Everybody knows that the Chicago Bulls absolutely dominated the ’90s. They won six championships and made six trips to the NBA Finals as well as seven appearances in the Eastern Conference Finals. But what about the rest of the NBA? It was an era involving many legendary basketball players, including some who are still are waiting for their uniform numbers to be retired. Despite the greatness and reputation of the Chicago Bulls of the ’90s, there were a few other successful teams.
We created a formula for measuring that success, assigning points for wins per 82 games played, Conference Finals appearances, Finals appearances, and championships won. Here are the top five best teams of the ’90s that aren’t the Chicago Bulls.
5. San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs of the ’90s are best remembered for drafting Tim Duncan and beginning their run as one of the most successful franchises in the history of sports. But that success came at the very end of the decade as San Antonio captured the 1999 NBA championship. They had legendary names such as David Robinson, Dennis Rodman, Sean Elliott, Avery Johnson, and Doc Rivers on those teams.
The ’90s Spurs won 50 or more games in a season six times, hitting their peak at 62 victories in the 1994–95 season. San Antonio made a trip to the Western Conference Finals that season, facing off against the eventual champions, the Houston Rockets, who had paired Hakeem Olajuwon with Clyde Drexler.
San Antonio experienced just one losing season, missing the playoffs due to major injuries to Robinson in 1996–97, but also earning the top pick in the draft, which they used on Duncan.
4. New York Knicks
The Knicks are one of the teams that most famously were thwarted by the existence of Michael Jordan and his Bulls teams. They had a phenomenal run of success in the decade, but never were able to get over the hump and win a championship. New York made the playoffs every single year, winning at least one playoff series in every season with the exception of 1990–91.
New York averaged 50 wins per 82 games in the decade and were able to take advantage of the absence of Jordan — he was playing minor league baseball — in the 1993–94 season. They won 57 games, knocked the Jordan-less Bulls out of the playoffs, and took the NBA Finals to seven games before losing to the Rockets. The Knicks made four appearances in the Eastern Conference Finals and had a second trip to the NBA Finals in 1999, losing to the Spurs in five games.
3. Portland Trail Blazers
Most wouldn’t have guessed that they’d be so high up on the list, but here they are. The Blazers had their best success early in the decade, but were consistently good throughout. Portland matched up against the Detroit Pistons in the 1989–90 NBA Finals and again against the Bulls in 1991–92. Over the first three years of the decade, Portland averaged 59 wins per season.
But unfortunately, a championship — something the Blazers have yet to bring to Portland since 1977 — was not meant to be in the ’90s. They lost both of their NBA Finals appearances, as well as two other Western Conference Finals appearances against the Los Angeles Lakers and the Spurs. Portland was a model of consistency, making the playoffs every season in the decade but losing in the first round six consecutive years.
2. Utah Jazz
The 1990s Jazz will be remembered for their back-to-back trips to the NBA Finals on the back of 1996–97 MVP Karl Malone, as well as Hall of Famers John Stockton and Jerry Sloan. They won 64 and 62 games, respectively, during those years and were heavy favorites against the Bulls in 1997–98, with Scottie Pippen ailing from a back injury and Jordan running on fumes prior to his second retirement. But the Jazz were more than just two great seasons.
Utah won an average of 56 games per 82 in the 1990s, winning 60 games or more three times and winning less than 50 games only once — other than the lockout-shortened ’99 season, when the Jazz played at a 60-win pace. The Jazz, like the other teams on this list, were never able to get past the Bulls, leaving them without a championship in the decade. But Utah was still an exciting team to watch.
1. Houston Rockets
Houston is the only team that was actually able to break through and win a few championships during the Bulls’ run of excellence. With Jordan retired in 1993–94, the Rockets and Hakeem Olajuwon would win 58 games and meet up in the finals with the aforementioned Knicks. Houston took their first championship in team history in seven games, and then returned to win their second the next season in a sweep against Shaquille O’Neal’s Orlando Magic.
Overall, the Rockets averaged slightly more than 49 wins per 82 games in the decade and made three trips to the Western Conference Finals. Houston had several Hall of Fame players in their red uniforms at one point or another during the decade, including Olajuwon, Drexler, Charles Barkley, and Scottie Pippen. They are one of just five NBA franchises the last 25 years to win more than one NBA championship, joining the Bulls, Spurs, Lakers, and Miami Heat.
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