Because there have been so many great NBA teams over the year, this is not an easy one to do. The attempt here is to rank the top teams based on one season. The Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls had two great runs interrupted by his venture into baseball. But which one of those six Bulls championship teams was the best? The same can be disputed about the great Larry Bird-led Boston Celtics teams or the Magic Johnson-led Lakers.
Below, we try to fine-tune the best five teams ever to take the court in the NBA. Before you get in a huff, and to narrow the field, let me say this: To be on this list, the team must have won the NBA Championship that season.
5.) 1986–87 Los Angeles Lakers (Regular season record: 65-17, NBA Champions defeated Boston, 4-2)
Under the guidance of head coach Pat Riley, the Los Angeles Lakers regained the NBA Championship chocked full of some of the greatest players of all time. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson and James Worthy were the cornerstones of this great team. However, what cannot be overlooked is the play of Michael Cooper, who was named the league’s Defensive Player of the Year. Rugged Kurt Rambis and sharpshooters Byron Scott and A.C. helped carry the Lakers past Denver, Golden State and Seattle in the post season and onto a meeting with the Boston Celtics. The Lakers beat Boston in six games, the first of back-to-back Los Angeles championship in the Jabbar-Magic era.
4.) 1970-71 Milwaukee Bucks (Regular season record: 66-16, NBA Champions defeated Baltimore, 4-0)
1971 was only the third season in the Bucks franchise history, but it became one of the most dominate seasons of all time. Lew Alcindor out of UCLA, the number one pick in the NBA Draft in 1969, was in his second season in Milwaukee and needed another presence to make the Bucks better. So the team made a deal with the Cincinnati Royals to acquire guard Oscar Robertson. With Alcindor in the front court, Robertson running the backcourt, and contributions from Bob Dandridge, Jon McGlocklin and Lucius Allen, the Bucks finished with an NBA best 66–16 record. The 66 wins that season included a 20-game winning streak. They went 12–2 in the post season and swept the Baltimore Bullets 4–0 in the NBA Finals.
3.) 1971-1972 Los Angeles Lakers (Regular season record: 69–13, NBA Champions defeated NY Knicks, 4-1)
The season following the Bucks’ run to the championship saw another team with a dominate big man win the title. The Lakers, with Wilt Chamberlain in the middle, set a NBA record that still stands today. They won 33 straight games on their way to a 69-13 record during the regular season. The 69 wins were the most in a single NBA season, a record that lasted until the 1995–96 Chicago Bulls won 72. Chamberlain, along with Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, Happy Hairston and Gail Goodrich, plowed through the playoffs and won the Lakers’ first NBA title since moving from Minneapolis in 1960. The NBA title was the only one in the career of Hall of Famer Jerry West and occurred during the final season in the career of another Hall of Fame member, Elgin Baylor.
2.) 1985-86 Boston Celtics (Regular season record: 67-15, NBA Champions defeated Houston, 4-2)
A team that featured some of the greatest players in NBA history, the Boston Celtics rolled to an incredible 40-1 mark at home (three of those games were played in Hartford, Connecticut). The Celtics went 67–15 in the regular season led by Larry Bird, who became one of the greatest NBA post season players ever. Also with Bird that season were Kevin McHale, Robert Parish, and Bill Walton. Walton went on to win the NBA Sixth Man of the Year award. In the back court were Dennis Johnson, and Danny Ainge. Under head coach K.C. Jones, the championship was the 16th in Celtics history.
1.) 1995-96 Chicago Bulls (Regular season record: 72-10, NBA Champions, defeated Seattle 4-2)
There has never been a more dominate team than the Chicago Bulls of 1995-96. This was the fourth title of six won by the Michael Jordan-Scottie Pippen led Bulls. Their record of 72 wins held up until the Golden State Warriors broke the mark with 73 wins during the 2015–16 season. Overall, the Bulls that season went a combined 87-13, still an NBA record. Jordan won the NBA MVP “Triple Crown” by winning the MVP award of the All Star game, the Finals and the regular season. Dennis Rodman led the league in rebounds and joined Pippen on the all defensive team. Phil Jackson’s “Zen Master” approach as head coach put a finishing touch on a remarkable run.