Two relatively young franchises will meet in the 2013 NBA finals; the Miami Heat, making it for the fourth time in franchise history, and the Spurs, making it for a fifth time, hoping to keep their perfect record. Both of them haven’t been around as long as the teams with the most appearances have, especially not the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers.
While the Celtics hold the most NBA titles, winning 17, the last of which in 2008, the Lakers have been the most recognizable face or logo in the finals, making it there no less than 31 times.
Philadelphia/San Francisco/Golden State Warriors – 6
The first two finals for the Warriors came as the Philadelphia team, before the league was called the NBA, but the BAA. They beat the Chicago Stags in the 1947 BAA finals, and the next year to the Baltimore Bullets. The league turned into the NBA, and in 1956 they won the title again, beating the Fort Wayne Pistons. Then came to move to California, and nine seasons as the SF Warriors. During that time they lost in the NBA Finals twice: First to the Boston Celtics (1964) and then again to the Philadelphia 76ers (1967).
They became the current Golden State Warriors in 1971, and made the NBA finals for a sixth and final time in 1975, beating the Washington Bullets 4-0.
Chicago Bulls – 6
The Bulls are the only team with more than four appearances in the finals and a perfect championship record, based on their two three-peats, all of them with Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Phil Jackson. It began in 1991, beating the Los Angeles Lakers in five games. The next year came the Blazers, losing in six. The Phoenix Suns, this time with home court advantage, took the Bulls to six games as well.
In 1996, after a 72-10 regular season, the Chicago Bulls resumed their title-winning ways, beating the Seattle Supersonics in six games. In 1997 the Utah Jazz stood in their way, and the Bulls won in six games. In 1998, same team, same result: The Bulls winning their sixth and final NBA title in six games.
Fort Wayne/Detroit Pistons – 7
They were the Fort Wayne Pistons until 1957, losing two NBA finals under that name: first to Syracuse in 1955 (7 games) and a year later to the Philadelphia Warriors in five. They had to wait until 1988 to reach the NBA finals once again, losing to the Los Angeles Lakers. They beat the same Lakers team to win their first NBA title a year later, and made it two in a row in 1990, beating the Portland Trail Blazers in five games.
It took 14 years for them to make their Finals return, stunning most of the basketball world by beating the Los Angeles Lakers in five games during the 2004 NBA finals, without a single superstar on their team. The next year they reached the finals against the Spurs, losing in 7 games.
New York Knicks – 8
No team has such a bad record in the NBA finals, winning on only 25% of their visits. The Knicks reached the finals for the first time in 1951, losing to Rochester. This began a three-peat of losses, followed by two years losing to the Minneapolis Lakers. In 1970 they won their first NBA title, beating the Los Angeles Lakers in 7 games. Two years later, they lost to the same Lakers in five games.
One year passes, and the Knicks reach the final again, once more against the Lakers, beating them in five games. From there came a 21 year wait until reaching the NBA finals once more, this time playing against the Houston Rockets, losing after 7 games. In 1999, a shortened season, the Knicks became the first 8 seed to reach the Finals, losing to the San Antonio Spurs after five games.
Syracuse Nationals/Philadelphia 76ers – 9
The franchise’s first three NBA finals came while playing in Syracuse as the nationals. The first two were disappointments. In 1950 they lost to the Minneapolis Lakers, and in 1954 lost to the same team again. A year later they beat Fort Wayne in 7 games to win their first title. They became the Philadelphia 76ers in 1963, winning their first NBA title in the new city in 1967, beating the San Francisco Warriors.
A decade later, with the arrival of Julius Erving from the ABA, came another era of success, although it began with three losses in the NBA finals: In 1977 to Portland, in 1980 to the Lakers and in 1982 to the Lakers again. Only in 1983, with Moses Malone at his best, one of the most dominant NBA playoff performances, including a sweep against the Lakers in the final, gave them the NBA title. They waited until 2001 to reach it again, but Allen Iverson alone wasn’t enough against the Shaq-Bryant Lakers, losing in five games.
Boston Celtics – 21
It’s remarkable that the Celtics have reached the NBA finals so many times, but hold only four losses to their name, although the period of their dominance was when the league was quite small, which makes it a little less impressive in hindsight, but they’re still the only team with 17 NBA championships, which says something and probably a little bit more about the dynasties they’ve built.
The Celtics reached the NBA finals 10 straight times between 1957 and 1966, winning nine titles, including 8 in a row. They won in 57 against the St. Louis Hawks, but lost the next year to the same team. Then came their era of greatness, beating the Lakers five times, the Hawks twice and the Warriors one more time. After a year of pause, came 1968 and 1969, two straight NBA titles, beating the Los Angeles Lakers twice.
After a five year wait, the Celtics were back on top in 1974, beating the Milwaukee Bucks in the finals. Two years later came another one, beating the Phoenix Suns in six games. They had to wait five years and for the arrival of Larry Bird to begin a new mini-dynasty, winning the NBA title in 1981 against the Houston Rockets. They won again in 1984, beating the Lakers in 7 games. In 1985 they lost to the Lakers in the finals, but brought back the title to Boston in 1986, with arguably the greatest team ever, beating the Rockets in six games. In 1987 they made it to the finals one more time, losing to the Lakers in six games.
It took them 21 years to come back and play in the finals, beating the Los Angeles Lakers in six games. Two years later, and it was another Celtics-Lakers final (the 12th), with the Lakers taking the title.
Minneapolis/Los Angeles Lakers – 31
While the Celtics have more NBA titles, the Lakers have been the most consistently good and more than once great team in the history of the league, although they do have 15 losses in those 31 finals.
It begins with the Minneapolis Lakers, winning one BAA and four NBA titles from 1949 to 1954, including the first three-peat. In those finals, they beat the New York Knicks twice, the Syracuse Nationals twice and the Washington Capitols once. In 1959 they reached the final as the Minneapolis Lakers for the final time, losing in a sweep to the Boston Celtics.
In the 1960-1961 season they moves to Los Angeles, losing in the NBA finals 7 times between 1962 to 1970. Six of those finals were against the unbeatable Celtics, while another one was against the Knicks. The Lakers finally won their first NBA title in Los Angeles in 1972, beating the Knicks, but lost the Knicks in the finals 12 months later.
The next golden age began with Magic Johnson in 1980, winning the finals against the 76ers. In 1982 they reached the finals again, beating the 76ers once more. In 1983 it was once more the 76ers in their way, this time losing to Philly. In 1984 these were the Boston Celtics, winning the title, but the Lakers got the better of Boston in 1985. In 1987 began a streak of three consecutive NBA finals, beating Boston and Detroit (the first repeat since the Celtics in the 60’s) an losing to Detroit in 1989. In 1991 they reached the final once again, losing to the Bulls in five games.
Then came a relative long wait – 9 years, before the second three-peat in franchise history began, led by Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant, beating the Indiana Pacers, Philadelphia 76ers and New Jersey Nets from 2000 to 2002. They reached the finals once more in 2004 before breaking up the tandem, leaving Bryant in charge. After four years of waiting came a reunion with the Celtics and a 2-4 series loss, which was avenged two years later, winning in a 7 game series.