Winning a championship in any professional sports league takes a lot of talent, work, and luck. It is a monumental task that cannot be achieved without a lot of hard work and dedication from the players, coaching staff, management, and ownership. An NBA championship is the toughest basketball trophy to win in the world.
Since the inception of the NBA, there have been 76 Finals, meaning 76 teams have won a championship. But which team has won the most NBA championships? Today, we will answer that question, and look at how close other teams are to surpassing them.
How To Win an NBA Championship
The NBA format has 12 teams automatically make the playoffs, six from each conference. An additional four teams from each conference go to a play-in. Seeding is determined based on every team’s record after they each play 82 regular-season games.
The 7th and 8th seeds in the Eastern Conference play each other, and the same goes for the West. A winner advances to face the second seed in the conference.
Moreover, the 9th and 10th seeds in the conference also play each other, with the winner advancing to play the loser of the 7th and 8th seed matchup. The winner of that game plays the number one seed.
Once the play-in tournament is complete, the eight teams in each conference begin the first round of the playoffs. The first seed plays the eighth seed, the second seed plays the seventh seed, and so on. Teams are reseeded after the first round.
Each playoff series is a best of seven. The first team with four wins advances to the next round. Additionally, the higher seed gets the home-court advantage. They play games 1, 2, 5, and 7 at home. Conversely, the lower seed only gets to play at home in games 3, 4, and 6.
The playoffs feature 16 teams, and as a result, there are four rounds. However, the first three rounds only see teams face off against opponents in their conference. At the end of the Playoffs is the Finals, which pits the last team from the East and the West against each other. The winner of the Finals is the NBA champion for that year.
The Teams With the Most NBA Championships
There are 30 teams in the NBA, but that was not always the case. Indeed, the NBA once had very few teams in the league. As a result, older teams had the chance to accumulate more championships.
Here we will look at how many championships each NBA team has. There are several ties, so the tiebreaker will go to the team with more appearances. If they have the same number of appearances, we will go alphabetically.
Some organizations have changed their names and locations over the years. For the sake of simplicity, we will be counting championships for each organization regardless of relocations and renamings.
Los Angeles Lakers (17)
The Lakers are the most iconic team in the NBA, and as a result, it should not be surprising to hear they have the most NBA championships in history. They have the same number of championships as the Boston Celtics with 17, but they have more appearances (at 32). In addition to their 17 wins in the NBA Finals, they have lost 15 times.
The Lakers registered their 17th title in 2020, with LeBron James winning his fourth title and the Finals MVP.
Over the years, the Lakers have been led by some of the greatest players in NBA history including LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain, and Jerry West.
Boston Celtics (17)
Unlike the Lakers, the Boston Celtics do not have many NBA Finals losses (only five). Their fifth loss came in 2022 when they were bested by the Golden State Warriors in six games. They have not won an NBA championship since 2008, and before that, they had not won since 1986.
Most of the team’s success came while Bill Russell was part of the team. Russell spent his entire 13-year career in the NBA with the Celtics. His career spanned from 1957 to 1969, during which the Boston Celtics won 11 NBA championships. It was one of the most dominant runs in the history of team sports.
Golden State Warriors (7)
The Golden State Warriors are the closest thing basketball has to a modern-day dynasty. They have won seven titles in total in 12 NBA Finals appearances, with most of the winning happening since 2015.
Since the emergence of Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, the Warriors have forged a dominating presence in the NBA. The team have made six Finals in eight seasons from 2015 to 2022, winning four times, including an emphatic success in 2022.
The only seasons they did not make the NBA Finals were 2020 and 2021. That can be attributed to Klay Thompson missing both years while recovering from a severe injury. In addition, Steph Curry also missed the majority of the 2020 season with an injury.
Chicago Bulls (6)
The Chicago Bulls are the only team with more than one NBA championship and an undefeated record in the NBA Finals. All of their championships came in the 1990s during the Michael Jordan era when the Bulls dominated the sport.
Their scintillating performances were shaped by the presence of Jordan and iconic teammates like Denis Rodman and Scottie Pippen. This period led to basketball’s growing popularity around the world.
The Bulls had two three-peats, with the first spanning from 1991 to 1993 and the second from 1996 to 1998. In 1994 and 1995, the Bulls failed to win a Finals, coinciding with Jordan taking a break from basketball.
San Antonio Spurs (5)
The Spurs are one of the most respected organizations in the modern NBA. Under the leadership of head coach Greg Popovich, the Spurs made 22 consecutive playoff appearances from 1998 to 2019.
In that time, they made all six of their NBA Finals appearances, winning five times. The Spurs last won in 2014, with Kawhi Leonard winning the Finals MVP.
Philadelphia 76ers (3)
The 76ers are the first team on this list with a losing record in the NBA Finals. They have nine appearances but only three championships. Their last win came in 1983, while they last made the Finals in 2001.
Detroit Pistons (3)
The Pistons are known as the team that Michael Jordan needed to overcome to start winning NBA championships. During their heyday, the Pistons had a polarizing reputation, leading to them being known as the “Motor City Bad Boys.” However, their tenacity helped them secure back-to-back championships in 1989 and 1990. They last won in 2004.
Miami Heat (3)
The Heat have three championships, and two of them are a result of one of the most well-known free agent signings in NBA history. When LeBron James came to the Miami Heat to join up with Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh, he promised several championships, but they only won twice.
With James, the Heat went to the Finals four times from 2011 to 2014, winning in 2012 and 2013. Their other championship came in 2006. Ironically, their other loss came in 2020 at the hand of LeBron James’ Los Angeles Lakers.
New York Knicks (2)
The Knicks have long been underachievers. Despite being in the biggest market in North America, the Knicks only have two NBA championships and eight Finals appearances. Their last success was in 1973 under Red Holzman, one of the finest coaches in NBA history.
Houston Rockets (2)
The Houston Rockets were the beneficiaries of Michael Jordan taking a break from basketball in the mid-90s. During her absence, the Rockets seized on his two-year break by winning two championships in 1994 and 1995. Their two other appearances were in 1981 and 1986.
Milwaukee Bucks (2)
The Bucks are the last team on this list with more than one NBA championship. However, that was not the case until the 2020s. The Bucks first won a championship in 1971 but did not have any success again until Giannis Antetokounmpo led them to victory in 2021. They made an additional appearance in the Finals in 1974.
Cleveland Cavaliers (1)
In an article centered around “which team has won the most NBA championships?” it’s safe to say the Cleveland Cavaliers are not going to rank highly. Despiting drafting one of the greatest players of all time in LeBron James, the Cavaliers only have one championship to show for it.
The side made one appearance in the Finals in 2007 before James departed for Miami. However, when LeBron returned, he led them to the Finals in four straight years, albeit only winning once in 2016.
Atlanta Hawks (1)
The Atlanta Hawks have recorded one championship in their history, and it was back in 1958. Nevertheless, the Hawks did make the Finals in 1957, 1960, and 1961. They also had a conference Finals appearance in 2021, but have not made many deep playoff runs since the 1960s. To make things worse, their victory came while the franchise was based in St. Louis.
Washington Wizards (1)
The Washington Wizards won their championship in 1978 while they were still the Bullets. Their coach at the time had a reputation for building physical, well-conditioned teams, which was reflected in Washington’s tough series against the Seattle Sonics. It was the fourth and last appearance made by the team in a Finals.
Oklahoma City Thunder (1)
The Thunder had a great core in the early 2010s with Kevin Durant, Russel Westbrook, and James Harden. Despite that, they only made the Finals in 2012, and the team eventually fell apart. Their single championship came in 1979.
Portland Trail Blazers (1)
The Blazers won a championship in 1977, but have not enjoyed little success in recent history. Indeed, they have made two Finals appearances since then, in 1990 and 1992. Nevertheless, in 2015, the Portland Trail Blazers were only ranked behind the San Antonio Spurs and the Los Angeles Lakers for the number of postseason playoff appearances (at 34).
Dallas Mavericks (1)
The Mavericks’ only championship came in 2011, but it was a memorable one. Dirk Nowitzki led the Mavericks to an upset victory over LeBron James and his superteam in Miami. They made one other appearance in 2006.
Sacramento Kings (1)
The Kings only have one championship victory (back in 1951). However, that came when the team was based in Rochester. To compound matters, the Kings have not reached the playoffs since 2006.
Toronto Raptors (1)
After years of playoff disappointment, the Raptors made one of the boldest trades in the NBA’s history. They traded for the final year of Kawhi Leonard’s contract. Ultimately, their decision was vindicated as they defeated the dynasty Golden State Warriors to win the 2019 NBA championship. They have no other Finals appearances.
Baltimore Bullets (1)
The Bullets were one of the earliest professional teams and are the only defunct side to have won a Finals. Their solitary championship came in 1948, when the NBA was known as the Basketball Association of America (BAA).
Teams With Finals Appearances but No Championships
The Phoenix Suns have had three appearances, most recently in 2021, but no championships. They are followed by the Brooklyn Nets, Utah Jazz, and Orlando Magic, who each have reached the finals twice without success. In 2000, the Indiana Pacers made the Finals but failed to reach the summit of the NBA.
Two defunct teams also had NBA Finals appearances with zero championships. Those teams are the Chicago Stags and Washington Capitals, appearing in 1947 and 1949, respectively.
Teams With No NBA Finals Appearances
The fans of Denver Nuggets, Charlotte Hornets, Los Angeles Clippers, Minnesota Timberwolves, Memphis Grizzlies, and the New Orleans Pelicans have never had the opportunity to watch their team in the NBA Finals.
The NBA is an exciting league to watch with great moments every year. On top of that, there are always interesting stories to follow off the court. However, there is no better feeling than watching your team win an NBA championship.
So, which team has won the most NBA championships? The Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics have done it 17 times each, ten more times than the next closest team. However, the best thing about the NBA is anything can happen next year. So, if your team has not won in a while, or has never won, you never know what could happen next season.