In the NBA, greatness is often measured in championships. Michael Jordan is considered to be so great because he won six rings. Kobe Bryant won five. Even LeBron James, who has three rings to date, vaulted upward on the list of greatest players once he held the Larry O’Brien trophy. People will always remember the truly great teams, as well. But sometimes, teams that aren’t so great sometimes end up winning the championship — even when they have a great player or two on the roster. Here are the 15 worst NBA teams to win the title.
15. 1998 Chicago Bulls
Everyone remembers the dominating Chicago Bulls of the 1990s, setting the regular season record for wins (at the time) with 72 in 1996. But despite a 62-20 record, the 1997-98 Bulls were kind of falling apart. Scottie Pippen had missed about half the season, Steve Kerr missed 32 games, and Michael Jordan was showing decline as the team rode him hard throughout the year. In the postseason, Dennis Rodman averaged just 11.8 rebounds (well below his season and career numbers), Pippen had just 16.8 points on 41.5% shooting, and they got little to nothing from their bench outside of Toni Kukoc. In retrospect, it took some awful shooting from the Utah Jazz (13-for-60 on three-pointers) for the Bulls to win the championship.
14. 1990 Detroit Pistons
The Detroit Pistons won 59 games in the regular season in 1989-90, but they really weren’t as great a team as they appeared. In fact, this was a Pistons team that was about to see their run come to an end. Isiah Thomas was starting to see the beginning of decline in his stats, and secondary players like Joe Dumars and Dennis Rodman couldn’t compete with the likes of Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant. The Pistons edged out the Chicago Bulls in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, but only when everyone not named Michael Jordan shot a combined 15-for-63.
13. 2010 Los Angeles Lakers
Who would’ve ever thought that Andrew Bynum might someday be the third-best player on an NBA championship team? With stars such as Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, the Los Angeles Lakers looked to Bynum as the third scorer on offense for much of the season. After him, there wasn’t a ton of talent — unless you’re a big Derek Fisher or Lamar Odom fan. The Lakers slid past the young eighth-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder, the up-start Phoenix Suns, and then beat the 50-win Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals in seven games.
12. 2002 Los Angeles Lakers
The Los Angeles Lakers won three straight NBA championships from 2000-2002, but the last team wasn’t exactly the strongest. Gone were the big names such as Glen Rice, Ron Harper, and Horace Grant. This team was Shaq, Kobe, and little else. Fisher was the third-highest scorer during the regular season with 11.2 points, and Rick Fox came in after him at 7.9. The Sacramento Kings were the best team in the Western Conference, but the Lakers were able to sneak past them in seven games in the conference finals — as well as the superior San Antonio Spurs the round prior.
11. 1993 Chicago Bulls
Much like the Los Angeles Lakers of 2002, the 1993 Chicago Bulls were trying to finish off a three-peat of their own. During the regular season, Chicago won 57 games and coasted into the playoffs with the third-best record in the NBA, behind the New York Knicks and Phoenix Suns. Chicago had seen regression from many of its important players, such as John Paxson and Bill Cartwright. The Bulls went down 0-2 to the favored Knicks in the Eastern Conference Finals before pulling out the series. They were nearly forced into a seventh game on the road against the Suns in the finals.
10. 2007 San Antonio Spurs
The 2006-07 San Antonio Spurs won a lot of regular season games behind the triumvirate of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili. With David Robinson long gone, some of the other role players on the team were headscratchers. Who can forget the immortal Fabricio Oberto? Or the aging Brent Barry, Michael Finley, and Robert Horry? The Spurs were able to fight their way through to a championship, in large part because of weak competition. They were the third-best team in the Western Conference that year during the regular season and faced the 51-win Utah Jazz in the conference finals and 50-win Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals.
9. 1999 San Antonio Spurs
In a shortened 50-game season, it’s hard for any team to build separation over the others. The Spurs were tied for the best record in the game at 37-13, but there were four other teams in the West within six games of them in the standings. The Spurs didn’t have to face the Utah Jazz, the team that represented the Western Conference in the NBA Finals the two seasons prior and finished tied with the Spurs for the best record in the NBA, at any point in the playoffs. They also got the good fortune of going up against the eighth-seeded New York Knicks in the NBA Finals — a team that had just lost Patrick Ewing to injury.
8. 2006 Miami Heat
The 52-win 2005-06 Miami Heat had to fight to get out of the first round against the 41-41 Chicago Bulls. Few people expected that the Heat, with a young and unproven Dwyane Wade along with an aging Shaquille O’Neal, would be able to get past the 64-18 Detroit Pistons in the Eastern Conference Finals. They’d take down yet another 60-win team in the NBA Finals, beating the Dallas Mavericks in six games. The second-leading scorer for the Heat against the Mavs was Antoine Walker, sliding just past O’Neal with 13.8 points per game.
7. 2011 Dallas Mavericks
The Mavericks would exact their revenge just five years later. With LeBron James joining Wade in Miami, all eyes were on the Heat that season. Add in two 60-plus win teams with the Chicago Bulls and San Antonio Spurs, and the Mavs were a complete afterthought in the NBA. Despite having the fifth-best regular season record, Dallas swept the Los Angeles Lakers and beat the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference Finals. Even after going down 2-1 in the series against the Heat, they finished out with three straight wins behind Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry, and Jason Kidd.
6. 1979 Seattle Supersonics
The 1978-79 Seattle Supersonics was a deep team with six players averaging 11.0 points per game or better. They were led by Jack Sikma, Dennis Johnson, and Gus Williams, all of whom were 25 years old or younger. This was a time of parity in the NBA, when the difference between the top-seeded Sonics and the bottom-seeded Portland Trail Blazers was just seven games in the standings. The best team in the NBA that year was the 54-win Washington Bullets, who were beaten by the Sonics in five games in the NBA Finals.
5. 2004 Detroit Pistons
To say that the 2003-04 Detroit Pistons were underdogs would be putting it kindly. The talk of the NBA that year was the Los Angeles Lakers, who had signed both Gary Payton and Karl Malone in an attempt to put together a veritable All-Star team. The Indiana Pacers, who were 61-21 and had the best record in the league, looked like heavy favorites to come out of the East. But the Pistons’ tough defense, led by Ben Wallace, Chauncey Billups, and Rip Hamilton, stunned the Pacers in six games in the conference finals. Against the heavily-favored Lakers, the Pistons only needed five games to close out the series.
4. 1975 Golden State Warriors
Back in 1975, the Western Conference was the weaker conference in the NBA. The Boston Celtics and Washington Bullets were both 60-win teams, and even the Buffalo Braves had a better record than the Golden State Warriors. But Rick Barry’s crew still was good enough to edge out the Chicago Bulls for the best record in the West, at 48-34. They advanced to face those same Bulls in the conference finals, narrowly beating them in seven games after Chicago took a 3-2 series lead. The Warriors then stunned the Bullets with a sweep in the NBA Finals.
3. 1977 Portland Trail Blazers
In 1976-77, parity was the word around the NBA yet again. The 49-33 Portland Trail Blazers had the fifth-best record in the NBA and were just five games ahead of the last-place playoff team in the Western Conference. After beating the Chicago Bulls in a three-game series, the Blazers took down the 50-win Denver Nuggets, 53-win Los Angeles Lakers, and 50-win Philadelphia 76ers to take the championship. It was a bit of a surprise with a young and healthy Bill Walton leading the way with 18.2 points, 15.8 rebounds, and 5.5 assists per game in the playoffs.
2. 1995 Houston Rockets
Despite winning the championship the year prior, the 1994-95 Houston Rockets didn’t look like the same type of quality. They made a mid-season trade to acquire Clyde Drexler from the Portland Trail Blazers, but were just 17-18 after making the deal and 47-35 on the season as a whole — sixth-best in the Western Conference and 11th-best in the league overall. The Rockets narrowly escaped the 60-win Utah Jazz in the first round, as well as the 59-win Phoenix Suns in the second round. They beat a 62-20 Spurs team in six games in the Western Conference Finals, and went on to sweep Shaquille O’Neal’s Orlando Magic in the NBA Finals.
1. 1978 Washington Bullets
With parity still ruling the NBA in the late-1970s, the 1977-78 Washington Bullets got in what is quite possibly the worst NBA championship season of any team in history. They finished just three games ahead of the last-place team in the Eastern Conference, while also sitting 11-games behind the conference-leading Philadelphia 76ers. A 15-10 stretch to end the season really helped the Bullets, after sitting at just 29-28 in late February. They ended with a 44-38 record, but took down the Spurs and 76ers on their way to the NBA Finals where they matched up against the 47-35 Seattle Supersonics. They beat Seattle in seven games despite having trailed 3-2 in the series.
All stats courtesy of basketball-reference.com.