The NBA usually has a typical set of teams that are in the upper echelon of the league each and every year. In fact, it is not unusual for the same franchise to win back-to-back championships and sometimes even back-to-back-to-back championships. Winning is often times predictable in the NBA, but how would these championship teams compare to one another if we juxtaposed them next to the each other? More specifically, what are some of the best championship teams in the past 20 years? This may even include the same franchise from different years.
For example, the Chicago Bulls won a three-peat two different times for a total of 6 championships, but which of the Chicago Bulls teams were the best and in what pecking order?
Or to take another example, Robert Horry played for three different championship teams. He played for the ’94 and ’95 Houston Rockets championship teams, the ’00, ’01, and ’02 Los Angeles Lakers championship team and the ’05 and ’07 San Antonio Spurs championship team. In total, Big Shot Bob has tallied 7 championships on 3 different teams. It is no wonder that one of the most frequent questions that Horry gets asked is, what was the best team he has ever played for? By all accounts, all 7 of those teams were the best that particular year, but how would these championship teams compare against one another?
Robert Horry has often said that Hakeem Olajuwon was the best player that he has ever played with and he has also said that his game winning shot to beat the Sacramento Kings was the most clutch shot that he has ever hit, but what was the best team that Robert Horry has ever played for?
In light of that question, what are the Top-10 best championship teams over the past 20 years (from 1994-2013) and how do they compare against one another?
10 ’94-’95 Houston Rockets
This Houston Rockets team only ended up winning 47 games during the regular season, which resulted in them being the 6th seed during the playoffs. However, this overlooked 6th seed won the NBA Championship in a demonstrative way. What made this team so unstoppable was the mid-season acquisition of Clyde Drexler from the Portland Trailblazers. Starved and deprived of a championship due to the Michael Jordan era, Clyde Drexler and the Houston Rockets were on a mission to win a ring for the Glide, especially since they had already won a championship the prior year and needed a new motivation to get them going again. And get going they did. The Dream embarrassed The Admiral who won the MVP award during the regular season and then he dominated a young Shaquille O’Neal by sweeping the Magic 4-0 in the NBA Finals.
9 ’11-’12 Miami Heat
After a devastating loss in the Finals to the Dallas Mavericks in 2011, the Miami Heat felt like they were at war against the entire world. After LeBron’s infamous speech predicting 5 to 10 championships, the Miami Heat felt a lot of pressure to win, and win fast. But despite all of the pressure that they placed upon themselves, they overcame all of the adversity that they faced and won a ring in 2012. The trio of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, were just too much for even the most explosive teams like the Oklahoma City Thunder. They were a nightmare to contain on offense and their perimeter defense maybe the closest thing to the Chicago Bulls of the '90's.
8 ’98-’99 San Antonio Spurs
This was the first time that the San Antonio Spurs won a championship and it was because of their twin towers. Although this was a lock-out year, there were still 50 games that were played, which did not include the playoffs. The San Antonio Spurs bullied everyone in the playoffs and only lost once leading up to the Finals, where they would eventually win the championship against the Knicks in 5 games. With the defensive combination of a young Tim Duncan and a David Robinson that was still in his prime, nobody could score in the paint. Duncan and Robinson were easily the best shot-blocking duo of all-time and made sure that every game was scored in the 70’s and ‘80’s.
7 ’99-’00 Los Angeles Lakers
A new era was beginning in Los Angeles with the arrival of Phil Jackson and Tex Winter. Jackson and Winter quickly implemented the Triangle Offense around Shaquille O’Neal and the team won 67 games that season. In fact, they had three different winning streaks that season where they won 11, 16, and 19 games in a row. O’Neal won the MVP award that year and a young Kobe Bryant was finally honing his game with more discipline in his shot selection. The dynamic duo ended up winning the Finals that year for the first time since the Showtime days in 1988 and would eventually form their own dynasty.
6 ’02-’03 San Antonio Spurs
By the ’02-’03 season, David Robinson was at the tail end of his career, but Tim Duncan was just hitting his prime. Additionally, the San Antonio Spurs had acquired two no-names from outside the States named Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, and a well-traveled journeyman named Bruce Bowen who was trying to make a defensive name for himself in the league. This team had perimeter defense, interior defense, and 3-point shooting with Steve Kerr, Steve Smith, Danny Ferry, and Stephen Jackson. With the well-balanced combination of youth, veterans, defense and offense, this team hardly had any holes.
5 ’97-’98 Chicago Bulls
It is hard to win one championship, but even harder to win back-to-back championships. The ’97-’98 Chicago Bulls, however, won back-to-back-to-back championships this year solidifying their dominance in the '90's. The Bulls finished with a regular season record of 62-20 because Pippen missed the first 15 games of the season. However, after the All-Star break, the Bulls were back in championship mode and had their 3-peat by beating a very competitive team against the Utah Jazz in the Finals.
4 ’01–‘02 Los Angeles Lakers
This was the year that the Los Angeles Lakers won their third championship in a row, solidifying their team as a dynasty and one of the best of the decade. Shaq was still his dominant force on the inside, albeit gaining some extra pounds, and Kobe was now making a case for being the best player on the team. This Laker team had also acquired Big Shot Bob who won the Sacramento Kings series for them with his epic 3-pointer that Vlade Divac tipped out to him. They then went on to sweep the New Jersey Nets in the NBA Finals 4-0 like it was a preseason scrimmage.
3 ’00–‘01 Los Angeles Lakers
The single taint on this Los Angeles Lakers team is that they acquired one loss on their road to a Championship. The Lakers swept every team they faced except for the Philadelphia 76ers, who were able to win in a thrilling overtime in the first game of the NBA Finals. However, their 15-1 record from the first round of the playoffs to their Championship, still remains the best post-season record of all-time. Derek Fisher was developing into a fine point guard and the veteran acquisitions of Horace Grant and Rick Fox helped bring composure and grit to one of the best teams in NBA history.
2 ’96-’97 Chicago Bulls
The Chicago Bulls just missed the 70-win mark by finishing with a regular season record of 69-13. They were nearly unstoppable at home with only two losses the entire year at the United Center. Michael Jordan was his usual self by winning his 9th scoring title (29.6 ppg) and Dennis Rodman was no different by winning his sixth straight rebounding title (16.1 rpg). Coming off of their first championship since Jordan’s return, this team was a DNA replica of the prior year and won a championship over the Utah Jazz in 6 games, including Jordan’s famous Flu Game in Game 5.
1 ’95-‘96 Chicago Bulls
Quite possibly the best team ever assembled, the Chicago Bulls finished the regular season with a 72-10 record, which is still the best of all-time. Jordan now had a year under his belt after returning to the NBA and he may have had the biggest chip, in the history of chips, on his broad shoulders. Jordan was mad. He was angry. And he was going to assassinate anyone that got in his path to another NBA Championship. During Jordan’s sabbatical, Scottie Pippen also developed into a better leader, and the acquisition of Dennis Rodman, along with the development of 6th Man of the Year – Tony Kukoc – made this team incredibly deep on offense and defense. In fact, Jordan, Pippen, and Rodman all made the All-Defensive First Team, which is the first time that three players on the same team ever made together. This Chicago Bulls team was not only the best in the past 20 years, but may be the best of all-time.