More than perhaps any other team sport, the NBA is a league that revolves around its star players. But a great team still requires more than one outstanding player.
We took a look back through the history of the NBA and picked out the best teams to ever play the game. Our list includes teams from the 1960s through today, and a squad doesn’t necessarily need to have won a championship to qualify — although it certainly helps.
These were the teams that had the best records, most dominant stat lines and most exciting lineups in NBA history, ranked in order of their greatness as of January 2019. Where did your favorite team land?
25. 2015-16 Cleveland Cavaliers
Regular Season: 57-25 | Playoffs: 16-5
After 46 years playing in the NBA, the Cleveland Cavaliers finally hung a championship banner in their arena in 2016. This tenacious team, led by LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, overcame the greatest odds in NBA Finals history by coming back from a 3-1 deficit to beat the heavily favored Golden State Warriors. The team’s 57 regular season wins were tops in the Eastern Conference, but it was in the postseason where they turned it up, posting a +14.3 adjusted playoff point differential, according to ESPN.
24. 2003-04 Detroit Pistons
Regular Season: 54-28 | Playoffs: 16-7
A team packed full of great players that weren’t household names, the 2003-04 Pistons already had many of the pieces in place for a great run. But by adding Rasheed Wallace to the mix mid-season, cemented their place as champions.
This team thrived on defense and disruption, holding their regular season opponents to 84.26 points per game, the lowest average of any title-winning team in history. In one playoff game, they held their opponents to 54 points, which is the second-lowest total ever for a postseason game. Along with Rasheed Wallace, players like Ben Wallace, Chauncey Billups and Tayshaun Prince made this team one of the greatest.
23. 2007-08 Boston Celtics
Regular Season: 66-16 | Playoffs: 16-10
One of the most significant teams in modern NBA history, the 2007-08 Celtics wrote the book on how to cobble together a championship team by putting together three All-Stars from different teams onto one super squad. The 2006-07 Celtics finished with the worst record in the Eastern Conference but then, after adding Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to Paul Pierce’s side, the team won a title the next year. The 2007-08 Celtics started the regular season at 29-3 and wrapped it up after an arduous playoff run that included a record 26 games en route to the title.
22. 1969-70 New York Knicks
Regular Season: 60-22 | Playoffs: 12-7
Like the 2003-04 Pistons, the 1969-70 Knicks were a true team from top to bottom — and one that thrived on defense. This was the first team ever to have three players on the NBA All-Defensive first team, with Willis Reed, Walt “Clyde” Frazier and Dave DeBusschere earning that honor. The team was the first championship squad for the Knicks and set several notable records for the time, including posting an 18-game winning streak and being the first team to ever start a season at 23-1.
21. 1972-73 New York Knicks
Regular Season: 57-25 | Playoffs: 12-5
The second — and, so far, latest — Knicks championship team boasted an incredible six future Hall of Fame players on its roster, and that doesn’t even include Phil Jackson, who would make the Hall of Fame as a coach. Knicks legends Willis Reed, Bill Bradley, Walt Frazier and Dave DeBusschere now had Earl “The Pearl” Monroe and Jerry Lucas joining them on the floor. The 1972-73 Knicks had five players averaging in double figures, including four averaging at least 15 points per game. The team would crush Wilt Chamberlain’s Los Angeles Lakers 4-1 in the NBA Finals.
20. 1988-89 Detroit Pistons
Regular Season: 63-19 | Playoffs: 15-2
One of the toughest teams in NBA history, the “Bad Boys” Pistons won the franchise’s first championship in style. The team’s 63-19 record was the best in Pistons history at the time and their 15-2 run in the playoffs is about as close to perfect as you can get, with their only two losses coming against Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls. Among the team’s stars were Isiah Thomas, Dennis Rodman, Joe Dumars and Bill Laimbeer. This team was so good it was able to trade away future Hall of Famer Adrian Dantley mid-season and still dominate.
19. 2012-13 Miami Heat
Regular Season: 66-16 | Playoffs: 16-7
The Heat’s second and final championship team of the “Big Three” era was arguably its best.
After getting off to a slow start at 28-13, the Heat would put together the best second half to a season in NBA history, going 38-3 down the stretch. Even with massive targets on their backs, the Heat managed to put together the second-longest win streak in NBA history, winning 27 consecutive games at one point, eventually posting the best regular season in franchise history. Future Hall of Famers LeBron James, Dwyane Wayde and Chris Bosh would play together again the following season, but it would end in disappointment.
18. 1994-95 Houston Rockets
Regular Season: 47-35 | Playoffs: 15-7
The 1994-95 Rockets didn’t have as good a regular season record as the 1993-94 championship team, but this squad added Clyde Drexler to an already stacked lineup.
“The Glide” averaged 21.4 points per game in the regular season and 20.5 points per game in the playoffs, while the team still belonged to Hakeem Olajuwon, who averaged a double-double all season. Round out the roster with stars like Sam Cassell, Robert Horry and Kenny “The Jet” Smith and you’ve got a hell of a team. Despite having many teams with better records, the Rockets haven’t won another title since.
17. 2000-01 Los Angeles Lakers
Regular Season: 56-26 | Playoffs: 15-1
The second of three straight championship teams for the Shaq/Kobe Lakers, this team had a solid regular season but really turned it on in the postseason.
Going 15-1 on the way to winning the title, the 2000-01 Lakers put up a +18.3 adjusted point differential in the playoffs, according to ESPN, showing how truly dominant they could be when they felt like it. While Shaq and Kobe combined to average nearly 60 points and 20 rebounds per game in the regular season, they were bolstered by role players like Derek Fisher, Rick Fox and Horace Grant.
16. 2013-14 San Antonio Spurs
Regular Season: 62-20 | Playoffs: 16-7
Spurs icon Tim Duncan’s fifth and final NBA championship team was arguably the biggest melting pot in league history, featuring a record 10 international players on the roster. The team played with a chip on its shoulder after losing in the 2013 NBA Finals, leading to a 62-win regular season that included a 19-game win streak and an undefeated March. The team posted a +7.7 point differential in the regular season and followed that with dominating in the playoffs, including a record +14.0 average point differential per game in the NBA Finals.
15. 1986-87 Los Angeles Lakers
Regular Season: 65-17 | Playoffs: 15-3
The “Showtime” Lakers were going strong in the 1986-87 season and would win yet another title over their arch-rival Boston Celtics when it was all over. This season’s squad included not only Magic Johnson winning MVP but also Michael Cooper winning defensive player of the year honors. The team combined to go 80-20 in the regular season and playoffs. Seven players averaged double figures in scoring all season, including Lakers icons Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy.
14. 1964-65 Boston Celtics
Regular Season: 62-18 | Playoffs: 8-4
The seventh consecutive championship team the Boston Celtics put together in the 1950s and ’60s was arguably the best of Bill Russell’s unstoppable era. Five future Hall of Famers were on the roster, including Russell, John Havlicek, K.C. Jones, Sam Jones and Tom Heinsohn. Six players averaged in double figures in scoring during the regular season and Russell averaged a double-double including an insane 24.1 rebounds per game.
13. 2014-15 Golden State Warriors
Regular Season: 67-15 | Playoffs: 16-5
The NBA’s current dynasty began its run of domination with this squad in 2014-15. New head coach Steve Kerr — himself a former member of some all-time great teams that we’ll get to later — turned the Warriors into an unstoppable force that would win a combined 83 games in the regular season and playoffs.
Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala and Draymond Green were all part of this first championship team of Golden State’s current run, and the addition of Shaun Livingston in the offseason proved to be key. This team could kill you from a distance, with three players shooting better than .400 from three-point range.
12. 1991-92 Chicago Bulls
Regular Season: 67-15 | Playoffs: 15-7
This was the season the Bulls proved they were the team of the ’90s, winning their second consecutive title in 1992. This team improved on the 1990-91 championship team by winning more games in the regular season and securing a combined 82 wins in the regular season and playoffs. The team posted a +10.4 average point differential all season and what’s most scary is that MVP Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen would have even better teams going forward.
11. 2015-16 Golden State Warriors
Regular Season: 73-9 | Playoffs: 15-9
Without question, the best team not to win a championship was the 2015-16 Warriors, who posted the best regular season record in NBA history.
This historic squad, which saw Steph Curry and Klay Thompson combine for more than 52 points per game, also won more road games than any team in league history and had the second-highest three-point shooting percentage for any team ever at .4155. It was all going smoothly until the Western Conference Finals, when they squeaked out a series win in seven games before losing to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals, collapsing after holding a 3-1 series lead.
10. 1998-99 San Antonio Spurs
Regular Season: 37-13 | Playoffs: 15-2
Spurs fans had been waiting since 1976 — when the team joined the NBA — to see their team win a title, and the 1998-99 season proved to be the first championship run of many to come. This team played in a shortened season because of a lockout, but that didn’t hamper them, as they would end with the league’s best record and a total domination of the playoffs, where they went 15-2.
The combination of David Robinson and Tim Duncan made for one of the best frontcourt duos in history, with the pair combining for 37.5 points, 21.4 rebounds and 4.9 blocks per game. This Spurs team also held their opponents to the lowest opposing field goal percentage for a season in NBA history.
9. 1982-83 Philadelphia 76ers
Regular Season: 65-17 | Playoffs: 12-1
A truly legendary team in NBA history, the 1982-83 76ers boasted four NBA All-Stars and is the only team ever to have three All-Star Game starters from the same year on its roster. Julius Erving and Maurice Cheeks were joined by Moses Malone to form a team that would dominate the regular season, putting together what is still the most winning regular season in 76ers history before going 12-1 in the playoffs. Cheeks, Malone and Bobby Jones were also part of the NBA’s All-Defensive first team for their work that season.
8. 1970-71 Milwaukee Bucks
Regular Season: 66-16 | Playoffs: 12-2
In only its third season as a franchise, the Milwaukee Bucks put together one of the fiercest teams in basketball history, led by legends Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson.
This team dominated the league in 1970-71, posting the best average margin of victory in NBA history at 17.5 points. The brutality didn’t stop in the regular season, as this team also holds the record for highest average point differential in playoffs history at +14.5. This squad had five players averaging in double figures, including three who averaged at least 18 points per game, with Abdul-Jabbar averaging 31.7.
7. 1984-85 Los Angeles Lakers
Regular Season: 62-20 | Playoffs: 15-4
Arguably the peak of “Showtime,” the 1984-85 Lakers did what no other team in franchise history had done before: beat the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals.
This immensely talented team included five future Hall of Famers and had eight players averaging at least 8 points per game, including four that averaged at least 16. This offensive juggernaut of a team posted a +7.4 average point differential per game all season and scored at least 100 points in all 19 playoff games they took part in. The 1984-85 Lakers still hold the record for the highest field goal shooting percentage for a season at .5448.
6. 1996-97 Chicago Bulls
Regular Season: 69-13 | Playoffs: 15-4
Bolstered by what might be the best lineup of players Michael Jordan ever had surrounding him, the 1996-97 Bulls were able to win the team’s fourth title of the 1990s and second in a row.
Hall of Famers Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman were joined by starters Ron Harper and Luc Longley — and had a bench rotation that included Steve Kerr, Toni Kukoc and Hall of Famer Robert Parish. This team went on five different eight-game winning streaks during the regular season and had they not coasted through their final four games, could have made history with wins in a season.
5. 1966-67 Philadelphia 76ers
Regular Season: 68-13 | Playoffs: 11-4
A team that was basically unstoppable at the time, the 1966-67 76ers had the best winning percentage in NBA history at the time. This team’s 46-4 start is still tied as the best mark through 50 games ever, and, at a time when scoring wasn’t as ridiculous as it is today, they averaged 125.22 points per game, which is still the third-highest ever. This lineup boasted four Hall of Famers, including Wilt Chamberlain Larry Costello, Hal Greer and Chet Walker. Chamberlain was the league’s MVP, averaging a double-double of 24 points and 24 rebounds per game all season.
4. 1985-86 Boston Celtics
Regular Season: 67-15 | Playoffs: 15-3
The Boston Celtics have been blessed with many great teams over the years, but the 1985-86 squad might have been the franchise’s best ever. The frontcourt scoring combination of Larry Bird, Robert Parish and Kevin McHale is one of the toughest ever, and the backcourt included the legendary Bill Walton, who was still dominant at the end of his career.
After losing to the Lakers in the 1985 NBA Finals, this team had a fire under it, leading to a then-record 82 combined wins in the regular season and playoffs. This squad had five future Hall of Famers on its roster, which helped it to a 40-1 record at home, which is still tied for the best mark ever.
3. 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers
Regular Season: 69-13 | Playoffs: 12-3
A complete team from top to bottom, the 1971-72 Lakers relied on future Hall of Famers Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, Elgin Baylor and Gail Goodrich to crush the rest of the league en route to winning the franchise’s first title in Los Angeles. Several records this team broke still stand nearly 50 years later, including the best average point differential per game ever at +12.3 and a 33-game winning streak during the regular season. This squad’s 69-13 record was the best in league history for 24 seasons. They were so good they crushed a New York Knicks team loaded with Hall of Famers 4-1 in the NBA Finals.
2. 2016-17 Golden State Warriors
Regular Season: 67-15 | Playoffs: 16-1
As you’ve seen from this list, the Steph Curry-era Warriors were already immensely talented, but the addition of Kevin Durant in 2016 made them virtually unbeatable. The 2016-17 Warriors broke a ton of NBA records on their way to a 16-1 playoff record, which is the best playoff winning percentage in history.
This team clinched its playoff berth on Feb. 25, the earliest any team has ever done it, which is remarkable when you consider how good the Western Conference was. This team was truly scary and could end up having at least four Hall of Famers on its roster. In 2018, ESPN called them the best NBA team in history — but we’ll say one squad could beat them.
1. 1995-96 Chicago Bulls
Regular Season: 72-10 | Playoffs: 15-3
The beginning of Michael Jordan’s second run of three consecutive championships with the Bulls was when things truly turned unfair for the rest of the league. The franchise picked up Dennis Rodman in the offseason, teaming him with Jordan and Scottie Pippen for maybe the best combination of offense and defense the league has ever seen.
The team’s 41-3 start is still the best ever, and the 1995-96 Bulls still have the best combined regular season and playoff record ever at 87-13. This is the only team ever to win at least 70 games in the regular season and finish as NBA champions. This is also the most recent team to have three players on the NBA All-Defensive first team. That, combined with their +12.2 average point differential per game, and that they were led by the most feared player in basketball history make them the best team to ever take the floor in the NBA.