With the Warriors’ completely dominant drubbing of the Cavs in the 2017 NBA finals and even more so with Kyrie’s trade request, I began to wonder if the current Lebron James & Kyrie Irving-led Cleveland Cavaliers will ever be able to beat the 4-headed Bay Area monster that is the Golden State Warriors. Then I began think of other teams that were terrific for a long time and could have been dynasties were it not for winning just 1 championship during their respective runs of excellence. This thought eventually led to the creation of the following top 10 would-be “dynasties” that could only reach their respective sport’s ultimate pantheon a singular time:
10th: 2000-2011 Dallas Mavericks
- Finals Appearances: 2
- WCF Appearances: 3
- Division Titles: 2
- Western Conference #1 Seeds: 1
- Win Percentage: .687
- MVP’s: 1
Earning a grand total of zero playoff appearances while posting a putrid .319 winning percentage between the 1990-1991 & 1999-2000 seasons, the Dallas Mavericks were a laughing stock in the NBA during the 1990’s.
However, on the night of the 1998 NBA draft, the Mavericks made unquestionably the biggest move in the franchise’s history by actually trading down from 6th to 8th overall to select a certain 7-foot German power forward by the name of Dirk Nowitzki.
Although it would take about 2 seasons of steady improvement to fully turn the team around, drafting Dirk would eventually lead to a complete transformation of Dallas’ basketball squad, going from a yearly loser into a perennial winner for the next decade.
The other major event leading to Dallas’ complete culture change/overhaul came on January 14th, 2000. On this date, the ownership group led by Ross Perot Jr. sold the Mavericks to entrepreneur and Mavericks superfan/season-ticket holder Mark Cuban for $285 million.
During the 2000-2001 NBA season, Nowitzki’s third in the NBA, Dirk averaged 21.7 points and 9.2 rebounds per game with very efficient 0.477/0.387/.838 shooting splits leading the Mavericks to a 53-29 record good for 5th in the Western Conference.
This was Dallas’ first season with a winning record and first playoff appearance since 1989-1990. It was also their first 50-win season since the 1987-1988 season.
From there on, the Mavericks would go on to win at least 50 games every season of the 2000s (2000-2001 to 2009-2010), averaging 56.3 wins and posting three 60-win seasons including 67 wins in 2006-2007, one season after falling to the Dwyane Wade/Shaquille O’Neal-led Miami Heat in the NBA finals. In 2010-2011, the Mavericks would finish 57-25, good for 3rd in the Western conference.
After sweeping the back-to-back reigning champion Lakers in the 2nd round and beating the young up & coming Thunder in 5 games in the WCF, Dallas would reach the finals for a 2nd time in franchise history.
The Mavs were +160 underdogs heading into the finals and had 20/1 (7th best) odds at winning the championship before the 2010-2011 regular season started compared to Heat’s league-best preseason 17/10 odds.
In a stunning turn of events, Dirk, the only 2010-2011 all-star on Dallas’ roster despite having a great team filled with quality players like defensive stalwart Tyson Chandler, a past his prime but still effective Jason Kidd and several others, would win the 2011 Finals MVP while defeating Lebron & the Heatles in 6 games to capture the Dallas Mavericks first & only championship.
9th: 1996-2008 Dallas Stars
- Cup Finals Appearances: 2
- WCF Appearances: 4
- Division Titles: 7
- Western Conference #1 Seeds: 3
- Win Percentage: .565
- Hart Trophies: 0
After failing to make the playoffs in the 2nd season of their relocation to Dallas, the Stars would trade for forwards Guy Carbonneau & Joe Nieuwendyk in the 1995 offseason to build around star center Mike Modano.
Then, halfway through what would ultimately be a 1995-1996 season that ended in a last place finish in the Central Division, the Stars hired coach Ken Hitchcock. Feeling unsatisfied with that result, Dallas’ management would continue their aggressive nature in the following 2 offseasons.
Promising young winger Jamie Langenbrunner would be brought onto to the roster full time and general manager Bob Gainey traded for offensive defensemen Darryl Sydor & Sergei Zubov in 1996 which resulted in a 104 point Central Division winning 1996-1997 season that would kick off the official turn around of the former North-Stars turned Stars.
With that being said, a first-round upset at the hands of the Edmonton Oilers left the Dallas Stars’ brass unsatisfied. Superstar goaltender Ed Belfour & all-time great scorer Brett Hull were signed as free agents in the 1997 & 1998 offseasons respectively.
Along with the other 6 aforementioned players and coach Hitchcock, Belfour & Hull would officially complete the Stars’ 1998-1999 core that would go on to win the franchise’s lone Stanley Cup despite reaching the Cup final yet again the following year.
In addition, Dallas would go on to make the playoffs in 6 of the next 7 seasons and capped off with a 4th and final Western Conference finals appearance in 2008.
8th: 1988-1992 Oakland A’s
- World Series Appearances: 3
- ALCS Appearances: 4
- Division Titles: 4
- AL #1 Seeds: 3
- Win Percentage: .600
- AL MVP’s: 3
- Cy Youngs: 2
After having 3 straight rookie of the year winners from 1986-1988 (Mark Mcgwire, Jose Canseco & Walt Weiss, the 1988 season marked the point where the Oakland A’s deep prospect pool of the 1980’s finally began to translate into some success.
That season, the Athletics would go an MLB-best 104-58 and feature a very impressive 5 all-stars (3 starters): the Bash Brothers Mark Mcgwire & Jose Canseco, catcher Terry Steinbach (All-Star Game MVP), 3rd baseman Carney Lansford and of course hall of famer Dennis Eckersley who had converted from middle of the road starter to shutdown closer just 1 season prior. Canseco in particular won the AL MVP thanks to his MLB leading 42 homeruns, 124 rbi & .569 slugging %.
This star-studded squad, with hall of fame manager Tony La Russa at the helm, won the ALCS easily, sweeping Wade Boggs & the Red Sox thus marking the A’s first AL pennant since 1974. Unfortunately for A’s fans, Oakland would go on to lose the World Series in 5 games at the hands of of Tommy Lasorda‘s Dodgers, featuring Kirk Gibson‘s infamous Game 1 walk off homer.
The following season (1989), the Athletics won an MLB best 99 games in the regular season. The pitching was dominant that year, with Eckersley, Dave Stewart & Mike Moore all finishing top 6 in AL Cy Young voting. However, the highlight of the regular season was a mid-season trade that brought back fan-favorite & hall of famer Rickey Henderson.
This team would breeze through the playoffs, taking the Blue Jays down in 5 games and then proceeding to sweep the San Francisco Giants to win the World Series. Despite winning the AL pennant for a 3rd straight season in 1990 & winning the AL West in 1992, 1989 is still Oakland’s last World Series win to this day.
7th: 2001-2008 Detroit Pistons
- Finals Appearances: 2
- ECF Appearances: 6
- Division Titles: 6
- Eastern Conference #1 Seeds: 3
- Win Percentage: .669
- MVP’s: 0
From 2001 to 2008, the Detroit Pistons were the class of the Eastern Conference. More specifically, during the 6-season stretch spanning the 2002-2003 season up to 2007-2008, the Pistons made it to the Eastern Conference Finals every season while averaging 55.7 wins and winning 5 of 6 division titles.
Led by Rasheed Wallace, Chauncey Billups, Ben Wallace, Tayshaun Prince & Rip Hamilton, these Detroit teams were arguably the greatest core of all-time that did not possess a prototypical superstar top 5 player.
With that being said these guys were terrific players in their own right, especially on the defensive end of the floor, combining for 13 all-star selections, 4 Defensive Players of the Year (shoutout Ben Wallace), 11 All-Defensive teams and 6 All-NBA teams when they played together.
Outside of Bill Russell‘s Celtics and maybe Ewing’s Knicks, the 2000’s Pistons were arguably the greatest defensive team the NBA has ever seen. Their 95.4 Defensive Rating in their sole title winning season (2003-2004) is one of just 2 Defensive Ratings below 98 since the 1999-2000 season.
In fact, they were so good the year they won their only championship that the league changed the rules the next season. According to nba.com this is exactly how they were changed:
- New rules were introduced to curtail hand-checking, clarify blocking fouls and call defensive three seconds to open up the game.
These changes undoubtedly led to the current three-point shooting happy era of basketball we’ve been graced with the last few seasons.
So, in a way, the Pistons (the Spurs too.. credit where credit is due) were so good defensively that they changed the entire optimal method for success and for the most part the way the game is played as a whole in the NBA.
6th: 1999-2003 St-Louis Rams
- Super Bowl Appearances: 2
- NFC Championship Appearances: 2
- Division Titles: 3
- NFC #1 Seeds: 2
- Win Percentage: .700
- MVP’s: 3
Dubbed “the Greatest Show on Turf”, the 1999-2003 Rams were one of the most explosive and exciting offenses in NFL history featuring Hall of Famers Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk, Orlando Pace in addition to receivers Torry Holt & Isaac Bruce who earned 3 Pro-Bowl selections in that span.
In addition to a historically great offense, the Rams defense and special teams were also more than formidable, with 3 players (Leonard Little, Todd Lyght & Kevin Carter) from St-Louis’ defensive unit and 2 different kick returners (Az-Zahir Hakim & Tony Horne) each earning an All-Pro selection at some point during the 1999-2003 span.
The Rams scored at least 500 points in 3 straight seasons from 1999 to 2001. The only other team in history to do that was the 2010-2012 New England Patriots. In fact, there’s only been 17 total 500 point seasons in the NFL’s history.
While the Pats did score more points than the Rams in their stretch (1620 to 1569), an argument can be made that the G.S.O.T. had a more dominant 3-year offense than the Brady/Moss/Gronk/Welker Pats considering during their 3-year stretch the other teams in the NFL averaged 1046 points compared to just 954 points from the other teams during the Rams’ 1999-2001 run.
If you want to put it another way the Rams’ offense outscored the average offense by 205 points per season while the Pats outscored their average opposition by 191 points per season.
In addition, before these Rams teams, there had only been three 500-point seasons meaning they doubled the total on their own.
Meanwhile, by the time the Patriots capped off their 3-year run around the total number of teams to hit the half-century mark in points had reached 14. So while the Rams single-handedly increased the total by 100%, the Pats only increased it by about 27%.
If that wasn’t enough, the Rams led the league in point in all 3 seasons of their stretch. Meanwhile, despite leading the NFL in 2010 & 2012 the Pats actually ranked just 3rd behind the Packers & Saints in 2011.
5th: 1976-1986 Philadelphia 76ers
- Finals Appearances: 4
- ECF Appearances: 6
- Division Titles: 3
- Eastern Conference #1 Seeds: 3
- Win Percentage: .683
- MVP’s: 2
After a 3-season stretch of dominance for the Wilt Chamberlain-led Sixers (a team arguably deserving of a spot on this very list) that resulted in 1 championship which ended Bill Russell‘s Celtics’ 8-year championship streak, the sixers went into a gradual fall in the seasons following Wilt’s departure.
This fall from grace eventually bottomed out in the 1972-1973 season, when Philly finished a horrendous 9-73, still to this day the most single-season losses in NBA history.
However, 3 seasons later, the greatest player in Philadelphia 76ers history would arrive and completely change Philly’s fortunes in one of the most lopsided trades in NBA history.
Who is that player and what was that the trade you ask? Well that would be the Nets , who needed money to buy a spot in the NBA after the ABA was dismantled, trading the one and only Julius Erving to the 76ers in exchange for the sum of $3 million in the 1976 offseason.
With the help of lifetime-76er Doug Collins & fellow hall of fame forward/former ABA superstar George McGinnis, who had jumped over to Philly a year prior, Dr. J would lead the 76ers to the NBA Finals, the team’s first appearance there in 10 years, in his very first season in the NBA.
Unfortunately for Erving and the Sixers they would go on to lose the 1977 finals after running into a Trail Blazers team led by an in-his-prime & pre-serious-injury Bill Walton who was arguably one of the greatest two-way centers the NBA has ever seen.
The Doctor, with the help of side-kick point guard Maurice Cheeks, would lead the Sixers to two more Finals losses in the 1980 & 1982 postseasons, this time at the hands of the Showtime Lakers led by Magic Johnson & Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
However, in the 1982 offseason the 76ers would make one of the biggest free agent signings in NBA history by convincing the league’s reigning MVP Moses Malone to leave the Houston Rockets and join Dr. J in Philadelphia.
The 76ers would go on to completely dominate the 1982-1983 regular season, going an league-best 65-17 while the newly acquired Malone would earn his 2nd straight and 3rd total MVP.
This domination would continue in the playoffs, as Philly would go on to sweep a Celtics team that was led by 3 future Hall of Famers in Bird/McHale/Parrish in the Eastern Conference Semis and easily take the Bucks down in 5 games in the Conference Finals.
Finally, the ’83 Sixers would cap off a historic championship run by sweeping the Showtime Lakers, the same team the had lost to in the Finals just a season ago and also 2 seasons prior to that.
Malone would earn the Finals MVP, making him one of just 10 players in NBA history to win both the the Regular Season & Finals MVPs in the same season.
Unfortunately for the Sixers, that same Celtics team they swept to take the next step and turn into one of the greatest teams in NBA history, winning the next 4 Eastern Conference finals.
By the time the Celtics reign ended, not only had the Bad Boy Pistons emerged, but the former-champion 76ers core had been dismantled with Malone being traded to the Washington Bullets in 1986.
4th: 1947-1956 Brooklyn Dodgers
- NL Pennants: 6
- Regular Season #1 Seeds: 4
- Win Percentage: .613
- NL MVP’s: 5
The 1947 MLB season is arguably one of the most significant moments not just in terms of MLB history but for society as a whole.
This aforementioned season pronounced the official beginning of the end to racial segregation in baseball as 2nd baseman Jackie Robinson would become the first African-American in MLB history by joining the Brooklyn Dodgers.
In his first year in the big leagues, along with winning Rookie of the Year and finishing 5th in MVP voting, Robinson would help Brooklyn win its first NL pennant since 1941.
Over the course of Jackie’s 10 seasons with the club, the Dodgers, a team that featured 3 other hall of fame ball-players in addition to Robinson with catcher Roy Campanella, centerfielder Duke Snider and shortstop Pee Wee Reese would go on to win a grand total of 6 pennants while averaging 94.5 wins per season and posting a winning record all 10 seasons.
Unfortunately for the Dodgers, they would go on to face the same team in all 6 of their World Series trips.
That team happen to be arguably the most dominant dynasty (Russell’s Celtics aside) in sports history; the one and only 1950’s Yankees that featured a core of 5 hall of famers (Whitey Ford, Yogi Berra, Phil Rizzuto, Joe DiMaggio & Mickey Mantle) plus several other all-stars.
To give you an idea of just how much talent was on this team, only 10 players in MLB history have 3 MVP awards. Three of those players (Berra, Mantle & DiMaggio) played for the Yankees in the 1950’s.
During Jackie Robinson’s career, Brooklyn’s cross-town rivals won 7 out of 10 possible World Series including a record 5 in a row from 1949-1953.
With that being said, after losing in to the Yanks in their first 4 meetings in the World Series, Brooklyn’s own hall of fame core of Robinson/Campanella/Reese/Snider finally defeated their cross-town American League rivals in 1955 to capture the world’s best baseball league’s championship.
That would be the only World Series win for the Robinson/Campanella-led and also the last World Series that the Dodgers would win in Brooklyn.
Following the 1957 season, the franchise would move to Los Angeles. This, combined with 1957 Campanella’s final season and Robinson having already retired in 1956, would spell the official end of the Brooklyn’s iconic ball club.
3rd: 1999-2010 Indianapolis Colts
- Super Bowl Appearances: 2
- AFC Championship Appearances: 3
- Division Titles: 8
- AFC #1 Seeds: 2
- Win Percentage: .719
- MVP’s: 4
With one of the 5 greatest quarterbacks to ever play at the helm in Peyton Manning, the Indianapolis Colts made the playoffs and won at least 10 games in 11 out of 12 seasons from 1999-2010.
That kind of sustained success is extremely rare in the NFL, which is why they rank so high in these rankings. In that span, the Colts’ extremely impressive 138 wins were the most of any team in the NFL.
Unfortunately for the Colts, very much like both the previous & next teams on this list, they had to play at the same time as the greatest dynasty their sport has ever seen. Which team would that be in the Colts/NFL’s case?
While they racked up a shade fewer regular season wins (134 to 138) compared to Indy in those 12 seasons Peyton was with the Colts (his awful rookie season not-withstanding), the Pats would win 14 playoff games while appearing in 4 Super Bowls and winning 3. Adding to these accomplishments, the Pats would also appear in 5 AFC championships.
Meanwhile, in that same span Indianapolis would win 8 playoff games and appear in just 3 AFC championships in those 11 playoff appearances. In addition, yet another the thing that hurts this Colts team’s and specifically Peyton Manning’s legacy in the all-time greats discussion is their head-to-head record of 4-8, 1-2 in the playoffs, against Brady & Belichick’s Patriots.
2nd: 1961-1974 Los Angeles Lakers
- Finals Appearances: 9
- WCF Appearances: 10
- Division Titles: 9
- Western Conference #1 Seeds: 6
- Win Percentage: .569
- MVP’s: 0
It really is a shame for the 1960’s Lakers that Bill Russell and Red Auerbach were human beings that existed in the NBA in that era, because if it wasn’t for them these Lakers could very well be the greatest dynasty in sports history.
Unfortunately for them, Russell and Auerbach were very much part of the NBA in the 60’s and they themselves hold that aforementioned greatest dynasty in sports distinction. From 1957-1969, the Celtics won 11 of 13 possible titles and were Eastern Conference champions 12 of 13 times.
In that span, the Lakers, who were built around hall of famers Jerry West & Elgin Baylor, would reach the NBA Finals 7 times. They would also go on to lose all 7 of those Finals to Russell, Auberach and the bevy of other hall of fame players on the Celtics like K.C. Jones, John Havlicek & Tom Heinsohn.
After the 6th Finals series loss in 1968, got tired of constantly losing to their enemies in the East and pulled off what was at the time, and still to this day one of, the biggest blockbuster trade in NBA history.
On July 9th 1968, the Los Angeles Lakers traded center Darrall Imhoff, forward Jerry Chambers & guard Archie Clark to the Philadelphia 76ers in exchange for hall of famer Wilt Chamberlain, who had won the last 3 regular season MVP awards. At the time, this marked the first time in NBA history that the reigning MVP had been traded the next offseason, nevermind the THREE-time reigning MVP.
In his first season in Los Angeles, Wilt and the Lakers posted a 55-27 and reached the finals for a now 6th time with West & Baylor on the roster. However, things were not all peach and roses in Laker-Land.
Chamberlain instantly clashed with team captain Elgin Baylor and even more-so with coach Butch Van Breda Kolff, who was in his 2nd season with the Lakers. Van Breda Kolff complained that Chamberlain never respected him and too often slacked off in practice while focusing too much on his own statistics rather than the team.
On the other side of things, Wilt would eventually call Butch “the dumbest and worst coach I’ve ever had”. This feud got so heated that in game 7 of the 1969, arguably the Lakers best chance at finally taking down the vaunted Celtics at the time, Van Breda Kolff inexplicably benched his star centre Chamberlain.
Wilt had hurt his knee with 5 minutes left, but told his coach he was good to go with about 2 minutes left at which point Van Breda Kolff absurdly answered “we’re doing well enough without you”.
The Lakers would go on to lose that game 108-106 and thus lose the championship at the hands of the Celtics for the 6th time in the 1960’s alone. Shortly after that finals gaff, Van Breda Kolff would resign to avoid being inevitably fired.
The Lakers would replace him with long-time Providence College head coach Joe Mullany. In the 1970 playoffs, their first year under their new coach, L.A. made the finals yet again. Once again they lost, this time to the New York Knicks led by hall famers Dave DeBusschere, Bill Bradley, Walt Frazier & of course Willis Reed, both the regular season & finals MVP that year.
In the 1970 offseason, the Lake-Show brought back eventual hall of fame guard Gail Goodrich after losing him to the Phoenix Suns in the expansion draft 2 years prior. Unfortunately for the Lakers, 2 games into the 1970-1971 season, they would lose Elgin Baylor to an achilles tendon rupture that would effectively end his career.
To make matters worse, Jerry West would miss the end of the seasons and the playoffs causing the Lakers to miss out on the NBA finals for the first time in 4 seasons and only the 3rd time in the last 9.
The following season, L.A. would turn it back around in a big way. Under new head coach Bill Sharman, a healthy Jerry West and a much much more defensive minded Wilt Chamberlain took on a secondary scoring role, the Lakers would post a (still to this day) franchise best 69-13 regular season record.
In addition, these new-look/same-core Lakers would go on a 33-game win streak that still holds up as an American pro-sports record. To top off this perfect season, the Lakers would mow through the playoffs going 12-3 to finally win their first title since moving to Los Angeles becoming the 1971-1972 NBA champions.
(While they did take down the Knicks, a team they had lost to just 2 finals prior, and nobody can take that away from them, it is worth noting the Knicks were without franchise player Willis Reed, who was injured and limited to 11 games that season.)
The next season (1972-1973), the Lakers would go 60-22 and lose to the Knicks 4-1 in the Finals. Team captain Wilt Chamberlain led the league in rebounding for the 11th time of his career and shot and nba single-season record 72.7% in what would be his final season.
Meanwhile, Jerry West would retire a year later, effectively ending this infamous Lakers core’s run of Western conference dominance.
1st: 1991-2005 Atlanta Braves
- World Series Appearances: 5
- NLCS Appearances: 9
- Division Titles: 14
- NL #1 Seeds: 9
- Win Percentage: .645
- NL MVP’s: 2
- Cy Youngs: 6
The 90s/mid-2000s Atlanta Braves are not just one of the greatest teams ever to win just 1 championship, they are one of the best teams in MLB history period.
From 1991-2005, the Braves won their division in an astounding 14/15 times, finished with the best record in the National League an even more impressive 9 times. In addition, Atlanta was the only team in the entire MLB to post a winning record every single season in that 15-season (14 postseasons) span.
Despite having just 1 all-star (Tom Glavine), the Braves were the first team in National League history to go from last place to first place in the 1991 season. Coincidentally, the Minnesota Twins did the same thing in the AL that season.
In an even more coincidental occurrence, Atlanta & Minnesota would go on to meet in the 1991 World Series, with the Twins taking the championship in a hard fought full 7 game series.
The following season, this time with Terry Pendleton, Ron Gant & John Smoltz joining Glavine on the all-star team, Atlanta would go on to win their second consecutive NL pennant. Unfortunately for Braves fans, Atlanta also lost their 2nd straight World Series, this time to the Toronto Blue Jays.
The 1995 season was the season where everything clicked for the Braves. At this point, the greatest pitcher in franchise history Greg Maddux was in his 3rd season as an Atlanta Brave and won his 4th Cy Young award in a row. Meanwhile, future hall of famer (and face of the franchise for a while) Chipper Jones would play his first full MLB season in 1995.
With a core built around the 2 aforementioned players alongside Glavine, Smoltz & Crime Dog Fred McGriff, the 1995 Braves won Atlanta’s first and only World Series, taking down the Cleveland Indians in 6 games. Despite a run of NL East dominance that kept going for another decade after that season, 1995 was this team’s one and only championship.