Welcome to the Best Team Ever bracket series, where the greatest of all time have their most dominant seasons stacked up against each other until we ultimately crown a champion in each sport. The tournament will be decided by fan vote, so be sure to submit yours below! The first round of polling closes at 1 p.m. ET/10 a.m. PT on Tuesday, March 31.
2017 Golden State Warriors vs. 1989 Detroit Pistons
No. 1: 2017 Golden State Warriors
Finished with a 67-15 regular season record, the seventh-best in NBA history.
Lost just once in the postseason en route to an NBA title.
Had four different All-Stars.
There’s little doubt that the 2016-17 Golden State Warriors were one of the best teams in league history. They solidified that fact in the postseason, losing just once in 17 games while toppling LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers to claim an NBA title and did so with an incredible 13.5 point differential in the playoffs. The Warriors cruised to the top of the NBA world that season and to the No. 1 seed.
No. 16: 1989 Detroit Pistons
Finished with a 63-19 regular season record.
Swept three of four playoff series to win an NBA title.
Had just one in-season All-Star on its roster.
The 1988-89 Pistons were a team that redefined the league with their “Bad Boys” mentality behind Bill Laimbeer, Dennis Rodman and Isiah Thomas. After getting past Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in the Eastern Conference semifinals, the Pistons swept the Los Angeles Lakers to claim their first NBA title and the first of two straight.
1986 Boston Celtics vs. 2016 Cleveland Cavaliers
No. 2: 1986 Boston Celtics
Finished 50-1 at home in regular season and playoffs.
Featured 1986 MVP (Larry Bird) and Sixth Man of the Year (Bill Walton).
Led NBA in offensive rating and ranked third in defensive rating.
The 1986 Celtics played some of the most beautiful basketball the game has ever seen, unstoppable at home and only slightly less so on the road, each player an extension of the next. Bird was working on his third consecutive MVP campaign with five current or former All-Stars around him, and the arrival of the former MVP Walton completed the circle, as waves of artistry brushed over foes on a 15-3 playoff tear.
No. 15: 2016 Cleveland Cavaliers
Upset 73-win Golden State Warriors in Finals.
First team in Finals history to overcome 3-1 deficit.
Ended Cleveland’s 52-year championship drought.
The 2016 Cavs were not considered an all-time great team, especially entering a Finals matchup against the record-setting Warriors. But LeBron James lifted them to a historic level. A legend was working at the peak of his powers, and Kyrie Irving met him on his level. Together, they embarrassed the best regular-season team in history, and any team capable of that is a worthy challenger to the greatest teams ever.
1996 Chicago Bulls vs. 1965 Boston Celtics
No. 3: 1996 Chicago Bulls
Fourth of six championships in eight seasons.
Highest net rating in NBA history (13.4 points per 100 possessions).
Set regular-season record of 72 wins that stood for 21 years.
Any of Michael Jordan’s six title teams could compete in this tournament, but the 1996 Bulls were the GOAT’s masterpiece. Maniacally driven to return to the mountaintop after a two-year hiatus, his Bulls took a torch to the league in record-setting fashion. With Scottie Pippen still serving as Jordan’s costar and Dennis Rodman giving them an extra edge, the Bulls pounded teams by margins never before seen.
No. 14: 1965 Boston Celtics
Eighth of 11 championships in 13 seasons.
Started five future Hall of Famers.
Led NBA with 84.2 defensive rating.
What a tough first-round matchup for the 1990s Bulls to draw the only dynasty more dominant. The 1965 Celtics — the best of Bill Russell’s 11 title teams — fell to the 14th seed because they played in a nine-team league before offenses evolved several times over. Their lockdown defense was led by the greatest defender ever, surrounded by five more Hall of Famers, including John Havlicek just entering his prime. And they took down Wilt Chamberlain’s 76ers and Jerry West’s Lakers en route to a seventh straight ring.
1972 Los Angeles Lakers vs. 2014 San Antonio Spurs
No. 4: 1972 Los Angeles Lakers
Finished with a 69-13 regular season record, the third-best in NBA history.
Mounted a 33-game win streak.
Won the franchise’s first NBA title in Los Angeles.
Since moving to Los Angeles, the Lakers lost six different times in the NBA Finals before the 1971-72 Lakers finally did the trick. They held an impressive 92.6 defensive rating in the regular season, and put together an insane 33-game win streak over more than two months.
No. 13: 2014 San Antonio Spurs
Finished with a 62-20 regular season record.
Won Spurs’ first title in seven years while going 16-7 in the playoffs.
Had just one All-Star on its roster.
Behind Kawhi Leonard and Tim Duncan, this Spurs team fought its way through an incredibly tough postseason to claim its first NBA title in seven years. They toppled LeBron James and and Miami Heat in the Finals 4-1, ending the Big 3’s impressive four-year run.
1971 Milwaukee Bucks vs. 1970 New York Knicks
No. 5: 1971 Milwaukee Bucks
The last season of Lew Alcindor.
A champion in 3rd year of team’s existence.
Oh yeah — they had the Big O, too.
Before Kareem was Kareem, he was Lew Alcindor, the greatest player in NCAA history and the centerpiece of the 1971 NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks. He’d make the name change a year later and the move to L.A. in 1975. Somehow this 66-win team that featured Alcindor averaging 31.7 points and 16 rebounds alongside basketball wizard and triple-double machine Oscar Robertson gets overlooked in NBA lore.
No. 12: 1970 New York Knicks
The Willis Reed injury game.
Walt “Clyde” Frazier’s smooth style and smoother J.
New York hoops’ glory days.
Many who insist on New York as the basketball “mecca” weren’t alive the last time the Knicks won a championship. This was the first of two titles the Knicks won in the ‘70s (also 1973) when New York could make a legitimate argument to that claim. These Knicks featured a quartet of Hall of Famers in Reed, Frazier, Bill Bradley and Dave DeBusschere and logged a then-NBA record 18-game winning streak in the regular season.
1983 Philadelphia 76ers vs. 2001 Los Angeles Lakers
No. 6: 1983 Philadelphia 76ers
Regular season and All-Star MVPs.
Fo, Fo, Fo.
12-1 playoff run.
The 1983 76ers were a well-oiled beauty-and-the-beast operation. A prime Moses Malone did the dirty work in the paint en route to an MVP season averaging 23.5 points and 14.7 rebounds per game. A 32-year-old Julius Erving was still one of the smoothest players to ever step on the court and an All-Star MVP. Joined by fellow Hall of Famers Maurice Cheeks and Bobby Jones, the Sixers coasted to 65 wins. They fell just short of Malone’s famous Fo, Fo, Fo prediction. But a 12-1 playoff run and sweep of Magic and Kareem’s Lakers in the Finals sufficed.
No. 11: 2001 Los Angeles Lakers
Shaq and Kobe hit their stride.
Dominant playoff run.
Dynasty in motion.
The 2001 playoff Los Angeles Lakers were peak Shaq and Kobe. Before the bickering. After they found their rhythm, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant put on a clinic in the Western Conference playoffs. Their 56 wins actually trailed the 58-win San Antonio Spurs that season. But the Lakers swept the Portland Trail Blazers and the Sacramento Kings before dispatching the rival Spurs in four games in the Western Conference finals. Their only playoff blemish was a Game 1 loss to Allen Iverson’s 76ers in the NBA Finals en route to a historic 15-1 playoff run.
1987 Los Angeles Lakers vs. 2013 Miami Heat
No. 7: 1987 Los Angeles Lakers
Fourth of five championships in 1980s.
Featured 1987 MVP (Magic Johnson) and DPOY (Michael Cooper).
Led NBA with a then-record 115.6 offensive rating.
We never got to see the best versions of Bird’s Celtics and Magic Johnson’s Lakers meet in the Finals, but this exercise at least lets us pit them in the same bracket. Magic was at his best in 1987, as were the Showtime Lakers, scoring at will with prime James Worthy, the ageless Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and a cast of talented running mates filling the lanes. The best version of a core that made nine Finals appearances in 12 years stormed through the West and beat Boston’s hobbled legends to win the fourth of five titles.
No. 10: 2013 Miami Heat
Second of consecutive championships.
Won 27 consecutive regular-season games.
LeBron James won fourth MVP in five seasons.
The Heat’s 27-game win streak, the second-longest ever to that point, was spurred by the best stretch of regular-season ball in LeBron’s career. Dwyane Wade was in the midst of his last great season, and Chris Bosh had grown into his role as a complementary third star. The three future Hall of Famers struck a balance in their 2012 title campaign and perfected it in 2013. They hardly needed anybody else, except for Ray Allen, the smoothest shooter to ever live, to save them in a seven-game Finals set with the Spurs.
1967 Philadelphia 76ers vs. 2008 Boston Celtics
No. 8: 1967 Philadelphia 76ers
Finished with a 68-13 regular season record, the fifth-best in NBA history.
Had a defensive rating of 93.9.
Won the franchise’s first NBA title.
Behind the dominant force that was Wilt Chamberlain, who averaged an incredible 24.1 points and 24.2 rebounds while playing more than 45 minutes per game that season, the 76ers cruised to their franchise’s first NBA title by beating the Warriors — who had just moved from Philadelphia to San Francisco in 1962.
No. 9: 2008 Boston Celtics
Finished with a 66-16 regular season record.
Had a NET rating of 11.3.
Won franchise’s first title in 22 years.
With Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett leading the way, this Celtics team overcame Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers to claim its first NBA title since 1986. The Celtics cruised to the No. 1 seed in the postseason while allowing just 98.9 points per 100 possessions, the best in the league that season.
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