Ranking the Best NBA Teams of the 1980s


The 1980s were a breakthrough decade for the NBA. The league went from a fringe sport in the United States that didn’t even have the Finals broadcast on live network television at the beginning of the decade to a worldwide phenomenon by the time the decade was through. 

Here is a look at the four best NBA teams of the 1980s. Teams are ranked on dominance, talent and of course they had to win a championship to make this list. 

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4. 1988-89 Detroit Pistons

Chuck Daly’s team finished the season with a 63-19 record during the regular season and went on to a 15-2 playoff record. Only Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls beat the Pistons in a playoff game that season.

The “Bad Boys” from Detroit were a good mix of toughness and talent. They featured balanced scoring with Isiah Thomas, Joe Dumars and Mark Aguirre providing offense, Dennis Rodman there to pick up rebounds and Bill Laimbeer to add toughness and size. Vinnie Johnson was the team’s super sub and able to come off the bench to spark the offense. 

While the Pistons were unpopular around the league, they were the darlings of Detroit and a very tough team to beat.

3. 1982-83 Philadelphia 76ers

Julius Erving won two ABA titles with the Nets, but despite his all-world talent, he had yet to win one since joining the NBA in 1976-77. That all changed in 1982-83 when Dr. J helped lead the Sixers to a championship which included a four-game sweep of the Lakers in the NBA Finals.

In addition to Erving, Philadelphia featured the scoring talents of Moses Malone and Andrew Toney and the consistency of Maurice Cheeks. 

This team was fun to watch and tough to play against. The best part was that Dr. J finally got his NBA title.

2. 1986-87 Los Angeles Lakers

Pat Riley’s Lakers teams were among the best of the decade but none were better than the 1986-87 team that won 65 games and defeated the Celtics in a six-game showdown in the NBA Finals.

This team featured four players who averaged more than 17 points per game in Magic Johnson, James Worthy, Byron Scott and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Kareem was 39 at the time but was still a great player who could hit a clutch hook shot and travel up and down the court with the game’s best players. 

This team had size, speed, depth and loads of shooting talent as they won the NBA championship for the fourth of five times in the decade.

1. 1985-86 Boston Celtics 

The Celtics of the 80s had some great teams but 1985-86 was their best group of the decade. The team won 67 regular season games and lost only three times in the postseason. They defeated the Houston Rockets in six games to win the title.

The Celtics featured a deep starting five with Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Dennis Johnson, Robert Parish and Danny Ainge starting while Hall of Famer Bill Walton, Scott Wedman and Jerry Sichting provided strong play off the bench.

Bird was the league’s MVP that year and Walton was voted the Sixth Man of the Year. 

This was a tough team to beat and the best NBA team of the 1980s.

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