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11 Most Dominant Championship Runs in NBA History

by: Esteban On  Tuesday, May 22, 2012

most dominant championship runs in nba history

We’re almost halfway through the 2012 NBA Playoffs, and so far the San Antonio Spurs have yet to lose a game. In fact, going back to the end of the regular season, they’ve won 18 straight. That’s what I call hot.

If the Spurs maintain their dominant play, they have a chance of joining some elite company. And I’m not just talking about winning a 5th Championship since 1999. I’m talking about winning a 5th championship in epically dominant fashion. No NBA team has ever swept the playoffs in winning a championship, only two teams have lost just one game, and only five teams have lost just two.

So if the Spurs stay this hot, they can make history in more ways than one. Of course, to do it they’ll have to dominate the OKC Thunder. They may not be a dynasty, but they’ve lost just 1 game so far.

In any case, today, let’s get excited for the Western Conference Finals by taking a look at the teams that have made the most impressive championship runs in the history of the NBA.

11. 1982 Lakers

kareem abdul-jabbar and moses malone 1982 nba finals

Playoff Format: 3-7-7-7

Overall Record: 12-2

Series Record: 4-0, 4-0, 4-2

Win %: .875

Finals MVP: Magic Johnson

The format of the NBA Playoffs from 1975 to 1983 makes it impossible to put this otherwise dominant championship run any higher than #11. Back then, 4 teams got first-round byes, and the first round was only 3 games. And in my book, this format allows for too many flukes—i.e., poor teams beating significantly better teams in round 1 because they only had to win 2 out of 3. The Lakers obviously got a first-round bye in 1982, then pounded the Suns and Spurs before getting challenged by the 76ers in the finals. If they had lost fewer than 2 games, or if those 2 games were spread out among their opponents, then you could say it was an all-time great championship run regardless of the playoff format. But it’s not like #11 all-time is bad or anything.

10. 2007 Spurs

tim duncan and lebron james 2007 nba finals

Playoff Format: 7-7-7-7

Overall Record: 16-4

Series Record: 4-1, 4-2, 4-1, 4-0

Win %: .800

Finals MVP: Tony Parker

The ’07 Spurs are the only team from their era (in which every round is best-of-seven) on the list. Now, some would say that playing more series and more games in each series doesn’t really matter, since the quality of competition will necessarily be lower than it would have been if fewer teams are allowed in the playoffs. But I don’t say that. I say, even if the quality of the opposition is significantly lower, playing more series composed of more games makes a great championship run harder. Sure, a #1 seed probably plays a team with a sub-.500 record in the first round, but the extra games provide more time for things to go wrong—especially in the injury department. So playing four best-of-seven series and losing only 4 games is still pretty impressive. Especially when you cap it off with a sweep of LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

9. 1971 Bucks

1971 milwaukee bucks nba champions

Playoff Format: 7-7-7

Overall Record: 12-2

Series Record: 4-1, 4-1, 4-0

Win %: .875

Finals MVP: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Why do the 1971 Bucks get to go higher than the 1982 Lakers, even though they had to win the same number of games for the championship and had the same winning percentage? No preliminary round bye and no best-of-three series, meaning there were fewer chances for fluke match-ups. Also important: they didn’t lose more than 1 game to any one opponent, and they swept the Bullets in the finals.

8. 1996 Bulls

jordan 1996 nba finals

Playoff Format: 5-7-7-7

Overall Record: 15-3

Series Record: 3-0, 4-1, 4-0, 4-2

Win %: .833

Finals MVP: duh

The first third of the Bulls’ second three-peat was a pretty dominant run with only 3 losses in 4 rounds. Unfortunately, two of them came against one opponent—the Supersonics, in the finals. (Obviously, the MVP of the finals was #23.)

7. 1986 Celtics

larry bird 1986 nba finals

Playoff Format: 5-7-7-7

Overall Record: 15-3

Series Record: 3-0, 4-1, 4-0, 4-2

Win %: .833

Finals MVP: Bird

Same playoff format, same overall record, same series record, same result. So why are the ’86 Celts higher than the ’96 Bulls? One word: coin toss. Also, I’d say the era had a bit more competition. In the finals, Larry Bird and the Celtics had to beat playoff points leader Hakeem Olajuwan and the Houston Rockets, who in turn had to beat Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the Lakers. No offense to Shawn Kemp and Gary Payton, but…yeah.

6. 1987 Lakers

Abdul-Jabbar hook shot

Playoff Format: 5-7-7-7

Overall Record: 15-3

Series Record: 3-0, 4-1, 4-0, 4-2

Win %: .833

Finals MVP: Magic

Once again: same format, same overall record, same series record, same result. And once again, this one comes down to competition. Magic and company had to be the defending champion Celtics in the finals.

5. 1999 Spurs

Robinson_duncan 1999 nba finals

Playoff Format: 5-7-7-7

Overall Record: 15-2

Series Record: 3-1, 4-0, 4-0, 4-1

Win %: .882

Finals MVP: Tim Duncan

Now we’re getting to the legendary NBA Championship runs. Two sweeps and no more than one loss to any one opponent? That’s dominance. Latrell Sprewell, Patrick Ewing, and the Knicks won Game 3 of the finals and managed to make Game 5 close, but they were just no match for David Robinson, Tim Duncan, and the Spurs.

4. 1989 Pistons

joe dumars 1989 nba finals mvp

Playoff Format: 5-7-7-7

Overall Record: 15-2

Series Record: 3-0, 4-0, 4-2, 4-0

Win %: .882

Finals MVP: Joe Dumars

Normally the fact that the Pistons lost 2 games—their only 2—to a single opponent would take them down a few notches. But since those 2 losses came against an up-and-coming 25-year-old named Michael Jordan, we won’t count it against them so much.

3. 1991 Bulls

michael jordan 1991 nba champion bulls

Playoff Format: 5-7-7-7

Overall Record: 15-2

Series Record: 3-0, 4-1, 4-0, 4-1

Win %: .882

Finals MVP: who do you think?

In 1991, Jordan and the Bulls finally came into their own. After losing in the Eastern Conference Finals to the Pistons each of the previous two seasons (4-2 and 4-3), Chicago didn’t just get over the hump. They completely leveled the hump, smashing Detroit 4-0 and then cruising against the aging Lakers in the finals. Talk about a changing of the guard.

2. 1983 76ers

1983 76ers nba champions

Playoff Format: 3-7-7-7

Overall Record: 12-1

Series Record: 4-0, 4-1, 4-0

Win %: .923

Finals MVP: Moses Malone

The ’83 Sixers played under the same dumb playoff format as the #11 ’82 Lakers. But unlike the Lakers, who lost 2 games in the ’82 finals—to the 76ers—Philadelphia only lost 1 game total in 1983, and that was to a very good Milwaukee Bucks team in the Eastern Conference Finals. They swept Kareem, Magic, and the defending champion Lakers in the finals, finishing the season with a record of 77-18. Which is pretty good.

1. 2001 Lakers

kobe bryant lakers 2001 nba champions

Playoff Format: 5-7-7-7

Overall Record: 15-1

Series Record: 3-0, 4-0, 4-0, 4-1

Win %: .938

Finals MVP: Shaq

Some might argue that this was a weaker era than the one dominated by which Magic, Bird, and Jordan. And, really, it was. But 15-1 in the playoffs en route to a championship is hard to do in any era. And it’s not like the Lakers didn’t face any good teams. They swept the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Finals—pretty much the same team that went 15-2 to win the Larry O’Brien trophy just two years earlier. So any way you cut it, this is just the most dominant championship run in the history of the NBA…so far.