NBA at 50:
So legendary are the teams that comprise the Top 10 teams in NBA History, it only takes one of the above phrases to evoke a spate of memories. The Top 10 teams were selected in 1996 by a panel of media members who regularly cover the NBA. Voters were asked to select the top 10 teams in NBA history, without ranking them, as part of the NBA at 50 celebration during the ’96-97 season.
The 10 teams selected averaged 66 wins per season (for an .805 winning percentage) and all went on to win the NBA Championship. Three teams were selected from the 1960s, one from the 1970s, four from the 1980s and two from the 1990s.
(Editor’s note: Top 10 teams listed in chronological order.)
1964-65 Boston Celtics
Record: 62-18 (.775)
The skinny: Led by Bill Russell, Sam Jones, John Havlicek, Tom Sanders and Tom Heinsohn…Broke its own league record for most victories in a season and went on to win the Celtics’ seventh consecutive NBA championship…Battled the Philadelphia 76ers in an East Finals for the ages, winning Game Seven 110-109; John Havlicek’s deflection at game’s end produced the legendary “Havlicek stole the ball!” radio call from Celtics broadcaster Johnny Most…Defeated the L.A. Lakers 4-1 in 1965 NBA Finals.
1966-67 Philadelphia 76ers
Record: 68-13 (.840)
The skinny: Propelled by Wilt Chamberlain, Hal Greer, Chet Walker and Billy Cunningham, started the season 46-4 and went on to set record for most victories in a season (broken by 1971-72 L.A. Lakers)…Ended Celtics’ run of eight consecutive championships by defeating Boston 4-1 in Eastern Division Finals…Defeated the San Francisco Warriors 4-2 in 1967 NBA Finals.
1969-70 New York Knicks
Record: 60-22 (.732)
The skinny: Willis Reed, Walt Frazier, Dick Barnett, Dave DeBusschere, Bill Bradley and Cazzie Russell starred for one of the best passing teams in NBA history…Captured New York’s first NBA Championship by defeating Los Angeles 4-3 in the memorable 1970 NBA Finals…Captain Willis Reed, who missed Game Six due to a torn leg muscle, hobbled onto the Madison Square Garden floor before Game Seven and scored New York’s first two baskets to inspire the Knicks to a 113-99 victory.
1971-72 L.A. Lakers
Record: 69-13 (.841)
The skinny: Gail Goodrich, Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain, Jim McMillian and Happy Hairston combined to bring Lakers their first championship of the Los Angeles era…Broke Philadelphia’s 1966-67 record for wins in a season (broken by Chicago in 1995-96), at one point winning 33 consecutive games, a record that still stands…Won NBA record 16 consecutive road games…Best road winning percentage in NBA history (.816; 31-7)…Defeated New York 4-1 in 1972 NBA Finals.
1982-83 Philadelphia 76ers
Record: 65-17 (.793)
The skinny: Moses Malone joined the 76ers as a free agent and teamed with Julius Erving, Andrew Toney, Maurice Cheeks and Bobby Jones to bring the 76ers their first title in 16 seasons…Malone proclaimed the 76ers would sweep through the NBA Playoffs in “Fo’, Fo’, Fo'” and he wasn’t far off as Philadelphia cruised in “Fo’, Fi’, Fo'” to post the best winning percentage in NBA Playoffs history at .923 (12-1).
1985-86 Boston Celtics
Record: 67-15 (.817)
The skinny: Stung by a 4-2 loss to the L.A. Lakers in the 1985 NBA Finals, Larry Bird led the Celtics featuring Robert Parish, Kevin McHale, Dennis Johnson, Danny Ainge and a rejuvenated Bill Walton to the best record in franchise history and a 4-2 defeat of Houston in the 1986 NBA Finals…Posted 40-1 record at Boston Garden, best home winning percentage (.976) in NBA history…Fifth-best overall winning percentage ever (.817).
1986-87 L.A. Lakers
Record: 65-17 (.793)
The skinny: The Lakers recaptured their place atop the NBA thanks to the “Showtime” fast-break style spearheaded by Earvin “Magic” Johnson and teammates Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, James Worthy, Byron Scott, A.C. Green and Michael Cooper…Johnson averaged a career-best 23.9 points per game and led the league in assists with a 12.2 average…Lakers defeated Boston 4-2 in the 1987 NBA Finals after winning 11 of their first 12 games in the playoffs.
1988-89 Detroit Pistons
Record: 63-19 (.768)
The skinny: Isiah Thomas, Bill Laimbeer, Joe Dumars, Mark Aguirre, Vinnie Johnson and Dennis Rodman combined to form the heart of one of the strongest defensive teams in the modern era…Lacking a dominant center, Pistons featured a potent three-guard rotation and a deep bench that rebounded and defended relentlessly…Pistons were 15-2 in 1989 playoffs, including 4-0 sweep of L.A. Lakers in 1989 NBA Finals.
1991-92 Chicago Bulls
Record: 67-15 (.817)
The skinny: Michael Jordan dominated the NBA and received strong support from teammates Scottie Pippen, Horace Grant, B.J. Armstrong, Bill Cartwright and John Paxson…Topped previous championship season by winning six more games than in 1990-91, the fifth-winningest season in league history…Defeated the Portland Trail Blazers 4-2 in 1992 NBA Finals.
1995-96 Chicago Bulls
Record: 72-10 (.878)
The skinny: Featuring Superman (Michael Jordan), Batman (Scottie Pippen) and Rodman (Dennis Rodman), Bulls shattered record for most wins in a regular season…Won 87 of 100 games, including the playoffs…Ron Harper, Luc Longley, Toni Kukoc and Steve Kerr rounded out core of driven team that featured triangle offense…Started season an amazing 41-3…Jordan’s first full season since returning from retirement.