Greatest NBA Team Ever

Mike Moffett

 by Mike Moffett
 Weirs Times Columnist

There’s been a lot of hooey about the Golden State Warriors setting an all-time NBA win record and being the greatest basketball team ever. Au contraire. We’re currently celebrating the 30th anniversary of the greatest NBA title team ever—the 1985-86 Boston Celtics.
Arguments about “best ever” are insoluble and unwinnable, of course. But they do provide fodder for talk radio. I thought of this while driving and listening to satellite sports talk and hearing a host list his top-twenty NBA players of all time—none of which was Karl “The Mailman” Malone, the second highest scorer in NBA history. I wanted to call in and set the guy straight. I was fired up.
I realized I’d been sucked in so I switched to political talk radio—where the arguments are similarly unwinnable, I suppose.
One unarguable metric for “Best Ever” could be won/loss record. If you go by that, then the best ever were the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls, who finished 72-10. But that was a two-man team—Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen. That club also featured forward Dennis Rodman, who was a great defender and rebounder but who couldn’t shoot. And the team didn’t even have a center. James Edwards, Luc Longley, and Bill Wennington split time at the position, and they largely just tried to stay out of Jordan’s way.
Comparing teams from different eras can be tricky. Take pro football. Only one NFL title team has ever gone undefeated—the 1972 Miami Dolphins. Best ever? I don’t think so. Check out the sizes of the ’72 Dolphins. Their middle linebacker, Nick Buoniconti, was 5-foot-10 and 215 pounds. Could someone that small even play in today’s NFL? Not likely.
Basketball is different. The ’96 Bulls had four seven-footers, and would dominate the 2016 Warriors physically. Current Warriors coach Steve Kerr played on that Bulls team and he actually loves to compare the current Warriors with the old Bulls. He takes a nuanced approach. But when asked what would happen if the two teams actually played, Kerr says “I refuse to comment on the score of a hypothetical game that would never happen.”
But I’ll comment on a hypothetical game between the ’86 Celtics against the ’96 Bulls or the ’16 Warriors or any other team. The ’86 Celtics would win.
If you’re too young to remember the ’86 Celtics, here’s a quick primer. Six-foot-nine Hall-of-Fame forward Larry Bird averaged 26 points a game and almost ten rebounds per game en route to his third straight NBA MVP Award. Six-foot-ten Hall-of-Fame power forward Kevin McHale averaged almost 22 points per game, while seven-foot Hall-of-Fame center Robert “The Chief” Parish, in his tenth season, averaged over 16 points per game. This was the best frontcourt in history, not only because of the Big Three, but because the back-up center was seven-foot Hall of Famer Bill Walton, who was healthy the whole season. A back-up forward was Scott Wedman, an earlier All-Star with the Kings.
The backcourt included a dynamic duo of Danny Ainge and Dennis Johnson, the latter being a former NBA play-off MVP who’d once led the Seattle Supersonics to an NBA title.
K.C. Jones was the right coach at the right time for this veteran juggernaut, which went 40-1 at home—the old Boston Garden. Tickets were hard to get. Everyone wanted to watch an unsurpassed combination of basketball artistry and athleticism with extraordinary displays of teamwork and passing.
The team rolled over the Hawks, Bucks, and Rockets in the playoffs for Boston’s 16th NBA title. You can find video clips of this team’s many magical moments on You-Tube.
Best team ever?
And that’s no hooey.

Robert Parish may have some thoughts on the above matter. “The Chief” closed out his 21-year NBA career with Jordan’s 1996-97 Bulls, which went 69-13 en route to a title. After reading a Jackie MacMullan story on ESPN Boston, I figured Parish would vote for the ’86 Celtics over the Jordanaires. MacMullan claimed that Jordan and Parish got into a scuffle during a Bulls practice and that Jordan threatened to kick The Chief’s ass.
Parish was a seven-footer who specialized in martial arts. The Chief took a step towards Jordan and expressed serious doubt about having his ass kicked.
“After that he didn’t bother me,” said The Chief.

Sports Quiz
Who was the first African-American head coach of a major professional sports team in America? (Answer follows)

Born Today …
That is to say, sports standouts born on February 25 include wrestler Rick Flair (1950) and hoopster Joakim Noah (1986).

“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence.
Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent.
Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb.
Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts.
Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.
The slogan ‘press on’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.”

– President Calvin Coolidge US president, 1872-1933)

Sportsquiz Answer
The Boston Celtics named Bill Russell as player-coach to replace Red Auerbach in 1966.

Michael Moffett is a Professor of Sports Management at Plymouth State University and at NHTI-Concord. He recently co-authored the critically-acclaimed and award-winning “FAHIM SPEAKS: A Warrior-Actor’s Odyssey from Afghanistan to Hollywood and Back” (with the Marines)—which is available through His e-mail address is