The last 20 years has provided NBA fans with a shift in how the game is played. It went from a traditional, slow pace to a three-point shootout. It went from having your center as your best player to not having a center at all. The NBA has changed and that is why the NBA Finals have become so interesting to watch lately. We have seen super teams, one-year wonders and incredible game-winning plays in the finals in recent years. Only nine different teams won a championship in the last 20 years.
Although it may be tough, I have ranked the last 20 NBA champions based on how good that team was.
Ranking the Last 20 NBA Finals Champions
20. 2002-03 San Antonio Spurs
The 2002 San Antonio Spurs were led by the greatest power forward of all time, Tim Duncan. Point guard, Tony Parker, was in his second year as an NBA player and Argentina legend, Manu Ginobili made his debut this season. David Robinson was also in his last season in the NBA. The Spurs went all out in the offseason as well, signing Kevin Willis, Speedy Claxton and Steve Kerr. Stephen Jackson and Bruce Bowen played the enforcer roles, helping to give the Spurs their defensive identity. This was the first of the Spurs turn of the century championships and with such a young team, there were more to come.
19. 2005-06 Miami Heat
A 6-4, third-year guard out of Marquette made his name known in the NBA, as Dwyane Wade was the star player of an aging Miami Heat team. Just 27 games into the season, head coach Stan Van Gundy retired and Pat Riley took over the coaching duties. Shaquille O’Neal, although not in the height of his prime, still had enough in the tank to act as the star big man and win an All-Star appearance. With veterans Jason Williams, Gary Payton, Antione Walker, Alonzo Mourning and James Posey, the Heat were able to use their experience to handle all challengers in the playoffs. This culminated in a 4-2 victory over Dirk Nowitzki’s Dallas Mavericks in the NBA Finals.
18. 2003-04 Detroit Pistons
The 2003-04 Detroit Pistons may be the last team in NBA history to win a title without a true superstar on their team. Instead, they had a variety of role players, who knew what they had to do and when they had to do it. Comprised of a lineup of Chauncey Billups, Rip Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, Rasheed Wallace and Ben Wallace, the Pistons were a defensive juggernaut. Detroit also held the second pick in the 2003 NBA Draft, which saw them draft Darko Milicic — imagine if they had taken Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh. Their biggest challenge came when they faced the Lakers, with Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, Gary Payton and Karl Malone. They beat them in five, becoming one of the most unlikely teams to win an championship in NBA history.
17. 2009-10 Los Angeles Lakers
The second of the Lakers’ championship runs in the late 2000’s checks in at number 17. This Lakers team featured four 10+ year NBA veterans in Kobe Bryant, Derek Fisher, Ron Artest and Lamar Odom. They also had big men Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. With legendary coach Phil Jackson, the Lakers were able to ride their vets to the NBA Finals, where they squared off against Boston. In one of the greatest Game 7s in NBA history, it was not Kobe who won the game, but Ron Artest, who struggled shooting, but hit a three with one minute left to give the Lakers a six-point lead.
16. 2008-09 Los Angeles Lakers
The first championship of Kobe Bryant’s career without Shaquille O’Neal. This team was constructed very similarly to that of the 2009-10 team, with the exception being Trevor Ariza in place of Ron Artest. Ariza helped this Lakers team though as the long forward was able to use a nice shooting stroke to help keep defenders off of Bryant. The Lakers avenged their loss in the finals the year before to the Celtics, by taking down Orlando in five games. If there was any doubt about Bryant’s ability to win, this was the finals that cemented his greatness.
15. 2010-11 Dallas Mavericks
In the 2011 playoffs, Dirk Nowitzki put together one of the greatest playoff runs in NBA history. The Mavericks began by beating Portland in six and then swept the reigning NBA champion Lakers. They took down a young Oklahoma City Squad and were matched up against the big three in Miami. In game two of the NBA finals, Nowitzki made the most famous shot in his career, scoring a left handed go-ahead layup with 3.6 seconds left. With the help of aging players, Jason Terry, Jason Kidd, Shawn Marion, Peja Stojakovic, DeShawn Stevenson and Tyson Chandler, the Mavericks miraculously knocked off Miami in six games in the finals. This win elevated the German superstar to the upper echelon of NBA history.
14. 2004-05 San Antonio Spurs
The 2004-05 Spurs were not the most exciting team in NBA history by any means, but man were they good. San Antonio finished the regular season with a record of 59-23. In the finals they took on the defending champions, Detroit Pistons. After splitting the first six games, the Spurs locked into their defense to win Game 7, 81-74. Tim Duncan averaged 20 and 11 throughout the season. What is impressive about this Spurs team is the list of assistant coaches: Joe Prunty, Mike Budenholzer, Brett Brown, P.J. Carlisimo and Don Newman. This was the Spurs’ first championship without David Robinson.
13. 2007-08 Boston Celtics
The 2007-08 Boston Celtics were the originally modern era super team. Long-time star Paul Pierce was joined by sharp shooting Ray Allen and all-time competitor, Kevin Garnett. The big three were not expected to play well together, as all three were the best player on their respective teams. They instantly dispelled that thought, winning 29 of their first 33 games. And although the big three were the headline, the emergence of Rajon Rondo is what seemed to keep this team elite. Stacked with role players, like Kendrick Perkins, Glen Davis, James Posey, Tony Allen, Eddie House and Leon Powe, the Celtics took down the Lakers in six games to win their first championship since Larry Bird.
12. 2018-19 Toronto Raptors
Much like Dirk Nowitzki in 2011, Kawhi Leonard provided his own run in the 2019 NBA Playoffs. Leonard was unstoppable on his quest to winning the NBA Finals. The most famous shot of his career came in the Eastern Conference semi-finals when he hit a game-winning shot from the corner to put the 76ers away in Game 7. This was Leonard’s first and only season north of the border. He was joined by Kyle Lowry, Mark Gasol, Danny Green, Serge Ibaka and Pascal Siakam. Leonard did also have some help throughout the playoffs with the emergence of Fred VanVleet. The Raptors were able to take down the injured Golden State Warriors in six games, leading to the collapse of the Warriors dynasty.
11. 2019-20 Los Angeles Lakers
The 2019-20 Lakers are one of the most polarizing NBA Finals champions in recent memory. In the middle of the season, sports and the world was put on pause, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The NBA formed a bubble to restart the season, where no fans were allowed. This was, of course, LeBron James’ second year with the Lakers and, after having a fully healthy season with Anthony Davis, the Lakers were able to take down the Heat in six games. Outside of James and Davis, the Lakers sported veterans JR Smith, Rajon Rondo, Danny Green and Dwight Howard. Mixed with young talent, like Kyle Kuzma and Alex Caruso, the Lakers got their first championship since the Kobe Bryant era. Is this championship impressive though, due to fans being forbidden to attend games? That discussion is for another day.
10. 2014-15 Golden State Warriors
This is team that kicked off the Golden State Warriors’ incredible five-year span. The basketball world watched in awe as Steph Curry and Klay Thompson made three-point shots like no tomorrow. The basketball world found its new villain in Draymond Green. This team felt like it was the beginning of the new era of three-point shooting basketball. Coached by Steve Kerr, the team went 67-15 and cruised to a Finals match-up against LeBron James, looking to win a championship in Cleveland. Andre Iguodala was the catalyst of this team as he allowed Curry and Thompson to rest on offense while he did the dirty work, guarding James. Due to his ability to not let James score 40 a night, Iguodala was given NBA Finals MVP. This was just the beginning of what was yet to come for Golden State.
9. 2015-16 Cleveland Cavaliers
Winning this championship is what many people pointed to for LeBron James’ inclusion in the discussion for the greatest NBA player of all time. James came back to Cleveland and avenged his loss the year before to the Warriors by beating them after being down 3-1. James was surrounded by All-Stars Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, along with role players like Tristan Thompson, JR Smith and Matthew Dellavedova. In another classic Game 7in NBA Finals history, James pinned Andre Iguodala’s layup against the backboard in one of the best defensive plays in history. This led to Irving’s famous go ahead three point shot, which ultimately was the dagger for Cleveland. This series felt like a David vs. Goliath story, even though Cleveland had Goliath with LeBron James.
8. 2000-01 Los Angeles Lakers
This was the second championship of the Lakers Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant era. Partnering two of the biggest superstars in NBA history resulted in the best duo in NBA history. Along with Shaq and Kobe was Ron Harper, Derek Fisher, Horace Grant and Rick Fox. This team cakewalked through the playoffs and only dropped one game to the Philadelphia 76ers in the NBA Finals.
7. 2001-02 Los Angeles Lakers
The third and final Kobe-Shaq championship was their best team. What propels this team above the other two were the teams that they beat in the playoffs. The 2001-02 Sacramento Kings are often called the best team to not win the NBA Finals. Referees aside, this turned into one of the greatest series in NBA history. The legend of Robert Horry continued, as maybe his most famous shot came as he hit a game-winner to keep the series alive. In the regular season, Kobe average 25 points per game and Shaq averaged 27. This was the final championship of the greatest three-year stretch in NBA history.
6. 2011-12 Miami Heat
Speaking of great runs in NBA history, this was the first championship in the Miami Heat’s big three era. After LeBron James played the worst finals of his career the season before, he was on a hunt to win his first championship. Dwyane Wade and James’ chemistry was unmatched, as long court passes and alley-oops were a nightly occurrence. This Heat team avenged their loss to the Mavericks by taking down an Oklahoma City Team that featured Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Kevin Durant in the NBA Finals in five games.
5. 2013-14 San Antonio Spurs
This was the team that ended the Miami Heat’s dynasty in the early 2010’s. In typical Spurs fashion, they had their big three, with Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, but also had a flurry of role players who could all start on different teams. Some of these players included Marco Belinelli, Boris Diaw, Danny Green, Patty Mills and Tiago Splitter. This was also the first time that the NBA world really heard about Kawhi Leonard. The young forward out of San Diego State won the Finals MVP. This Spurs team had so much talent, proved by winning every game (19) between February 26 and April 2.
4. 2006-07 San Antonio Spurs
Finally, the best Spurs team of the last two decades lands at number four on this list. This was the team that cemented the Spurs reign in the NBA. Tim Duncan and Tony Parker were at the top of their games. Manu Ginobili provided 17 points per game off of the bench and they finished the season with a 16-4 record in the playoffs. They most notably beat the Cavaliers led by LeBron James in the NBA Finals. They finished with a NET rating of +9.3 during the regular season, the best in the NBA that year. This was also the last of Robert Horry’s seven championships.
3. 2012-13 Miami Heat
This was the team that everyone knew what the Heat could be when they formed the big three. They finished the season with a 66-16 record, including winning 27 straight games in the middle of the season. Ray Allen joined this team and added another shooter for the already great team. He also made one of the biggest shots in NBA history with a game-tying three in Game 6 of the Finals. Chris Bosh provided great moments for the Heat, always seeming to score when Wade and James were off. The roster was filled out with Norris Cole, Mario Chalmers, Mike Miller, Shane Battier, James Jones, Rashard Lewis, Udonis Haslem and Chris Andersen.
2. 2017-18 Golden State Warriors
The second of the Kevin Durant Warriors’ championships and the third of the Warriors 2010’s championships. With Kevin Durant in his second year with team, the Warriors finished the regular season scoring 114 points a game, while giving up 108 points a game. This Golden State team had a tougher time in the playoffs than the year before, going to seven games against the Houston Rockets in the Western Conference Finals. The Warriors followed the championship blueprint, by surrounding superstars with veteran role players, including Zaza Pachulia, Shaun Livingston and David West.
1. 2016-17 Golden State Warriors
This was the team that people said ruined the NBA. After losing a 3-1 lead in the Finals the season the before, what did the Warriors do? Signed Kevin Durant. He instantly gelled in the offense and helped the Warriors finish the regular season with a 67-15 record. The hype for this team was so incredible that they were -128 preseason odds to win the title. Durant, Curry and Thompson all averaged over 22 points per game. With Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala, the death lineup was an incredible wrinkle in the NBA. The team finished the playoffs with a 16-1 record, only dropping one game to LeBron James’ Cavaliers in the NBA Finals.