The Decade in Review: The NBA Over the Past 10 Years

Mike FreilichContributor INovember 24, 2009

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 19:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers smiles in the fourth quarter during the game against the Chicago Bulls on November 19, 2009 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California.  The Lakers won 108-93. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.   (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

A lot can take place in 10 years.

The past 10 years have been a wild ride, and while it's sad to see it end, another 10 are just around the corner.

For now, we can look back at the decade and judge the teams, players, and moments that have made it so much fun.

Lets start by evaluating the top teams from the decade. These teams are being judged on championships, playoff performances, and winning seasons.

1. Los Angeles Lakers

2. San Antonio Spurs

3. Detroit Pistons

4. Boston Celtics

5. Dallas Mavericks

The Lakers and the Spurs are shoe-ins. The Lakers have four rings, and the Spurs have three.  From there, it's really a toss-up.


Detroit won its lone Championship of the decade in 2004, defeating the Lakers 4-1. They also made it to the Finals the year after, eventually losing to the Spurs in seven games.

The Pistons made it to the Eastern Conference Finals six times in the decade, showing that they were the beast of the East for many years. They were known for their stingy defense, with Ben Wallace under the hoop. At one point, all five starters were voted All-Stars.


We can forget the years they were just absolutely miserable, because they more than made up for it in the years before and after. Everyone knows about the "Big Three"—Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and Paul Pierce—and how they led the Celtics to a remarkable season-ending the run with a championship over that season's MVP, Kobe Bryant.

The year after, they again had a great record but were beaten by the Magic after a tough series with the Bulls (more about that later). Some people who are not avid Celts fans seem to forget about Boston in the beginning of the decade.

In the 2001-2002 season, they won 49 games and went to the conference finals, eventually losing to New Jersey.

The following year, they won 44 games and again met defeat at the hands of the Nets, only in the earlier rounds this time. The season after was a disappointment, but, since they were in the weak East, they made the playoffs as the eighth seed.

In 2004-2005, they won the Atlantic Division and were third in the East, winning 45 games. Eventually they lost to Indiana for the second year in a row.

Considering the decade as a whole, the Celtics were a force to be reckoned with.


The Mavs came onto the NBA scene with their innagural season of 1980. After 20 years of being one of the newer teams in the NBA they really made a splash in the 00's. After posting a 40-42 record in 1999-2000, they would go onto 9 straight seasons with 50 wins or more, including an NBA best of 67 in 2007. In the decade they won the second most games of any franchise, with 535, trailing only San Antonio (548).  Out of those 9 seasons they made it to the second round of the playoffs six times and the Finals once, which they lost to the Heat, 4-2. In terms of the players who played for the orginization during the decade, Steve Nash and Dirk Nowitzki were the two best. Jason Kidd was traded to them later in the decade in a desperate move by Mark Cuban to win a Championship instantly.  During the decade they were a prolific force in the NBA and that is why they land at Number 5.

Other Teams Considered


In a decade where seven of the 10 championships were won by two teams, it was hard for any other teams to have a good shot. The Heat did it with Shaq, the Celtics did it with the "Big Three," and the Pistons did it with defense. The Nets made it to the Finals twice, winning neither of them.

The first two years of the decade they had records of 31-51 and 26-56, consecutively. From there they became a force in the league.

Jason Kidd and Richard Jefferson led them to a 52-30 record in 2001-2002. They won the Atlantic, but were swept by the Lakers in the Finals. The season after, the Nets compiled a record of 49-33, winning the Atlantic Division for the second season in a row. They beat Milwaukee, Boston, and Detroit en route to the Finals, where they fell 4-2 to the Spurs.

Over the next four years they won the Atlantic twice, made it to the playoffs all four years, and made it to the conference semifinals three times.

Regardless of the fact that the past two seasons have produced identical 34-48 records, the Nets were a powerful team for most of the decade.

All these teams would not have been the teams they were if it weren't for the players who carried them. We have come to the best players of the past 10 years. These players are judged on their individual statistics, awards, and their team's success:

Point Guard: Steve Nash—Mavericks, Suns

Shooting Guard: Kobe Bryant—Lakers

Small Forward: LeBron James—Cavaliers

Power Forward: Tim Duncan—Spurs

Center: Shaquille O'Neal—Lakers, Heat, Suns, Cavaliers

Reserves: Dwyane Wade, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Allen Iverson, and Jason Kidd

Steve Nash

He has been one of the best point guards in the NBA, and his résumé shows it. NBA regular season MVP in '05 and '06. Six All-Star selections. All NBA First Team in 05—07. Led the NBA in assists three times. Ninth on the career assists list with 7,667.

He was the motor that made the Phoenix machine run. He helped them to the Western Conference Finals but never to a Finals. Though he never won a championship, it's hard to ignore his two MVP seasons and dominating presence at the point guard position.

Kobe Bryant

This choice was easy. There has been no better player in the NBA the past 10 years than Bryant. Sorry, LeBron fans. Bryant has four championship rings. He made it to the Finals six times—and was named the Finals MVP in 2009.

He took home the regular season MVP in 2008. But it doesn't end there: two scoring titles; 10 All-Star appearances; and named to the NBA First Team seven times.

He is the youngest player to reach 24,000 career points. He owns the record for most points at Madison Square Garden with 61.  His 81 points against Toronto are the second most in a game behind Wilt's 100. Kobe is also 16th in scoring on the all-time list.

LeBron James

This was also pretty easy, considering there is no one of his caliber at his position. Since coming into the league, he has been an international icon.

His other qualifications? Rookie of the Year in '04. Five-time All-Star, including winning All-Star MVP twice. Led the Cavaliers to the Finals in 2007, but lost to the Spurs. Regular season MVP in 2009. Made the All-NBA First Team three times. Fastest to 10,000 points, and has 13,405 career points already in his young career.

He turned around a dying franchise and has made them into a perennial power in the Eastern Conference and NBA.

Tim Duncan

Let's start with saying that he is considered by most to be one of the most dominant power forwards of all-time. He has three rings since 2000 and one prior. Of those three championships, he won the Finals MVP twice.

In '02 and '03, he won the regular season MVP. In his career, he has made 12 All-NBA defensive teams. He sits at 40th on the all-time scoring list with 19,424 career points and has 10,660 career rebounds to go with those.

Throughout the decade, he has given the Spurs a shot at a Championship. For that, he is alone at the power forward position.

Shaquille O'neal

The big fella! He is big, all right. Four championship rings, three Finals MVPs, one regular season MVP, and fifth on the all-time scoring list. Quite a list of accomplishments for a center.

It is why he is considered by many to be one of the best players of all time. 27,721 career points, 12,628 rebounds and 2,642 blocks. Nothing more needs to be said.

A look at the Reserves:

Dwyane Wade

Wade is the first of the great 2003 draft class to win a championship. He not only won the ring, but also was named the Finals MVP. He is a five-time All-Star. He is the all-time leading scorer for the Heat franchise.

He has 10,287 career points, and a career average in the playoffs of 29.1. Aside from those awards, he was also named the 2006 Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year and won the 2006 ESPY for Best NBA Player.

Kevin Garnett

Many said Garnett could never be considered truly great until he won a title. When he was traded to the Celtics, he shut everybody up (including me) and made himself one of the elite players of this era.

In addition to that ring, he added these accomplishments: 2004 regular season MVP; 2008 Defensive Player of the Year; All-Star MVP in 2003; and appeared in every All-Star game since the turn of the century.

He is also the only player in NBA history to: 1) average at least 20 points, 10 rebounds, and five assists per game for six consecutive seasons; and 2) reach at least 20,000 points, 11,000 rebounds, 4,000 assists, 1,200 steals, and 1,500 blocks in his playing career.

In 2003 he became one of four players in NBA history to lead their team in all five major statistical categories (points, rebounds, assists, blocks, and steals) in one season. He now sits in 26th place on the all-time scoring list.

Ray Allen

All of his nine All-Star appearances have come since 2000. His one ring came in Boston in 2008.

He holds the record for most three-pointers made in one season with 269. He is in second place for most three-pointers made in career, trailing only Reggie Miller. He is in 33rd on the scoring list and is closing in on 20,000 points for his career.

He was the main guy on Milwaukee and Seattle while he was with those teams and was always among the top scorers in the NBA for years.

Allen Iverson

His best season was in 2000-2001. He was named regular season MVP and took the Sixers to the Finals against the Lakers. In Game One in L.A., Iverson put a scare into the Lakers by scoring a menacing 48 points to lead the Sixers to a 107-101 victory against the heavily-favored Lakers.

Aside from that season, he is 17th in scoring with more then 24,000 points for his career. He has scored 25 points per game or more nine times since 2000.

Controversy seems to follow him where ever he goes, and having no title will hurt his Hall of Fame chances. For the past 10 years, however, he has been one of the most prolific scorers in the NBA and deserves recognition here.

Jason Kidd

This was the most obvious of the reserves. He is also another player with no title, like Iverson, but he will not have any problems making the Hall. Since 2000, he has made the All-Star team seven times. He has been selected for the All-NBA First Team four times, led the league four times in assists per game, and has 10,317 assists for his career.

He is closing in on second all-time. He is the only player to record 15,000 points, 7,000 rebounds, and 10,000 assists in a career. He is the second player in NBA history to average a triple-double for an entire postseason.

He finished with averages of 14.6 points, 10.9 rebounds, and 10.9 assists in 12 games during the 2007 playoffs. He also sits third on the all-time triple-doubles list with 103. He led the Nets to two Finals appearances and has become on of the greatest point guards of all-time.

Now it is time to conclude with the Top Five Moments of the last 10 years in the NBA.

5. 2000 Dunk Contest

"I was in the building in Oakland. I really thought the top was going to come off the building. I've never seen that before."

Those were the words of Kenny Smith after seeing Vince Carter doing what no one had ever seen before.  Not since Michael Jordan had fans of the NBA seen anything like they did that night. Carter put on a show, bringing the dunk contest back to the spotlight.  Some people might say, What about Nate over Superman? That whole NBA "comic book" saga was very nice, but Carter single handedly revived the dunk contest. For that reason alone, his set of dunks are Number 5.

4. Kobe's 81

There are certain times in history when you can remember what you were doing at the moment something took place.

On Jan. 22, 2006, I was studying for a midterm when I got a call from my friend telling me to turn on the Lakers game. He said that Kobe had 26 in the first half and would maybe go for 50. I turned on the TV and I remember thinking maybe he could get 60 but most likely not.

It's funny how wrong I was.

In the second half, Bryant went off for 55 points to finish with 81, the second-most in NBA history for one game. I can't help thinking, though, "OK, LeBron. It's your turn."

3. Davis Dunks Over Ak-47

You know you watched that highlight about 30 times and still had your mouth open afterwards, I know I did. The Warriors had just come out of a wild series with the Mavs, in which they made history by upsetting the 67 win team while being the 8th seed. People in Cali were going nuts. In the next series the Warriors faced the Jazz and the arena was a sea of yellow. It was Game 3 and the Jazz were leading the series 2-0. The Warriors were up 119-99 with three minutes to go in the fourth quarter and the NBA's loudest crowd were on their feet. Davis took the pass and drove to the hole, and Andrei Kirilenko was there to try and stop him. Davis jumps, and time stops. For what seemed like forever, both players hung there in a tangle of arms and legs, no one knowing who would come down victorious from this battle in the air. Then, in the blink of an eye, Davis flushed down a one handed jam over AK-47 and the place exploded. I think I will go watch that high light now.

2. LeBron's 25 in a Row

James' brilliance in Game Five of the Eastern Conference Finals was one of the best playoff performances of all-time. His sheer dominance gave the Cavs a 109-107 overtime win.

He scored 29 of the Cavs last 30 points, including 25 straight. He sliced through Detroit's defense as if it were butter, dunking and hitting floaters. He would rain down threes and jumpers from the perimeter with confidence, never faltering at any point.

His historic performance will go down as one of the best of his career.

1. Celtics vs. Bulls 2009 Playoffs

OK I know this was not a "moment," but it sure felt like one long "moment," to me. This series just kept going and going and going...

The Celtics were the No. 2 seed in the East, the Bulls, 7th. Game One set the pace for the series, with the Bulls taking the victory 105-103 in overtime. Derrick Rose scored 36 points in his postseason debut, showing the Celtics that they should not take Chicago lightly.

Game Two was another close one—a 118-115 win for the Celtics. Ray Allen hit a three with two seconds remaining to clinch it for Boston. In this game, there were 15 lead changes, and it was back and forth until the final shot. Former UConn guard Ben Gordon scored 42 points in the loss, and Allen finished with 30.

Game Three was the only game that was a blowout. Boston pounded the Bulls 107-86. In Game Four, things got back to "normal." The game went to two overtimes with the Bulls pulling out a 121-118 victory.

On the last play, John Salmons blocked Paul Pierce's three-point attempt to seal it. Derrick Rose was brilliant again, scoring 23 points along with 11 rebounds and nine assists. Seven Bulls players reached double figures, and Chicago tied the series at two.

Game Five was again decided by three or fewer points—the Celtics won 106-104 in overtime on a Pierce jumper with 3.4 seconds left.

Game Six was the climax of the series. It was another addition to the greatest series ever played. A three-overtime thriller that saw the Bulls tie the series with a 128-127 win. Rose sealed it with a block on Rajon Rondo with eight seconds to play, and the Bulls walked away with the one-point victory.

Game Seven set a national cable television-ratings record. The 109-99 score might be a bit deceiving. The Bulls came back from a 14-points deficit and pulled within five with a minute to play. The defending champions, however, came out victorious.

Ten years of fun are now over, and NBA fans everywhere look forward to another 10 years of excitement.


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