Only one team will win the NBA championship each year. Sometimes, it comes down to the wire and only takes one free throw or a last minute buzzer beater for one team to overcome the other. That is how good both competing teams might be. None will give up until the last whistle blows – ending the game. Of course, the losing team will have to go home and soothe their wounds until the next season comes around. It is likely not an easy thing to endure when you were just one point away from winning the championship. It has happened to even the greatest players. A few months after one team has won and one has lost, many of us will forget, but when a team consistently goes to the finals without advancing, it leaves a bad taste in the mouths of their fans. When this happens, the team has to regroup, get new players and try to compete at an even higher level next time around. In the history of the NBA league, we have seen so many teams fall short of grabbing the first spot in the finals.
However, to remain positive, we should realize that the road to the finals is never easy and the fact that the team got there is enough to be proud of. This fact shouldn’t be forgotten. No team goes into the finals thinking of walking away as a loser. It is like a dagger in the player’s heart when that happens. Sometimes, it may be due to injuries on the team or other host of problems including team chemistry. The teams on this list certainly had the talent of a championship caliber team, but for whatever reason, were not able to win the last game of their season. Let’s look at the 10 greatest teams in NBA history that failed to win the NBA Title.
10 1992-93 and 2005-06 Phoenix Suns
Everyone knows that Charles Barkley played hard when he stepped onto the basketball court. In his tenure with the Phoenix Suns, he showed his tough image more than ever, especially in 1993 and 2006. No one could have told Charles that he was not the best player on earth. In fact, he has been cited as stating this. This might seem like boasting, but he truly believed it. Of course, he had a good supporting cast in Kevin Johnson, Dan Majerle, Cedric Ceballos and Danny Ainge. In the 1992-93 season, it appeared as if the Suns cruised through the regular season, winning 62 games and a gateway to the finals. Every night through the regular games, Barkley racked up 25 points, 5 assists and 12 rebounds. For that reason, he earned the MVP award. The Phoenix Suns got home court advantage as well, but even with those accomplishments, the Suns could not stop the Chicago Bulls and Michael Jordan from stealing their third consecutive NBA title in 1993.
The team got another chance to grab the title in 2006 when they defeated the Lakers to go on to play the Spurs in the semifinals. However, with a technical foul delivered by Robert Horry on Steve Nash, some teammates rose from the bench to protest and were ejected from the game, missing Game 5. The Suns went on to lose the series that the Spurs won on their home court.
9 2011-12 Oklahoma City Thunder
A decade from today, many people are going to be talking about the Oklahoma City Thunder and the supporting cast. With Kevin Durant, James Harden, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka, why didn’t the Thunders win the NBA finals in 2012? The team played well and Kevin Durant was viewed as a MVP-caliber player by many fans that watched the game. James Harden was the perfect Sixth Man. Ibaka was phenomenal in blocked shots and could have easily earned the Defensive Player of the Year. Westbrook averaged over 23 points per game. It was a true beauty to watch this team play together. Yet, unfortunately for the team, they ran into a brick wall team in the finals, the Miami Heat. Perhaps they were just a victim of their matchup.
8 2008-09 Cleveland Cavaliers
For some time, it appeared as if the Cleveland Cavaliers could challenge the Chicago Bulls' 72-win season record prior to finishing up the 2008-09 seasons with 66 wins. LeBron James and his teammates were well known for their frolicking before games, pretending to take team pictures and displaying composed dance moves. Of course, you could attest this to the fact that most of them were young. However, a championship required more maturity and seriousness toward the game, which Kobe Bryant and the L.A. Lakers had over LeBron and his Cavalier team. Everyone, including Nike created anticipation of a matchup between Kobe and LeBron, but it never happened. The Cavs lost to the Orlando Magic in the Eastern Conference Finals.
7 1993-94 New York Knicks
The New York Knicks almost became the 1994 NBA champions. However, ‘almost’ winning a championship is no consolation. The Knicks were glad to see Michael Jordan go into early retirement in 1993 as they sought an NBA title with His Airness’s back turned away from the NBA. During Michael Jordan’s absence, the Knicks were tied for best record in the East and were able to send three of their players to the All-Star games (John Starks, Patrick Ewing and Charles Oakley). All throughout the season, Patrick Ewing played like someone evilly-possessed with NBA title fever. He may have felt that it was time to win a title with the dominant Michael Jordan gone. Each night, he scored 26 points and got 11 rebounds.
With Michael Jordan out of their way, the Knicks stormed through the Eastern Conference, with only the Houston Rockets standing in their way of a title. In the NBA finals, it was Hakeem Olajuwon who proved to be the thorn in their side. The Rockets took the series, going the full seven games. Many attributed the loss to John Starks’s sloppy play in Games 6 and 7.
6 2005-06 Dallas Mavericks
The Dallas Mavericks learned just how awful the taste of defeat was when they lost in the 2006 finals to the Miami Heat. To top it off, they had a 2-0 series lead over Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat. Leading up to such a disappointing end, the Mavericks had a great season with Dirk Nowitzki showing off his prowess and Josh Howard and Jason Terry being excellent contributors. Prior to meeting the Miami Heat, the Mavericks showed their championship caliber by beating the Spurs overtime in Game 7, knocking off the 63-win Spurs to advance to their first NBA finals. However, they came away empty handed thanks to the superb play of a budding young star in Wade and the typical playoff dominance of Shaq. You could even argue the following season's Mavericks, who went 67-15 deserve a spot here too.
5 1995-96 Seattle SuperSonics
Gary Payton is known for his aggressive play while with the Sonics. Though he boasted accolades that could go on his resume, there's one thing he missed – he never got a championship ring. In 1996 though, Payton, and coach George Karl's Sonics had a good chance to bring the trophy to Seattle. Payton, Detlef Schrempf and Shawn Kemp used their skill and talent to get 64 wins during the regular season. They snuck past the Utah Jazz to meet the Chicago Bulls in the NBA Finals, who were back to their old selves with the return of Michael Jordan. Despite late game defense tactics from Gary Payton, the Sonics lost in six games.
4 1994-95 Orlando Magic
Seldom appreciated in the NBA are two players like Shaquille O’Neal and Penny Hardaway who both brought their knowledge, size, skill and talent to the game of basketball. In 1995, both players led the Orlando Magic to nationwide distinction. O’Neal averaged 29 points, 2 blocks and 13 rebounds for each game he played. Hardaway averaged 21 points and 7 assists to his game each night. Veteran player, Horace Grant with his poise and experience helped the team to make a run for the NBA finals. They defeated the Chicago Bulls and Michael Jordan who had just come back from a short retirement. They defeated the Indiana Pacers and Reggie Miller to meet the Houston Rockets in the NBA Finals.
Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler of the Rockets were both waiting for them. The defending champions proved to be too much for the young Magic, as Olajuwon's MVP performance led to a sweep by the Rockets.
3 2001-02 Sacramento Kings
Chris Webber had the best stretch of his basketball career during his time with the Sacramento Kings. The Kings had the best starting lineup in the NBA in 2002 (Doug Christie, Chris Webber, Mike Bibby, Peja Stojakovic and Vlade Divac). Winning 62 games in the regular season, the team’s connection was as strong as the Suns were in 1993. However the Kings would find themselves robbed of a trip to the finals.
When the Kings met the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals, Shaquille and Kobe dominated the controversial series of presumably shady officiating in Game 6. In Game 7, the Kings experienced a meltdown while shooting free throws.
2 1999-00 Portland Trail Blazers
In the 1999-00 season, the Portland Trail Blazers had a remarkable record of 59 wins, ousting the Jazz to take a spot in the Western Conference Finals. In Game 7, the Blazers were 15 points ahead of the L.A. Lakers in the fourth quarter. With a deflated Staples Center, one of the best defensive teams in the league and with a power forward and explosive player like Jermaine O’Neal, it seemed as if they were about to upset the Lakers. However, the Blazers just didn't have the go-to player that L.A. did. Many think that neither Steve Smith nor Rasheed Wallace was good enough. Arvydas Sabonis was suffering from knee injuries. The Blazers wouldn't win a playoff series for 14 years.
1 1997-98 Utah Jazz
In 1998, the Utah Jazz had a remarkable roster of elite players. In addition, their coach, Jerry Sloan was considered basketball's mastermind. The unstoppable John Stockton led the team, with the most steals and assists in NBA history. Next up, Karl Malone put up some huge points every night. Jeff Hornacek worked with John Stockton to produce a running team in the backcourt. In 1998, they were able to get to the NBA Finals, happy for a chance to avenge the finals loss to the Chicago Bulls in the previous season. However, the Jazz found themselves facing elimination to Chicago in Game 6. Some think that had it not been for "the shot" by MJ or the “push off,’ argued by the team, the Jazz may have won the championship.