The Champions by Year
People remember players, but players remember league championships — in this case, the NBA Finals. You have heard someone ask, “But how many rings did that player have?” Fair or not, championships are the stick by which most of the great players are measured. Here's a brief rundown of the NBA Finals through the years. To get to the Finals, teams go through a series of playoff games. Eight teams in the Western Conference and eight teams in the Eastern Conference battle each other to get to the Finals. Teams play best of seven series; the first team in a series to win four games advances to the next round, and the loser is out of the playoffs. Eventually, there are only two teams left — one from each conference. These two teams play each other for the NBA championship.
In 1947 in the very first basketball draft, the New York Knicks selected Wat Misaka in the first round. Wat had led the University of Utah to an NCAA championship in 1944 and an NIT title in 1947. More importantly, he was an inspiration for other Japanese Americans all over the country, many of whom had been forced to live in internment camps during World War II.
The Basketball Association of America's first league championship involved two of America's most famous cities, Chicago and Philadelphia. The Philadelphia Warriors of the Eastern Conference were led by future Hall of Famer Joe Fulks. They downed the Western Conference's Chicago Stags in five games, and Philadelphia claimed the league's first title.
In a blow to Philadelphia's dominance, the Baltimore Bullets needed only six games to down the Warriors to win Baltimore's first league championship in a 4-2 series.
Minneapolis Lakers center George Mikan became one of the league's first outstanding big men. George Mikan, 6 feet 10 inches, led his team past the Washington Capitols in a series that went six games, 4-2.
In the 1950 finals, Minneapolis became the first repeat winner, downing the Syracuse Nationals, again in a six-game series, 4-2.
The Rochester Royals and New York Knicks turned the basketball nation's eyes on the state of New York as Rochester won in a series that went the full seven games, 4-3.
Two years after their repeat championship, the Minneapolis Lakers came back and made it count, beating the Knicks — who lost in the finals for the second year in a row — in another exciting seven-game series.
The Minneapolis Lakers and Knicks had a repeat of the previous year's finals, and while the champion was the same — the Lakers — the series only went five games; the Knicks won just once.
The Rochester Royals are still around today, although they're not known by that name. The franchise has moved all over the country, playing in Cincinnati and Kansas City before becoming the Sacramento Kings in 1985. Their 1951 title is still their only one.
For the fifth time in the league's eight-year history, the Minneapolis Lakers claimed the league championships, surviving the Syracuse Nationals, 4 games to 3.
After going to the league finals twice and losing, Syracuse finally got it together and claimed its first championship by defeating the Fort Wayne Pistons in seven games.
Fort Wayne made it back to the finals, but the Pistons once again came up a little short. The Philadelphia Warriors claimed their first title since winning the inaugural championship, easily beating the Pistons 4-1.
This was the start of something special for Boston. The Celtics made their first time to the finals count, beating the St. Louis Hawks in a series that went the full seven games.
In a feel-good story that would last only one year, the St. Louis Hawks returned to the finals and beat the Boston Celtics in six games.
The Celtics were back on track and rolled to their second title in three years, recording the finals first 4-0 sweep by beating the five-time league champion Minnesota Lakers.
In basketball, each player has to be top notch, but it's even more important to be a team player. Can you match each team with its correct city?
What's the difference between a dog and a basketball player?
One drools and the other dribbles!
The Boston Celtics took on the St. Louis Hawks once again, and they needed all seven games to win their third title in four years. The league's first true dynasty had kicked into high gear.
Though the proud St. Louis Hawks made it back to the finals, they were but a speed bump for Boston, beating the Celtics only once in a series that went five games as the Celtics made it three in a row.
In a preview of what fans would see decades down the road, the Boston Celtics took on the Los Angeles Lakers, and Boston came away with its fourth title in a row and its fifth in six years. But it wasn't easy — the series went the full seven games.
Boston and more Boston. The Celtics needed six games to dispatch the Los Angeles Lakers and win their sixth overall title and fifth in a row.
This time another California team, the San Francisco Warriors, battled the Celtics, but the result was a 4-1 series win for the Boston Celtics.
The Los Angeles Lakers squared off against their familiar nemesis, the Boston Celtics. The Celtics needed just five games to claim their seventh title in a row.
The Los Angeles Lakers put up a fight against the Boston Celtics and pushed the series to seven games. But in the end, the Celtics snagged their eighth title in a row.
The Philadelphia 76ers eliminated the Celtics in the division finals, four games to one. They needed six games to beat the San Francisco Warriors in the finals, 4-2.
The Celtics faced the familiar Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles fell in six games to the Celtics.
The Boston Celtics got more than they imagined from LA's finals Most Valuable Player Jerry West — the first year the MVP was chosen — but the Lakers were not good enough to overcome the Celtics, as Boston won the league championship 4-3.
After losing in the finals three times, the New York Knicks finally claimed their first league championship. Willis Reed won the Most Valuable Player award as he led the Knicks in a seven-game victory over Los Angeles.
WORDS TO KNOW
MVP stands for “Most Valuable Player.” An MVP is named for the NBA Finals, the all-star game, and an overall NBA season. Depending on the rules for each particular award, the MVP is decided by the votes of members of the media or league officials, players, and coaches.
A 7 foot 3 inch Kareem Abdul-Jabbar put the Milwaukee Bucks into their first NBA Finals. He was named the MVP of the series in a 4-0 sweep of the Baltimore Bullets.
Wilt Chamberlain powered his Los Angeles Lakers to a 4-1 finals win over the New York Knicks.
Led once again by finals MVP Willis Reed, the New York Knicks were too much for the L.A. Lakers and emerged victorious in five games.
With a balanced cast of fundamentally deft players, the Boston Celtics and their tenacious defense, led by MVP John Havlicek, downed the Milwaukee Bucks in an exhaustive seven-game series.
The Golden State Warriors brought Northern California and the Bay Area its first NBA Championship, as MVP Rick Barry led the Warriors to a sweep of the Washington Bullets.
For the second time in three years, the Boston Celtics, on the cusp of rebuilding as a franchise, squeezed out another NBA Championship. Jo Jo White claimed MVP honors during the Celtics 4-2 rolling of the Phoenix Suns.
Claiming their first — and so far, only — NBA Championship, the Portland Trail Blazers made the Pacific Northwest proud. The Blazers got the best out of Bill Walton and beat the Philadelphia 76ers in six games to claim the crown.
The Washington Bullets, led by MVP center Wes Unseld, finally claimed an NBA Championship by halting the upstart Seattle SuperSonics in a series that went the entire seven games.
For the second time in three years, fans in the Pacific Northwest had reason to smile, as the Seattle SuperSonics claimed their first NBA Championship. Led by MVP Dennis Johnson, the Sonics defeated the Washington Bullets 4-1.
Magic Johnson, the MVP, keyed his Los Angeles Lakers to a 4-2 Championship over the Philadelphia 76ers.
Kareem played in the NBA until age 42, an incredibly advanced age for an NBA player. He credits his long career to staying in shape and eating right, and he practiced meditation as well.
The Boston Celtics reclaimed their spot atop the heap with an NBA Championship. Cedric Maxwell won the MVP award by leading Boston past the Houston Rockets in a six-game final.
Magic Johnson and the Los Angeles Lakers won their second title in three years by upending the Philadelphia 76ers, once again in six games.
Making it to the NBA finals for the fourth time in seven years, the Philadelphia 76ers won their first NBA title since 1967, sweeping the Los Angeles Lakers 4-0. Moses Malone earned MVP honors.
Larry Bird was named MVP as he led the Boston Celtics to an exciting seven-game win over the Los Angeles Lakers. It was only a preview of series matchups to come.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was the cog that moved the Los Angeles Lakers machine to an NBA Championship, some 14 years after winning his first MVP award — no one else has ever had such a gap between MVP honors. The Lakers downed the rival Boston Celtics in six games.
The Celtics made their third trip to the finals in three years. Behind Bird's second MVP performance, they downed the Houston Rockets in six games.
This was the last of the great Celtics-Lakers matchups for 21 years. Magic Johnson won his third MVP award as the Los Angeles Lakers beat the Celtics 4-2.
Los Angeles Lakers power forward James Worthy stepped up for an MVP, boosting Los Angeles past the Detroit Pistons in seven games.
After their heartbreaking 108-105 loss in Game 7 of the 1988 NBA Finals, Pistons starters Isiah Thomas and Bill Laimbeer pilfered a bottle of champagne from the celebrating Lakers and went back to their own locker room. “We passed the bottle and vowed that next year we would come back to this place and walk out champions,” Thomas told the Detroit Free Press in 2004.
Though the Lakers made it back to the finals for the eighth time in 10 seasons, the Detroit Pistons were ready for them. Hot-shooting guard Joe Dumars earned MVP honors and sparked the Pistons to a sweep of the aging Lakers.
The Detroit Pistons hit their third NBA finals in three years. Isiah Thomas earned MVP honors and boosted the Pistons over the Portland Trail Blazers in five games.
Hello, Mr. Jordan. The Chicago Bulls officially became a force in the NBA, ending Detroit's dominance of the Eastern Conference. Michael claimed MVP honors by leading his team past the Los Angeles Lakers in five games, in a series that saw the Lakers make their last finals appearance until 2000.
TIP - IN
Michael is the third of five siblings. He has two older brothers and two younger sisters. His brother James retired in 2006 from the U.S. Army as the Command Sergeant Major of the 35th Signal Brigade of the XVIII Airborne Corps.
The Bulls and Michael, again the MVP, dumped the Portland Trail Blazers in six games for Chicago's second title in a row.
Hakeem never even played basketball until he was 17 years old, yet he emerged as one of the most dominating centers in NBA history. Though he was — and remains — listed as 7 feet tall on all rosters and stat books, he admits he is barely taller than 6 feet 10 inches.
The Bulls returned for their three-peat championship. Michael earned the MVP award for the third time in the Bulls's defeat of the Phoenix Suns.
No Bulls? Not with Michael playing minor league baseball. The scrappy New York Knicks made the finals, but the Houston Rockets won the tough seven-game series 4-3. The Rockets's Hakeem Olajuwon claimed MVP honors.
The world was introduced to the Orlando Magic's Shaquille O'Neal. But the veteran Houston Rockets swept the Magic in four games and took home the title. Hakeem was MVP.
Michael rejoined Chicago late in the 1994– 1995 season and led them back to the play-offs the next season. The Bulls beat the Seattle SuperSonics in six games, with Michael winning his fourth MVP award.
Repeat alert: The Bulls, led by the one and only Michael, won a six-game series to down the Utah Jazz. His Airness earned another MVP.
In a mirror image of the previous year's campaign, Michael was MVP as the Bulls beat the Utah Jazz for Chicago's second three-peat in eight years. It was Michael's sixth NBA Championship and sixth MVP award.
Young Tim Duncan gave San Antonio the strong, big man to complement David Robinson. That was all the San Antonio Spurs needed to beat the New York Knicks in six games, with Tim earning MVP honors.
Michael's jump shot from the top of the key in the last game of the 1998 finals is a moment frozen in time for many fans. Michael retired after the win over Utah. Although he returned three years later with the Washington Wizards, he spent the height of his career with the Bulls.
TIP - IN
Not only did he represent his country in the Olympics, David served the United States in the Navy for two years after graduating from the Naval Academy and achieved the rank of Lieutenant, Junior Grade. He also scored the highest grade of any Naval Academy student in his gymnastics physical education class.
The Lakers went from Magic and Kareem to Kobe and Shaquille, with Shaq claiming the MVP award in a six-game championship over the Indiana Pacers.
The Philadelphia 76ers and Allen Iverson could not slow Shaq and his Lakers, who won in just five games. Shaq claimed MVP honors in the Lakers's second title in as many years.
Good things come in threes, and for the third time since Michael won a pair of three-peats, Shaq led the Lakers past their third finals opponent. The Lakers won in a clean sweep over the New Jersey Nets. Shaq once again earned the MVP award.
The Lakers's domination of the West came to an end as the San Antonio Spurs rose to the challenge. The Spurs cut down the New Jersey Nets in six games in New Jersey's second consecutive trip to the finals. Tim Duncan won his second MVP honor.
The Detroit Shock captured their first WNBA title in 2003, so the Shock and the Pistons were the reigning champions of their leagues at the same time. It was the first time one city had both NBA and WNBA champions.
In an Eastern team reminiscent of John Havlicek's balanced Celtics, the Detroit Pistons brought a balanced offense, keyed by MVP Chauncey Billups, to take down the Lakers in a quick five-game final.
San Antonio got another MVP performance from Tim and survived a seven-game series with the defending champion Detroit Pistons.
The Miami Heat signed Shaq for one reason: to win an NBA Championship. Dwayne Wade, the MVP, was the guard who ran the show and did most of the scoring as the Heat knocked off Dallas in six games.
The San Antonio Spurs beat LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in a 4-0 sweep for San Antonio's third NBA crown in five years. Tony Parker nabbed MVP honors.
The Celtics made a big push in the off season, signing perennial all-star Kevin Garnett away from Minnesota and getting hot-shooting Ray Allen to team with Paul Pierce. Boston was just too much for the Lakers, winning in six games as Paul earned MVP honors.
The Los Angeles Lakers beat the Orlando Magic in five games. Kobe Bryant snagged the MVP award, but solid support from teammates Pau Gasol and Trevor Ariza sealed the championship. Lakers coach Phil Jackson earned his tenth championship ring, an all-time NBA record.
Flagging the Fakes
These teams all have their own flags. But it looks like somebody has slipped a fake one in with the real ones. Can you spot them?
You can design your own flag. Get a rectangular piece of paper and some crayons. You could use a family crest, a pet portrait, or anything you like. Just have fun!