Winning consecutive titles in the NBA isn’t a rarity, but it may be more uncommon than many would think. Since 1988, it’s become more regular, with nine teams winning at least two straight championships in that span. However, from 1947, the launching of the old Basketball Association of America, and 1987, there were only four sets of teams with multiple titles in a row. Two of those runs belonged to the venerable Boston Celtics. But what team has the most consecutive NBA championships in succession?
There are only five runs of at least three consecutive titles, accomplished by just three franchises. The Chicago Bulls did it twice in the 1990s, while the Lakers have also run off a pair of what Pat Riley copyrighted as “three-peats.” The first came while the franchise was still in Minneapolis; the second bridged the 20th and 21st centuries. But one franchise set the gold standard for year-after-year excellence, not just in the NBA but in all North American major team sports.
2 franchises hold 45% of the NBA’s championships
Of the 30 current NBA franchises, 19 have at least one championship, while 11 have more than one. Of the 75 titles, one went to a franchise that folded long ago. The first iteration of the Baltimore Bullets joined the BAA in 1947 for the league’s second season, moving over from the old American Basketball Association, a circuit that operated on the east coast from 1933–55.
With 17 championships apiece, the Lakers and the Boston Celtics share the NBA record for the most titles in history. That’s 34 for two teams, and the other 41 split among everyone else. And while the Celtics have only put together consecutive championships twice, one of those ran circles around every other franchise in any sport.
After winning the BAA championship in their first season, the Bullets hit hard times. The team never had another winning season and folded after 14 games early in the 1954–55 season. The Bullets were the last NBA club to fold outright.
The 1952–53 edition of the Baltimore club still holds the NBA record for the worst record for a playoff team. They were a dismal 16-54 (a .229 winning percentage). That was good enough to finish 3.5 games ahead of the moribund Philadelphia Warriors for the last playoff spot in the Eastern Division. Call it a by-product of having eight of 10 teams reach the postseason.
The Boston Celtics set the gold standard for sustained excellence
The Boston Celtics are one of three original BAA teams still in existence. The others are the Golden State Warriors, who have won five championships, and the New York Knicks, who have two. That combined total in 75 seasons doesn’t match what Boston did during one magical era.
In 1959, the Celtics reclaimed the title they had lost the previous season, sweeping the Minneapolis Lakers. Championships followed that in each of the next seven seasons. At a time of dynasties across all sports, no one could touch Boston’s legacy of eight consecutive championships from 1959–66.
Led by Hall of Famer Bill Russell, the Celtics’ run of titles was part of an incredible 11 championships in 13 seasons. The St. Louis (now Atlanta) Hawks won in 1958, and the Philadelphia 76ers broke the string in 1967.
The most championships in succession in any other North American sport is five. The New York Yankees took five straight World Series crowns from 1949–53, and the Montreal Canadiens raised the Stanley Cup every year from 1956–60. The National Football League mark is three in a row, last accomplished by the Green Bay Packers from 1965–67. An asterisk goes to the Cleveland Browns, who won all four All-American Football Conference championships from 1946–49 and then took the NFL crown in 1950.
But no franchise can touch the Celtics.
Besides the Boston Celtics, who else has won consecutive NBA titles?
The first consecutive championships recognized by the NBA went to the Minneapolis Lakers, who won the BAA crown in 1949 and the NBA title in 1950. The rest of the team to at least go back-to-back include:
- Minneapolis Lakers (1952–54)
- Boston Celtics (1959–66)
- Boston Celtics (1968–69)
- Los Angeles Lakers (1987–88)
- Detroit Pistons (1989–90)
- Chicago Bulls (1991–93)
- Houston Rockets (1994–95)
- Chicago Bulls (1996–98)
- Los Angeles Lakers (2000–02)
- Los Angeles Lakers (2009–10)
- Miami Heat (2012–13)
- Golden State Warriors (2017–18)
Teams won consecutive titles over 12 straight years from 1987–98. But no other team has gotten even halfway to what the Boston Celtics accomplished in the late 1950s through the mid-1960s. Even in the superteam era, it’s hard to imagine that record ever falling.