celtics in the East, thanks to balanced production from future Hall of Famers Hal Greer (24.1 ppg), Billy Cunningham (18.9 ppg), Chet Walker (17.9 ppg) and of course, Wilt Chamberlain, who put up 24.3 points and pulled down 23.8 boards per. The Sixers didn’t lose more than two straight all season…until the East Finals, when they blew a 3-1 lead against Russell, Havlicek and the eventual champs from Boston.
62. 2001-02 Sacramento Kings
Coach: Rick Adelman
Roster: Mike Bibby, Chucky Brown, Doug Christie, Mateen Cleaves, Vlade Divac, Lawrence Funderburke, Bobby Jackson, Scot Pollard, Brent Price, Jabari Smith, Peja Stojakovic, Hedo Turkoglu, Gerald Wallace, Chris Webber
For Kings fans, it is still a crime, the grandest larceny ever. Game 6 of the Western Finals against the Lakers was flat stolen from Sacramento. Missed calls. Allegations of referees fixing the proceedings. It was ugly, nasty business. And it robbed the team with the NBA’s best record, the one with Chris Webber in charge down low, Peja Stojakovic shooting from everywhere and a deep supporting cast of a title. It’s that simple. And that outrageous.
61. 1995-96 Seattle Supersonics
Coach: George Karl
Roster: Vincent Askew, Frank Brickowski, Sherell Ford, Hersey Hawkins, Ervin Johnson, Shawn Kemp, Nate McMillan, Gary Payton, Sam Perkins, Steve Scheffler, Detlef Schrempf, Eric Snow, David Wingate
What happens when one of the greatest teams in franchise history meets the greatest team in NBA history? Well, you can figure it out. The Sonics won the Pacific by 11 games and had a star-studded lineup with ferocious Shawn Kemp, Gary Payton on the perimeter, talking junk and stealing everything, smooth Detlef Schrempf all over the place and Hersey Hawkins shooting the lights out. Seattle was great. Really great. Unfortunately, the Bulls were greater.
60. 1956-57 Boston Celtics
Coach: Red Auerbach
Roster: Bob Cousy, Tom Heinsohn, Dick Hemric, Jim Loscutoff, Jack Nichols, Togo Palazzi, Andy Phillip, Frank Ramsey, Arnie Risen, Bill Russell, Bill Sharman, Lou Tsioropoulos
The birth of a dynasty. Led by the in-their-prime backcourt of Bob Cousy and Bill Sharman, and the frontcourt pairing of rookies Tom Heinsohn and Bill Russell, the Celtics made the franchise’s first Finals appearance in the spring of ’57. St. Louis took Boston to double OT in Game 7, but Heinsohn (37 points, 23 boards) matched Bob Pettit (39 and 19), and Russell went for 19 and 32 to help the Celtics claim the first of their 17 banners.
59. 2017-18 Houston Rockets
Coach: Mike D’Antoni
Roster: Ryan Anderson, Trevor Ariza, Tarik Black, Bobby Brown, Markel Brown, Isaiah Canaan, Clint Capela, Eric Gordon, Gerald Green, James Harden, Nene, RJ Hunter, Aaron Jackson, Demetrius Jackson, Joe Johnson, Luc Mbah a Moute, Chinanu Onuaku, Chris Paul, Zhou Qi, Tim Quarterman, PJ Tucker, Briante Weber, Troy Williams, Brandan Wright
Unfortunately, these Rockets, which featured the dynamic backcourt of James Harden, Chris Paul and Eric Gordon, won’t be remembered for their NBA-best record or high-scoring ways. They will be remembered for that 25-point second half in Game 6 of the Western Finals against Golden State and then a homecourt loss two days later that ended the series. Houston played fast, used Clint Capela to handle the rough stuff inside and still wonders what might have been.
58. 2004-05 Phoenix Suns
Coach: Mike D’Antoni
Roster: Leandro Barbosa, Zarko Cabarkapa, Steven Hunter, Jim Jackson, Casey Jacobsen, Joe Johnson, Maciej Lampe, Shawn Marion, Walter McCarty, Steve Nash, Bo Outlaw, Smush Parker, Quentin Richardson, Paul Shirley, Amar’e Stoudemire, Yuta Tabuse, Jake Voskuhl, Jackson Vroman
These Suns didn’t care much about defense, and they flamed out in the Western Finals against San Antonio, despite having the NBA’s best record. But what a fun team to watch. Led by League MVP Steve Nash, Phoenix pushed the tempo feverishly and featured a talented collection of scorers. Nobody could dunk like Shawn Marion, unless it was Amar’e Stoudemire. Joe Johnson was deadly from three, and Quentin Richardson shot from everywhere. Good times.
57. 2019-20 Los Angeles Lakers
Coach: Frank Vogel
Roster: Kostas Antetokounmpo, Avery Bradley, Devontae Cacok, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Alex Caruso, Quinn Cook, Troy Daniels, Anthony Davis, Jared Dudley, Danny Green, Talen Horton-Tucker, Dwight Howard, LeBron James, Kyle Kuzma, JaVale McGee, Markieff Morris, Zach Norvell, Rajon Rondo, JR Smith, Dion Waiters
One year after failing to make the playoffs, the Lakers won it all in the COVID-19 bubble. Anthony Davis joined LeBron James in a formidable pairing, and the duo combined for 51.4 ppg. The Lakers lost only five games in their four playoff series. James led the NBA in assists, the supporting cast handled its roles without complaint and the Lakers won it all in a season they dedicated to the late Kobe Bryant.
56. 2009-10 Boston Celtics
Coach: Doc Rivers
Roster: Ray Allen, Tony Allen, Marquis Daniels, Glen Davis, Michael Finley, Kevin Garnett, JR Giddens, Eddie House, Lester Hudson, Oliver Lafayette, Marcus Landry, Kendrick Perkins, Paul Pierce, Nate Robinson, Rajon Rondo, Brian Scalabrine, Henry Walker, Rasheed Wallace, Shelden Williams
The Celtics’ Big Three led the squad on another trek to the Finals that included an Atlantic Division title. Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen were again the engine on an Eastern Conference title team, with help from point man Rajon Rondo and center Kendrick Perkins, while Rasheed Wallace provided support up front. Boston led the Lakers, 3-2, in the Finals, but ultimately lost a seven-game decision.
55. 1996-97 Utah Jazz
Coach: Jerry Sloan
Roster: Shandon Anderson, Antoine Carr, Howard Eisley, Greg Foster, Jeff Hornacek, Stephen Howard, Adam Keefe, Karl Malone, Chris Morris, Ruben Nembhard, Greg Ostertag, Bryon Russell, John Stockton, Brooks Thompson, Jamie Watson
The Jazz had plenty of great seasons during the Karl Malone-John Stockton years, but this might have been the best. Malone was League MVP, and Utah set a franchise record for wins that still stands. Stockton once again ran the show and set up everyone, while Jeff Hornacek and Bryon Russell were valuable on the perimeter. The Jazz looked good, but as usual, the Bulls looked better, taking the Finals in six.
Photos via Getty Images.