Which Is the Most Successful Side in the NBA?

To many fans around the world and certainly in the UK, basketball is synonymous with the National Basketball Association (NBA), the highest level of pro basketball in America and indeed the world. The arrival of spring is when things hot up in the NBA, with the regular season usually ending sometime around mid-April and the play-offs starting after that.

That builds to the crescendo of the NBA Finals typically in June, when the champions are crowned for that season. At the time of writing the play-offs for the 2023/24 NBA campaign are underway, with 16 teams still in the mix to take glory. But which are the most successful teams in the whole history of the competition? In other words, who has won the most NBA championships?

Team with Most NBA Championships

Blurred basketball players shooting

When people with little more than a passing interest in basketball think of teams in the sport, the names that probably come to mind are the Los Angeles Lakers, the Chicago Bulls, the Boston Celtics and the Golden State Warriors. Which of those comes first may well depend on the age of the person you ask but all of them are among the NBA’s most successful sides, or to use perhaps the most horrible American phrase of them all, the NBA’s winningest teams.

In fact, two of those basketball giants are currently level in terms of overall NBA championship wins, with the 2023/24 title yet to be decided. Both the LA Lakers and the Boston Celtics have won the NBA Finals on a massive 17 occasions.

LA Lakers, 17 Wins and Most Finals Appearances

Los Angeles LakersWhilst the west coast Lakers and east cast Celtics are tied in terms of wins we will give the edge to the Lakers given they have appeared in more NBA Finals. Both have 17 wins but the Lakers have also been beaten in the key series 15 times, their total of 32 Finals outings considerably more than the Celtics who are next-best on 22.

The first of those wins came back when the franchise was based in Minneapolis and also just before the formation of the NBA proper. However, in 1949 the Minneapolis Lakers won the Basketball Association of America (BAA) championship and for statistical purposes, this is classed as an NBA win for the now-LA Lakers.

They also won the title in the inaugural NBA season a year later, making them the first team to defend the championship. Indeed, those early years represented the first golden era for the Lakers franchise, as they added NBA crowns in 1952, 1953 and 1954 as well, making them also the first team to complete a hat-trick. In all they won five of the first eight titles, setting the mood for their ongoing success ever since.

That said, they faced a wait of almost two decades for their next victory, that not coming until 1972. That win is interesting as it is the only one of their 17 wins that was not part of a cluster, as they added five more titles in the 1980s. That team included several Lakers legends, such as Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy.

The 1990s was an entirely barren decade for the franchise, despite them boasting some exceptional players, as the Chicago Bulls took over their mantle as the sport’s top dogs. However, they began the new millennium with another hat-trick of titles, in 2000, 2001 and 2002, as Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant showed their class.

Bryant, who sadly died all too young, was also there for their wins in 2008/09 and 2009/10. The club’s most recent success came in 2020 and for now it remains to be seen whether that will stand alone as a solitary victory like the one in 1972, or whether the Lakers can begin a new era of supremacy.

It is also worth noting the many years when they came so close to glory but fell at the final hurdle. Whilst there were 18 long years between their wins in 1954 and 1972 it would be wrong to think they were a poor side in the intervening time, as the table below shows. With just a little more luck or a few shots bouncing in rather than out, the incredible Lakers could have so easily won so many more NBA championships.

Lakers NBA Finals Summary

Total Wins Finals Defeats Final Appearances Years of Victory Years as Runner-Up
17 15 32 1949, 1950, 1952, 1953, 1954, 1972, 1980, 1982, 1985, 1987, 1988, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2009, 2010, 2020 1959, 1962, 1963, 1965, 1966, 1968, 1969, 1970, 1973, 1983, 1984, 1989, 1991, 2004, 2008

Boston Celtics Also Boast 17 NBA Championships

Boston Celtics logoThe Celtics have also won 17 championships, as said, and made a further five finals, losing in 1958, 1985, 1987, 2010 and most recently in 2022. Their last victory came in 2008 and ended a long, long wait for their 17th crown after their 16th had been won back in 1986.

They won three titles in the 1980s, also triumphing in 1984 and 1981, with another success before that in 1974. However it was the 1950s and 1960s that really cemented the Celtics as one of the NBA’s greatest teams, historically speaking. Between 1957 and 1969 they were kings of the NBA an incredible 11 times. That success includes a record eight in a row between 1959 and 1966 inclusive, a run all the more incredible given they also made the finals in 1958.

No side can come close to that magical eight in a row, with the Lakers, first as Minneapolis, then as LA, and the Chicago Bulls both twice achieving hat-tricks but never managing to win four in succession. The astonishing success of the Celtics was achieved in large parts thanks to the brilliance of players such as Bill Russell (who won 11 championships!), John Havlicek, Bob Cousy and Sam Jones.

Best of the Rest

Eleven teams have won multiple NBA championships but all the rest lag some way behind the sport’s top two. Golden State are third, with seven wins from 12 finals appearances but they are probably the greatest team of the last 10 years or so. The San Francisco outfit won the first-ever BAA crown in 1947 but were based in Philadelphia then, as they were for their 1956 success, not claiming their first NBA championship as Golden State until 1975.

However, more recently, with the brilliant Steph Curry to the fore and coached by brilliant former Bulls legend, Steve Kerr, they have won in 2015, 2017, 2018 and 2022, losing in the Finals in 2016 and 2019. Just behind Golden State, with six wins, are the Chicago Bulls, the only team with multiple championships to boast a 100% record in finals. The incredible team of the 1990s, spearheaded by Michael Jordan but with amazing players, such as Kerr, Scottie Pippin and Dennis Rodman, won the NBA championship in 1991, 1992, 1993, and then in 1996, 1997 and, the famous Last Dance, 1998.