Title Teams We Can't Let NBA History Forget

Greg Swartz@@CavsGregBRCleveland Cavaliers Lead WriterSeptember 6, 2019

Title Teams We Can't Let NBA History Forget

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    Some teams will forever be remembered in the minds of NBA fans. 

    The Showtime Los Angeles Lakers. Michael Jordan's multiple three-peat Chicago Bulls. The Golden State Warriors of Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant.

    This article isn't about those teams. Instead, we need to shine a light on the champions who made brief yet important title runs.

    Some of these franchises have rarely been in the spotlight, even after hoisting a trophy. Others have been overshadowed by superstars of the era or sandwiched between dynasties. Others still may have been given proper attention at the time but are in danger of being slowly forgotten about as decades pass.

    These are the NBA champions we not only need to appreciate but also make sure don't get forgotten over time.

2018-19 Toronto Raptors

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    The most recent NBA champion will never be forgotten by many of the 37 million people of Canada, even if the free-agent activity that followed quickly pushed the Raptors' historic title to the back page.

    The first championship for the Toronto franchise came in the form of David slaying the Golden State Warriors' Goliath with a balanced attack highlighted by the MVP play of Kawhi Leonard.

    While injuries certainly played a part in the Warriors' demise, the Raptors deserved to hoist the Larry O'Brien Trophy coming off a 58-win regular season and a takedown of the No. 1 seed Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference Finals.

    Unfortunately, this series was quickly overshadowed by the free-agent departures of Leonard and Kevin Durant, as well as the massive amount of star movement throughout the 2019 offseason.

    After decades have gone by, this Raptors team should be remembered as the one that finally ended the Warriors dynasty, even if its own time as a title contender was short-lived.

2010-11 Dallas Mavericks

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    In June 2011, it seemed like everyone outside South Beach temporarily transformed into Mavs fans.

    This was the rise of the Miami Heat Big Three of Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh, a trio that James infamously pseudo-predicted would win eight championships together.

    They certainly appeared the favorites heading into the 2011 Finals, as Dirk Nowitzki led a veteran group that lacked the star power and flash with which Miami was stacked. Instead, the Mavs knocked the Heat out in six games, giving notable players like Nowitzki, Jason Kidd, Shawn Marion, Jason Terry, Tyson Chandler and Peja Stojakovic their first and only career titles.

    While Miami would go on to win the next two Finals, and the San Antonio Spurs would capture a fifth title in their prolonged dynasty the year after, the Mavericks temporarily ruled basketball not just in Texas, but throughout the entire NBA world.

2005-06 Miami Heat

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    While it was a big deal at the time, the Heat's first championship in franchise history has been overshadowed by the 2010-14 run with LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade.

    This version was led by a 24-year-old Wade and an aging 33-year-old Shaquille O'Neal, who had been dealt to Miami in the summer of 2004 for Caron Butler, Lamar Odom, Brian Grant and a first-round pick.

    This would be O'Neal's fourth and final title, as he averaged 20.0 points, 9.2 rebounds and 1.8 blocks while playing second fiddle for the first time in a championship run. It marked Wade's rise to superstardom and helped build his reputation as someone James and Bosh would eventually agree to leave their respective franchises to join forces with.

    It also signified just the third time in NBA history a team went down 2-0 in the Finals and came back to win, as Miami swept the Dallas Mavericks over the last four games.

    Even though the Heatles era will forever be the most famous in South Beach, the 2005-06 Heat were the first ones to bring home hardware.

2003-04 Detroit Pistons

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    A lack of star power may temporarily bury these Pistons in the list of historic champions, but that's precisely what made this team so special.

    Detroit flew under the radar with a mediocre 34-24 start to the regular season but went 20-4 down the stretch, boosted by the trade for Rasheed Wallace. They finished 2003-04 with 54 wins. 

    Playing a Los Angeles Lakers team with Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal, Gary Payton and Karl Malone in the Finals seemed almost unfair, especially since the Lakers had won three of the last four titles and featured the two best players in the series.

    But the Pistons took advantage of the Lakers' top-heavy roster. No one outside of Bryant and O'Neal averaged more than 6.4 points while Rasheed Wallace, Ben Wallace, Richard Hamilton, Chauncey Billups and Tayshaun Prince all put up double-digit scoring numbers.

    These Pistons proved team basketball and defense could topple star power, if only for one season.

1993-94 Houston Rockets

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    Since the '90s primarily belonged to the Chicago Bulls, it's easy to forget the Rockets squeezed in a pair of championships, as well.

    While the 1994-95 Rockets stumbled to a 47-35 regular-season record before winning their second straight ring, the 58-win 1993-94 Rockets were indeed a powerhouse.

    Hakeem Olajuwon was in the prime of his Hall of Fame career, averaging 27.3 points, 11.9 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 3.7 blocks during the regular season. He led the league with 28.9 points per game in the playoffs, too.

    Otis Thorpe, Vernon Maxwell, Kenny Smith, Robert Horry, Mario Ellie, Sam Cassell and Scott Brooks comprised Olajuwon's supporting cast. Horry would go on to win seven titles in his career, while Brooks has coached players like Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, John Wall and Bradley Beal.

    Game 5 itself was even interrupted on national TV, as many stations elected to show OJ Simpson fleeing from cops in the now-infamous white Bronco, something Smith admitted the team even talked about during timeouts as it was happening.

    As the team won the first of back-to-back titles and posted the second-best record in franchise history, it's disappointing that Olajuwon and the 1993-94 Rockets don't get more love.

1982-83 Philadelphia 76ers

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    While the Sixers are one of the historically great franchises in the NBA, they often get overshadowed by teams like the Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers and Chicago Bulls. That was especially true in the 1980s when the Sixers joined the Detroit Pistons as one of only two franchise outside of Boston or L.A. to win a title.

    The 1982-83 Sixers deserve a special spot in history for both their regular-season and playoff dominance.

    The 65-17 final record is the second-best in the franchise's 71-year history, made possible by the Hall of Fame duo of Moses Malone and Julius Erving.

    Philly started the season red-hot at 50-7 and ended it with a 12-1 postseason record. While they didn't exactly go "Fo', Fo', Fo'" in series sweeps like Malone predicted they would, the Sixers were the first team to win a title with just a single playoff loss. That mark has since been tied by the 2000-01 Lakers and 2016-17 Golden State Warriors.

    Not only did the Sixers win the Finals, but they also did so by sweeping Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, a pair that would eventually finish with five titles together.

1978-79 Seattle SuperSonics

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    Anonymous/Associated Press

    Though this was the first and last championship in Sonics history, it's easy for those not from the Pacific Northwest to forget Seattle's 1979 title. Between the lack of star power and overall disinterest in the NBA at the time, the championship happened right before the popularity of the league rose thanks to the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics dynasties in the 1980s.

    As Matt Calkins of the Seattle Times wrote about the 40-year anniversary of the Sonics' only title: "But other than that 2004 Pistons team, there really hasn't been another team like that '79 Sonics team. Dennis Johnson was a Hall of Famer, but probably not a top 50 or even top 100 all-time player. Sikma was a seven-time All-Star, but has yet to be inducted in Springfield."

    Sikma has since been inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, but that doesn't change the overall sentiment. 

    Even the 1990s teams featuring Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp typically receive more attention despite never winning a title.

    May memories of the 1978-79 SuperSonics, and the franchise in general, forever remain.

1977-78 Washington Bullets

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    Much like the SuperSonics, the Bullets (now the Wizards) won a forgettable title right before the rise in league popularity as players like Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan took over.

    Washington went just 44-38 that season, which remains the worst record in NBA history for a champion. So why exactly should we remember them?

    Besides earning the first and only title in Washington's franchise history, this victory meant rings for players like Elvin Hayes, Wes Unseld, Bob Dandridge and Mitch Kupchak, a group that had to take down Julius Erving and the Philadelphia 76ers in the Eastern Conference Finals.

    It also represented an era in which talent was completely spread out and any number of teams (even those who barely played above .500) had a chance at a title, which is something we may never see again.

1976-77 Portland Trail Blazers

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    What makes this team so incredibly special was the fact it never had any business winning a championship so soon.

    Led by head coach Dr. Jack Ramsay, the Blazers had only been in existence for six seasons before they brought home the 1977 title. They had previously never even made the playoffs nor had a winning season, with an average of just 28 victories per year in their brief history.

    With a roster highlighted by Maurice Lucas, Bill Walton and Lionel Hollins, Portland was second in offense and fifth in defense despite winning just 49 games. Walton was still viewed as the NBA's next great big man after averaging 16.4 points, 13.6 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 2.6 blocks in his first three seasons before a series of foot injuries would take their toll.

    The Blazers would sweep a Los Angeles Lakers team with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the Western Conference Finals before ultimately beating Julius Erving's Philadelphia 76ers for the franchise's first and only title.

1970-71 Milwaukee Bucks

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    Long before Giannis Antetokounmpo won MVP in Milwaukee, another young big man brought home the franchise's first and only title.

    Lew Alcindor, who would change his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1971, was a player unlike any the NBA had seen at the time. His sky hook (a result of the NCAA's then-ban on dunking) was unstoppable and saw him average a league-high 31.7 points.

    Now almost 50 years ago, this Bucks title was nearly impossible given that the Milwaukee franchise was just three years old and Alcindor was only in his second professional season. Even though the NBA featured just 17 teams at the time, Milwaukee ranked first in both offense and defense.

    Aiding Alcindor were Oscar Robertson (19.4 points, 5.7 rebounds, 8.2 assists), Bob Dandridge (18.4 points, 8.0 rebounds) and Jon McGlocklin (15.8 points, 3.7 assists). 

    Not only was this Robertson's first season in Milwaukee following a trade from the Cincinnati Royals, but it would also be the only title of the Hall of Fame point guard's career. Alcindor would go on to enjoy more fame on the Showtime Lakers, but this Bucks team should get far more fanfare than it's previously received.


    Greg Swartz covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter. All stats via Basketball Reference unless otherwise noted.