The Top 10 Pro Sports Teams of the Decade (So Far)
Last week, the Los Angeles Lakers won the NBA Title, their fourth of the decade.
This got me thinking about whether or not this made them the most dominant NBA Team of the 2000s, or even the best team in all four major sports this decade.
To quench my curiosity, I created a simple system which rated the successes and failures of each team for each year of the last 10. I, like many others, believe success is based on winning championships. It doesn’t matter whether you were the best team in the league or clinched a wild card spot on the last day of the season, a title is a title.
To win a title you have to reach the finals, and to reach the finals you need to make the playoffs. These were the three criteria I used in coming up with my positive rankings.
A championship victory was awarded five points, while a Finals, Super Bowl, or World Series appearance was awarded two points.
I also awarded the teams who showed consistent levels of success. Back-to-back appearances in the finals were awarded one bonus point, while back-to-back titles were given three bonus points.
In the NFL and MLB, a much smaller percentage of teams make the playoffs than in their NBA and NHL counterparts. As such, I awarded one point to each NFL and MLB playoff team and a half point to each postseason participant in the NBA and NHL (who did not make the finals).
I also believe that you can’t measure success without incorporating failure. Yes, the Boston Celtics won the 2008 NBA Title, but they had the worst record in the Eastern Conference the year before. In my opinion, that has to count for something. (I might still be a little bitter about the Bulls’ loss to the Celtics).
I subtracted one point for every year a team finished below .500 in the MLB, NFL, and NBA, and for each non-playoff team in the NHL since there is not really a .500 mark. I subtracted an additional point for the worst record in the conference, and took away a third point for the worst record in the league.
In the NBA, a sub-.500 playoff team was awarded no points. Frankly, I don’t even think they deserve a playoff spot, but that’s a whole other topic.
One other qualifier to mention. The Lakers won the 2008-2009 NBA Championship, so their five points go in the 2009 season column. This methodology was used for all NBA and NHL seasons. The 2009 MLB season is in progress and the 2009 NFL season is yet to begin, so teams from those two sports still have time to move up in the rankings.
So, are the Lakers the most dominant team of the decade? Read on to find out.
And if you want to see the Bottom 10 teams, check out my article here:
Worst 10 Teams of the Decade.
For all the data behind this, click here.
10 (Tie). St. Louis Cardinals—10.0 Points
The best National League team on the list, the Cardinals have been one of the most consistently successful teams this decade. The Redbirds have made 6 playoff appearances and reached two World Series. They were successful in one of those, taking home the 2006 title.
The only season where the Cardinals finished under .500 was in 2007, when they were 78-84. However, staff ace Chris Carpenter made his one and only appearance of the year on opening day, missing the rest of the season with an injury.
10 (Tie). Detroit Pistons—10.0 Points
Great start to the list for a Cubs and Bulls fan, teams from St. Louis and Detroit. The Pistons earned their spot by shocking the Lakers in the 2004 Finals to win their only title of the decade, then following it up with another Finals berth in 2005 but lost to the Spurs.
The lone Eastern Conference NBA team on the list, the Pistons have made the playoffs every year since 2002, but do not get credit for their eighth place finish in 2008-2009 since they did it at 40-42.
9. Indianapolis Colts—11.0 Points
The Colts made the list by winning the 2006 Super Bowl. I will no longer speak of this, because it came against a certain team from a certain city that begins with a "C," ends with an "O" and has "HICAG" in the middle.
The Colts made the postseason in 2000, missed it in 2001, and have been back in every season since 2002, the longest such streak in the NFL this decade. Not surprisingly, the 2001 campaign was the only one in which they finished under .500.
Whether or not the Colts can add to their resume in 2009 without head coach Tony Dungy remains to be seen, but either way their run this decade has been impressive.
7 (Tie). Boston Red Sox—13.0 Points
The Red Sox are one of six major sports teams to finish above .500 every season this decade. On top of that, they finished lower than second place only once (2006), a season which they were 10 games over the .500 mark.
While all that is impressive, the two reasons the Red Sox make this list are 2004 and 2007, their two World Series titles. World Series Champion Boston Red Sox is still a weird thing to say almost five years after the first title. The Sox look to challenge for another one this season, which would vault them near the top of the list.
7 (Tie). Pittsburgh Steelers—13.0 Points
The Steelers have made the playoffs six times out of a possible nine, making them the third best NFL team in that respect. They are also one of only two teams to win multiple Super Bowls this decade (more on that team later), taking home the Lombardi Trophy in 2005 as well as this past February.
Finshing at 6-10 in 2003 was the only blemish on the Steelers’ record this decade, and cost them a chance to be one spot higher.
6. New York Yankees—15.0 Points
The Yankees are another team on the list who have finished above .500 every single year this decade. Their worst season in terms of winning percentage was 2000, when they finished 87-74 (.540), but went on to win the World Series.
The majority of the Bronx Bombers’ success came early in the decade, winning the 2000 title and reaching the Series in 2001 and 2003. The three World Series appearances are the most by any team in the decade. In addition, the Yankees were the only MLB team this decade to make back-to-back trips when they did it in 2000 and 2001, earning them a bonus point.
After the series loss in ’03, the Yankees made the playoffs four more times, but their streak of 13 consecutive postseason appearances ended last season. With the way their new ballpark is playing, don’t expect them to stay away very long.
4 (Tie). New Jersey Devils—16.0 Points
The Devils are one of just three teams in all four major sports to make the playoffs every year in the decade (we’ll hear from the other two shortly). Much like their baseball neighbors previously mentioned, the Devils enjoyed the majority of their success in the first half of the decade.
The Devils hoisted the Stanley Cup in 2000 and 2003 and lost out to the Colorado Avalanche in seven games in 2001. The back-to-back appearances gained the Devils an extra point in the standings. Those three seasons alone would have put the Devils in the Top 10.
The Devils finished first in their division five times, placing second another three.
4 (Tie). Detroit Red Wings—16.0 Points
Another team that hasn’t missed the playoffs this decade. They actually haven’t missed the playoffs for nearly two decades, but that’s another story. The Wings’ resume is identical to the Devils for the ‘00s, but the majority of Detroit’s greatest success came in the last few years.
Detroit has won two titles, in 2002 and 2008, and lost out on a third in seven games. You might remember this, as it happened two weeks ago. The Wings have finished first in the Central Division every year except for 1999-2000, when they finished in second.
3. San Antonio Spurs—18.5 Points
The Spurs are the only NBA team to make the playoffs in every season this decade, a streak which dates back to the 1997-1998 season. Not coincidentally, that was the same season Tim Duncan arrived in San Antonio. Amazingly, this past season was the first since 1999-2000 when they failed to make it out of the first round.
Among those 10 playoff appearances were three titles in a span of five years, taking home the crown in 2003, 2005 and 2007. The Spurs are one of only three teams with three or more titles in the decade, and ties them for the second most of any of the four major sports teams (hint: the other two are coming up next). An impressive achievement, and if they had been able to do it back-to-back just once, it would have jumped them to No. 2 overall.
2. New England Patriots—21.0 Points
In Bill Belichick’s first season as coach of the Patriots in 2000, they went 5-11. Since then, they have finished above .500 for eight straight years and made the playoffs six out of seven years between 2001 and 2007, missing the postseason in 2008 with an 11-5 record. The six postseason appearances are tied for third among all NFL teams this decade.
Oh, and they went to three Super Bowls in four years, winning all of them, including back-to-back titles in 2003 and 2004. The 2001 title was the most memorable and the start of the Patriots “dynasty”, beating the heavily favored Rams on the first of Adam Vinatieri’s two game winning kicks.
Oh, and there was that pretty impressive season in 2007 when they went 16-0 in the regular season and made their fourth Super Bowl appearance of the decade, two more than any other NFL team. For the sake of everyone from New England I’ll stop describing that season right there.
The Patriots were easily the most successful NFL team in the decade, and they still have one more season to increase their dominance.
1. Los Angeles Lakers—31.5 Points
Nine Playoff Appearances.
Six Finals Appearances (Three in a row from 2000-2002, 2004, back-to-back in 2008-2009).
Four NBA Titles (2000-2002, 2009).
Those three numbers right there should speak for themselves, but I’m going to go into a little more detail:
The nine postseason appearances are tied for second most in the decade behind only the Spurs. Tied with the Mavericks, Devils, and Red Wings, only the Colts and Yankees have a chance to join that exclusive club this year.
The six Finals trips are two more than any other team in the decade, and three more than any other team in the NBA. The Lakers are also the only team to reach back-to-back Finals more than once this decade.
Four Titles is the most of any major sports team this decade, only two other teams have three. The Lakers are one of just two teams (Patriots) to go back-to-back, and, obviously, the only team to three-peat.
The Lakers outscored their nearest opponent by 10 points on my scale, and even without the repeat bonuses, they would have been the best team by six, meaning even not knowing the results of the this year’s baseball and football seasons no team can catch them.