NBA Playoffs: 5 Greatest Teams That Never Won an NBA Title
It's a line made famous in the movie Top Gun which states, "There are no points for second place." That seems so fitting for this article.
History remembers the winners, the champions, the guys hoisting the trophy, getting fitted for rings, and wearing the crown. What about the teams that don't quite get there?
I don't just mean the teams that lose in the Finals either. Sometimes the two best teams in the NBA are in the same conference, but each team has to send only one team to the NBA Finals so they are forever left out of the history books as one of the great teams that season.
Here are the five greatest teams that never won a title.
5. 1974-75 Chicago Bulls
The average NBA fan believes that the Bulls didn't come into existence until Michael Jordan was drafted in 1984, but from 1970-1975 the Bulls averaged 52 wins per season and Bulls fans were treated to some of the grittiest, hard nosed, tough basketball that they've ever seen.
Behind Jerry Sloan, Chet Walker, Bob Love, Norm Van Lier, Rick Adelman, and Matt Goukas the Bulls, coached by Dick Motta, won 47 games and captured their first ever division title.
The Bulls would win Games 2 and 3 to take a 2-1 lead, then the pivotal Game 5 to take a 3-2 lead going home to Chicago with a chance to close out the series. The Warriors wouldn't lose again, winning Game 6 86-72 and then Game 7 in Golden State 83-79.
The Warriors would go on to sweep the Washington Bullets in the NBA Finals. The Bulls wouldn't go to the NBA Finals until 1991.
4. 1969-70 Los Angeles Lakers
But the 1970 NBA Finals would be different with Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, and Wilt Chamberlain together and the Lakers not having to face the hated Celtics, who had lost their beloved Bill Russell to retirement.
Instead it was the New York Knicks and their two-man show of Walt Frazier and Willis Reed who awaited the Lakers. The teams split the first two games before the classic game three that saw West tie the game with 15 seconds left only to have Dave DeBusschere score with three seconds left to give the Knicks the lead. Jerry West would then hit a 63 footer to send the game to overtime only to have the Knicks win and take back home court advantage.
Willis Reed would suffer a severe leg injury in game four, and the Lakers would tie the series. The teams would then split Games 5 & 6 before the deciding Game 7 in New York.
The famous Willis Reed Game that saw him walk out on to the court during warm-ups despite his injured leg to fire up the crowd, and then score the first two baskets of the game, the only baskets he scored in the final 3 games of the series.
It would be enough, though, as Frazier would score 36 and the Knicks would win 113-99. Reed would be named MVP of the series, despite playing two minutes combined in the final three games, and the Lakers would again be denied.
Though West and Chamberlain would win the title in 1972, Elgin Baylor would never play in an NBA Finals again and retire without a championship.
3. 1992-93 Phoenix Suns
The 1993 Phoenix Suns had the league MVP in Charles Barkley, head coach Paul Westphal set the record for wins as a rookie head coach, Kevin Johnson, Dan Majerle, and Danny Ainge had had fantastic years, and the stars seemed aligned for them to win the NBA title with home court advantage against the Chicago Bulls who were fighting history trying to become the first team in 27 years to "three-peat".
Before the Bulls, three other teams had a chance to pull off the feat and the Suns hoped to send the Bulls to the same fate as those teams.
But it was not to be.
The Bulls raced out to a 2-0 lead sweeping the Suns in Phoenix to start the series. The Suns would win Game 3 in triple-overtime but lose Game 4 to go down 3-1. The Bulls would fail to close the series in Chicago as the Suns scored a 108-98 win in Game 5 to send the series back to Phoenix.
There it would end, as John Paxson's 3 pointer with 5 seconds left sealed the Bulls Game 6 win and three-peat NBA Champions.
Sir Charles would never play in another NBA Finals.
2. 1999-2000 Indiana Pacers
Both the Pacers and Lakers opened new arenas to begin the season, and both would host NBA Finals games that season.
For the Pacers it was a breakthrough to make the Finals, having been denied in their four previous attempts in the Eastern Conference Finals. This team was different, though. This was an incredibly balanced team featuring Reggie Miller and his 19.4 points per game average and Jalen Rose and his 18.8 points per game average. They were complimented by Rik Smits and Dale Davis up front and Mark Jackson at the point guard position and a deep bench that included Austin Croshere, Travis Best, and Chris Mullin.
The Lakers had the star power of Shaq and Kobe, looking to finally win a championship under the guidance of Phil Jackson, who brought his six-time championship experience from Chicago and a strong bench with Robert Horry, Rick Fox, and Derek Fisher.
The series would never really be close. The Laker would win the first two games easily before the Pacers returned home to win Game 3 against a Laker team without Kobe in the lineup.
Game 4 would be the best game in the series, a 120-118 Laker victory in overtime and a commanding 3-1 series advantage. After a 120-87 Game 5 blowout loss, the Lakers would return home to clinch the first of their 3 titles built around Shaq and Kobe.
The Pacers would soon dismantle most of that team, with Larry Bird retiring as head coach in the offseason.
1. 1997-98 Utah Jazz
After losing in the NBA Finals to the Chicago Bulls the year before, the Utah Jazz returned to the Finals in 1998 determined to come away victorious.
The stars seemed aligned for them to do so.
They had the league MVP in Karl Malone, the experience of finally having broken through the previous season after years of failure, and they were facing the Bulls again. This time, though, they had home court advantage due to their regular season sweep of the Bulls.
Game 1 would go to the Jazz by three in overtime, 88-85 but, as was their way in the NBA Finals, the Bulls would win Game 2 by five and seize control of the series. Every member of the Bulls would score in Game 3 as the Bulls routed the Jazz 96-54, record lows in points in the 24 second shot clock era.
Game 4 would be a different story, but have the same result for the Jazz as they would lose a closely contested match 88-84 and see the Bulls grab a commanding 3-1 series lead. Game 5 would see Malone have his only good game of the series, 39 points 10 rebounds, and the Jazz would score an 83-81 win to send the series back to Utah.
The rest is etched into most of your minds, especially Bryon Russell's. Jordan stealing the ball from Malone, dribbling up court, and burying that jumper from just above the free throw line (yes...yes after he pushed off) to clinch the Bulls second three-peat and sixth title.
Despite playing in the 2004 Finals as a member of the Lakers, Malone would retire without an NBA championship ring, as would Stockton and the great Jerry Sloan, who tried for so long to win a championship as a member of the Bulls in the '70's would now be denied by them in the '90's.
What Are the Teams of This Era That May Be on Future Lists Like This?
Yes, it was the Miami Heat that made me think of this article. Are they destined to become the best team of this era not to win a championship? They seem to have so many holes to fill, it almost seems that if they don't win this year they may not win one.
Or are they the team that keeps teams like the Thunder, Knicks, Bulls, and Magic from winning championships?
Why are Lebron's eyes closed?
Only time will answer most of these questions...
We'll probably never know why Lebron's eyes are closed though.