Winning an NBA Championship is extremely tough. A team has to play through an 82-game schedule, then four of the best teams in the league, beating them four times in seven games. At the end, the season is a long nine-month grind, with the final two months being gritty, physical playoff games.
Since 2010, 12 teams have won the NBA Finals, all solidifying themselves in league history. However, some teams proved to be a little more special than most, going on to be some of the best teams in NBA history.
1. Golden State Warriors, 2017 (67-15) and 2018 (58-24)
This list starts with the 2017 and ‘18 Golden State Warriors. The back-to-back NBA Champions had relatively similar rosters while also maintaining the argument for being one of the best NBA teams ever assembled.
The team featured, among others, Kevin Durant, who won Finals MVP both years. He signed in free agency after the Warriors had broken the record for most wins in the regular season but lost a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals. His signing was controversial because in the 2016 Western Conference Finals, Durant and the Oklahoma CIty Thunder blew a 3-1 lead against the Warriors.
The team already had Stephen Curry, who had won the MVP the two previous seasons, Klay Thompson, one of the best shooters of all time, and Draymond Green, one of the best defenders in the league.
For two years the Warriors faced little resistance, and they could have made it a three-peat if it wasn’t for injuries. The only real challenge the Warriors had in 2017 and 2018 was a seven-game series against the Houston Rockets 2018.
2. Miami Heat 2013 (66-16)
The 2013 Miami Heat season and championship run was something special. The team won 66 games, a Heat franchise record, and is one of 17 teams in NBA history to have more than 65 wins in a season. The team also went on a 27-game winning streak, third-longest in NBA history.
It was the third season of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh in South Beach, and they were coming off two straight Finals appearances, winning one. The Heat were the heavy favorite, and they delivered. The team struggled in the regular season the last two seasons, as they were still figuring out how to play together, but this season it all clicked.
In the Finals the Heat barely beat a great San Antonio Spurs team, needing an amazing Ray Allen 3-pointers to save their season in Game 6. The Allen shot, and the Spurs dismantling the Heat the following season often overshadows the achievements of this 2013 championship team.
3. San Antonio Spurs, 2014 (62-20)
After losing to the Heat in the 2013 NBA Finals, in 2014, the San Antonio Spurs were looking for revenge, which they would get. In 2013, the Spurs were so close to winning that they had started to block off the court and get the trophy ready, but then Allen’s shot happened, forcing a Game 7.
In 2014, the Spurs gave the Heat no chance to win, winning the series 4-1 behind a young and blossoming Kawhi Leonard, who won Finals MVP. It was the last of four NBA championships for the Spurs’ historic core of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginóbili.
Despite not having a player who averaged over 20 points per game in the regular season, the Spurs won 62 games, losing five games after the All-Star break.
4. Cleveland Cavaliers, 2016 (57-25)
The 2016 Cleveland Cavaliers pulled one of the biggest upsets in NBA Finals history. They defeated the Golden State Warriors that won 73 games in the regular season, a league record. In the Finals, they came back from being down 3-1 to win Game 7 off two epic plays by James and Kyrie Irving.
The Cavaliers had lost the NBA Finals to the Warriors the previous season. However, Irving was injured in Game 1, and Kevin Love was injured in the first round of the playoffs. That left James with little help. The 2016 NBA Finals was an anticipated rematch, with the Cavaliers having all their stars. It did not disappoint, leading to one of the greatest Game 7s in NBA history.
The Cavaliers did go through a coaching change in the middle of the season, firing head coach David Blatt and replacing him with assistant Tyron Lue, which proved to be an excellent choice.
5. Dallas Mavericks, 2011 (57-25)
The 2011 Dallas Mavericks shocked the world by beating the recently formed Miami Heat super team with James, Wade, and Bosh. The Mavericks played as an organized style that did everything they needed to win while the Heat was still figuring out how to play together.
The Mavericks were led by Dirk Nowitzki, who played amazingly throughout the whole playoffs, on his way to winning Finals MVP. The rest of the roster featured hard-nosed role players who knew their jobs, such as Tyson Chandler, Shawn Marion, Jason Kidd, and Jason Terry. The team played in complete harmony, having multiple comebacks wins in the Finals.
In the playoffs, the Mavericks had one of the most challenging roads to the Finals. They had to beat the Los Angeles Lakers and the Oklahoma City Thunder, the two teams that represented the Western Conference in the Finals the season before and after the Mavericks.
6. Golden State Warriors, 2015 (67-15)
The Golden State Warriors had arrived, and in the first season with Steve Kerr as head coach, they won the NBA Finals, after winning 67 games in the regular season. This season would be a precursor to the next five years of dominating the Western Conference.
Curry officially started his road to being the best shooter in NBA history, winning his first MVP. Curry and Thompson had flirted with being the best backcourt in the NBA, but this season it became official, as their offensive firepower from three was in full effect.
They faced James and the Cavaliers in the Finals and got some help from the Cavaliers stars getting injured, but ended the season on top of the NBA.
7. Los Angeles Lakers, 2020 (52-19)
Near the end of the 2020 season, a global pandemic put the world on pause, and the NBA season was halted. When the league restarted in the Disney World Bubble, the Los Angeles Lakers ended the historic and trying stretch by raising the trophy.
Before the pandemic, the Lakers were heavy favorites to win the NBA Finals, with one of the NBA’s best defenses. The pair of James and Anthony Davis was dominant on both sides of the court, as they made quick work of teams in the NBA bubble.
The time off may have helped the Lakers a little, with Davis not able to play through an entire season since. However, the Lakers team could have still ended the season as the 2020 NBA Champions with or without the bubble.
8. Milwaukee Bucks, 2021 (46-26)
In contrast to the 2020 NBA Champions Lakers, the Milwaukee Bucks were negatively affected by the NBA’s odd schedule and opted to not have another bubble. COVID-19 played a significant factor in their regular-season record, ending the season in third place in the Eastern Conference, tied for the lowest seeded team to win the Finals since 2010.
Giannis Antetokounmpo took the next step to becoming a superstar in the NBA Finals, after winning the two previous MVPs,solidifying his status with a Finals MVP. After losing the first two games to the Phoenix Suns, the Bucks won the next four. In the closeout game, Antetokounmpo put on a dazzling performance, scoring 50 points.
The team was a Durant big toe away from being eliminated in the second round of the playoffs, but the Bucks powered through, getting better every series, to win the Finals.
9. Toronto Raptors, 2019 (58-24)
The 2019 Toronto Raptors are the NBA’s equivalent of a one-hit-wonder. In the offseason before the season, they traded All-Star DeMar DeRozan for injured and load management All-Star Leonard.
The playoff run by the Raptors will go down as one of the most exciting, sending the Philadelphia 76ers home in Game 7 on a buzzer-beater by Leonard that bounced around the rim for what felt like forever. After falling behind two games to MVP Antetokounmpo and the Bucks, they came back, winning the next four games. Finally, they beat the Warriors in the Finals, who had made five straight Finals appearances.
The Warriors snuggled with injuries in the Finals with Durant playing 12 minutes. Thompson got hurt in a closeout Game 6, in which he had a game high 30 points despite not playing in the fourth quarter. Still, the Warriors lost by four points. If the Warriors stayed healthy, maybe the Raptors wouldn’t have won, but their season was still incredible.
10. Los Angeles Lakers, 2010 (57-25)
After losing to the Boston Celtics in the 2008 NBA Finals, the Lakers had been looking for revenge, and in 2010 they got it. The team had made its third Finals in a row, beating the Orlando Magic easily in 2009. The series against their arch-rivals would go to Game 7.
This was Kobe Byrant’s final NBA Championship, bringing his total to five titles. Outside of Bryant, Pau Gasol was the next best offensive weapon, with Metta World Peace as the team’s defensive anchor. A lot fell on the shoulders of Bryant on offense, who gladly took the challenge on his way to the Finals MVP.
11. Miami Heat, 2012 (46-20)
After a surprise loss to the Mavericks in the 2011 NBA Finals, the Miami Heat needed an offseason to recoup, retool, and build up camaraderie. Unfortunately, due to an NBA lockout, it seemed as if they didn’t get to their best self this season. Despite a lackluster record, they landed the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference.
The Heat roster did not improve after the previous series, relying on James, Wade, and Bosh to carry the team while still trying to overcome the bumps in the road. The most significant bump came against the Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals, as they fell behind 3-2, having to win the last two games. They faced the extremely young Oklahoma City Thunder in the Finals, who may have reached this type of success too early, and James won his first NBA Championship.