Power Ranking the 9 Worst NBA Championship Teams
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"Worst Champion,"—it's like "Jumbo-Shrimp"—it's a phrase that almost makes no sense when you first read it.
How can you be the "best" without being "the best?"
With 69 NBA Champions in the record books, they can't all be equal. Surely there were better teams and worse teams included in the long history of the NBA. Some teams probably dominated their opponents for an easy title win. Others may have struggled and ultimately just eked out the victory.
What about the competition? If a great team beats another great team, then that's impressive. What about a great team beating an opponent that wasn't that great? What if key players were injured? There really are a lot of factors when one thinks about it.
Like any major professional sports league, the NBA has changed a lot over the years. For the purposes of this discussion, the list includes the champs from the post ABA-NBA merger, which took place on June 17, 1976. That makes the 1976-1977 season the starting point. That means that nine of the 35 Champions from June of 1977 on will be included in this slideshow.
All of them are ultimately great teams, but these nine might just be a shade below some of their peers.
9. Detroit Pistons, 1990
Isiah Thomas led the Pistons to their second consecutive finals win in 1990.
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1989-1990 Detroit Pistons. Regular season record: 59-23 (tied for second in NBA). Won Central Division. No. 1 seed, Eastern Conference.
This was the second of the back-to-back titles by the "Bad Boys" Pistons of the late 1980s. The teams were known for hard-nosed and physical defense.
Make no mistake about this team, they were very good and barely deserve placement on this list. The defense for the era was exceptional, and the balanced attack which featured Isiah Thomas at point guard distributing the ball to the likes of Joe Dumars, Mark Aguirre, Bill Laimbeer, John Salley and Vinnie Johnson made them a tough team to defend.
Their only slight deficiency was that they simply weren't as dominant as their predecessor. The 1988-1989 Pistons won 63 games and swept a Lakers team led which was by league MVP Magic Johnson in the finals. This Pistons team won less regular season games and faced a slightly less impressive Portland Trail Blazers team that had no finals experience. They beat them easily in a 4-1 finals triumph.
8. Los Angeles Lakers, 2002
Shaq and Kobe won their final title together in June of 2002.
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2001-2002 Los Angeles Lakers. Regular season record: 58-24. Finished second in Pacific Division. No. 3 seed, Western Conference.
This team is an excellent example of just how good NBA Champs are. This is by no stretch of the imagination a bad, or even not-great basketball team.
The squad's assets? Two of the best players of all time in Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant. One of the best coaches of all time in Phil Jackson. The team won nearly 60 games and won its third-straight NBA title.
Yet, this team also got to square off against a 52-win New Jersey Nets team that had to squeak by a 49-win Boston Celtics team in the Eastern Conference Finals.
The Nets' center that season was Todd MacCulloch, who was hopelessly overmatched by Shaquille O'Neal.
To the Lakers' credit they swept the Nets, but to their detriment (for the purposes of this slideshow), New Jersey was a weak opponent.
7. Los Angeles Lakers, 2010
Losing Kendrick Perkins for Game 7 put the Celtics at a decided disadvantage against the Lakers.
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2009-2010 Los Angeles Lakers. Regular season record: 57-25 (third in NBA). Won Pacific Division, No. 1 seed, Western Conference.
The 2009-2010 Lakers were coming off a dominant season in which they had won more than 60 games and trounced the Orlando Magic in the NBA Finals in June of 2009. This season was one that featured some key changes. Adding Ron Artest (now Metta World Peace) and losing Trevor Ariza were both key additions and subtractions.
The team's regular season record wasn't great compared to some squads, but the team also endured some injuries to key players such as Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol.
Eventually, the Lakers would meet up with their long-time rival the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals. This Celtics team was not the same type of powerhouse that had beaten the Lakers in six games in June of 2008.
The Celtics won only 50 games in the 2009-2010 season. They were the fourth-seed in the Eastern Conference and had the eighth-best record in the NBA.
Nonetheless, the series went back-and-forth and was extended to a winner-take-all Game 7. The problem for the Celtics was that they would play Game 7 without their starting center, Kendrick Perkins. Lakers center Andrew Bynum had been battling injuries and knee issues all season. The Lakers had grown used to going extended stretches without their gifted young center.
The Celtics had no such luxury. Perkins was lost to a serious knee injury late in Game 6. Game 7 was the first postseason game the Celtics played without his services, and it would prove to be too great an obstacle for the Celtics to overcome.
The Lakers won the dramatic Game 7, but the win is somewhat lessened by the impact of the injury to Perkins late in the series.
6. San Antonio Spurs, 2007
Tim Duncan and LeBron James met head-to-head in the 2007 NBA Finals.
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2006-2007 San Antonio Spurs. Regular season record: 58-24 (third in NBA). Finished second in Southwest Division. No. 3 seed, Western Conference.
Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good. In the case of the 2006-2007 San Antonio Spurs, they were both.
Make no mistake about it—this was a very good team with Tony Parker playing great basketball, Manu Ginobili shooting the ball with accuracy, Bruce Bowen shutting down opponents on defense and the nightly brilliance of Tim Duncan a sure-fire Hall of Fame power forward/center.
The Spurs were still able to avoid playing more than one team with a better record than they had. In fact, both their Western Conference Finals opponent and their NBA Finals opponent had underwhelming regular-season records.
The Utah Jazz were 51-31 and the Cleveland Cavaliers were 50-32. The Spurs were also peaking at just the right time, and that combination led to a suspense-free final two rounds of the playoffs in which the Spurs won eight of their last nine games, including a four-game sweep of Cleveland in the finals.
The Cavaliers were completely overmatched as they relied heavily on 22-year-old phenom LeBron James. James was spectacular, but he was no match for the Spurs, and his supporting cast was not nearly as good as the teammates who surrounded Duncan.
5. San Antonio Spurs, 1999
David Robinson had his way with the Knicks in the 1999 Finals.
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1998-1999 San Antonio Spurs. Regular season record: 37-13 (first in the NBA). Won Midwest Division. No. 1 seed, Western Conference.
Another champion that loses a bit of luster due largely in part to some circumstances beyond their control. This was an NBA season severely shortened because of NBA labor strife. Then the Spurs got to face off against the eighth-seed from the east.
The New York Knicks, on the heels of a now legendary clutch shot by Larry Johnson against the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference Finals, were able to advance to the finals without star-veteran center Patrick Ewing.
That meant that the league's best regular-season team, a team anchored by two of the NBA's best big men in Tim Duncan and David Robinson, would get to square off against a number-eight seed missing its best big man.
The Knicks were hopelessly outmatched and lost in four straight games. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that San Antonio was able to exploit the matchup in the low post and dominate the series.
It also detracts from the placement of the team among the rest of the squads that have won rings since the merger.
4. Houston Rockets, 1995
Hakeem Olajuwon and the Houston Rockets celebrate their second championship in a row.
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1994-1995 Houston Rockets. Regular season record: 47-35 (10th best in the league). Finished third in Midwest Division, No. 6 seed, Western Conference.
This is one of the lowest-seeded teams to ever win a title, but it's not the worst champ ever. The Rockets were playing in a loaded NBA that was missing Michael Jordan, but still had plenty of top talent.
No one was better than Hakeem Olajuwon. One the best centers to ever play in the league, the Dream was in his prime, and in the postseason he would take his play to another level.
The Rockets started by upsetting the 60-win Utah Jazz led by the Hall of Fame tandem of John Stockton and Karl Malone. After that, they dispatched of the 59-win Phoenix Suns who had Charles Barkley and Kevin Johnson.
In the Western Conference Finals the Rockets beat the team with the league's best record. The 62-win San Antonio Spurs, who were led by David Robinson.
The finals almost seemed easy when all Olajuwon and the Rockets had to do was dispatch of the 57-win Orlando Magic, a team led by two very young stars in Shaquille O'Neal and Anfernee Hardaway.
The run that the 47-win Rockets went on was one of the most impressive in NBA postseason history, but when properly evaluating the team as a whole, they weren't one of the strongest champs in league history.
3. Seattle Supersonics, 1979
Dennis Johnson helped lead the Seattle Supersonics to the 1979 Championship.
1978-1979 Seattle Supersonics. Regular season record: 52-30 (second in the NBA). Won Pacific Division. No 1. seed, Western Conference.
This title represents the last championship for a major professional sports team in Seattle. The NBA post-merger, and before two guys named Magic Johnson and Larry Bird arrived on the scene, was a struggling professional sports league.
The league was experiencing growing pains as ABA players, who used to a more wide-open style of basketball, were adjusting to an NBA where things were done a little slower and more deliberately on the court.
The new look NBA was also dealing with an influx of new players, and the talent had been dispersed among a slew of new teams. There just were not enough great players to stock the league with.
The Seattle Supersonics were one of several teams that took advantage of this. They won only 52 games, but that was good enough to win the Pacific Division and earn a No. 1 seed in the west. They took out a 47-win Lakers team and a 50-win Phoenix Suns team to advance to the NBA Finals.
There, they met the defending champion Bullets who had won a league-best 54 games that season. That didn't prove to be much of an advantage as the Supersonics won the finals 4-1.
2. Portland Trail Blazers, 1976-1977
Bill Walton anchored the 1976-1977 Trail Blazers
1976-1977 Portland Trail Blazers. Regular season record: 49-33 (fourth best in the league). Finished second in the Pacific Division. No. 3 seed, Western Conference.
This team's plight has been well documented. It was the subject of one of the most famous basketball books ever written. David Halberstam's The Breaks of The Game.
To be fair, this was a consummate "team." Led by Walton, the greatest passing big man in league history, and coached by the legendary Jack Ramsey, the Blazers were a team that passed the ball, worked for a better shot and won games with a team concept.
They were also playing in one of the weakest incarnations of the NBA ever put on the court. That 49-win season was still good enough for fourth-best in the whole league. The Blazers won the title by beating the Philadelphia 76ers, who featured Julius Erving, George McGinnis and Doug Collins.
If the Blazers didn't play such an unselfish style of basketball they might top this list, but instead it's another team of this watered-down era of basketball that takes the top spot.
1. Washington Bullets, 1978
Elvin Hayes and Wes Unseld both played key roles in the 1978 playoffs.
1977-1978 Washington Bullets. Regular season record: 44-38 (eighth best in the NBA). Finished second in the Central Division. No. 3 seed, Eastern Conference.
The Bullets won only 44 games and ended up winning the NBA championship. They're the champs, and nothing can ever take that away from them, but to compare them to the other post-merger title holders can only lead one to naming them the weakest champ of that era.
The Bullets did have to beat two solid Eastern Conference foes in San Antonio and Philadelphia to make the finals. Once there, they faced off against a Seattle Supersonics team that was only three games better than Washington had been in the regular season.
In looking back at the NBA Finals and the winners and losers, it only becomes more apparent why basketball historians place such an emphasis on the arrivals of Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. The league really was immersed in mediocrity. Those that won titles during that era should still take pride in them. It's just that the league is stronger now, and it has been stronger through other eras as well.