NBA Finals on a Map: Most Appearances, Most Wins
Every year, the NBA season marches toward the goal of determining the best team in the league. Sixteen teams make the playoffs, all hoping to make it through three seven game series in order to get the chance to play one other team in the NBA Finals. Some teams have fared better than others in this conquest over the years (and some have had more years in the league to try it). Explore the map below to see the teams with the most appearances, most wins, and more.
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Only the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers have appeared in the NBA Finals 10 or more times. Between them, they’ve appeared in 40 finals, including 12 together. With 31 appearances, the Lakers have the Celtics beat at 21 appearances. The only other teams with five or more appearances are the Golden State Warriors (9), Philadelphia 76ers (9), New York Knicks (8), Detroit Pistons (7), Chicago Bulls (6), San Antonio Spurs (6), and Miami Heat (5).
As for wins, that’s where Boston beats LA. The Celtics have 17 wins, only losing four times in the finals—three times to the Lakers. Los Angeles is next with 16 wins, but they’ve lost 15 times—including nine times to the Celtics. There is one thing the Lakers can hang over the Celtics: then in Minneapolis, the Lakers won the very first NBA Finals. In 1950 they bested the Syracuse Nations (now Philadelphia 76ers) four games to two.
The Celtics have been around two more years than the Lakers. Boston was founded in 1946, while Los Angeles entered in 1948 (although, the Lakers were in Minneapolis until 1960). The 1940s were a great decade to start a basketball team. Seven were founded in 1946 alone. No teams started in the 1950s, but there was a similar resurgence in the 1960s with nine teams added. Among those the Chicago Bulls (1966) has the most wins, with six. Five teams joined in the 1970s, with Cleveland leading the way with its four NBA Finals appearances. For teams founded in 1980 or later, the Miami Heat (1988, three titles) and the Dallas Mavericks (1980, one title) are the only teams to have won an NBA Finals.
There are only 10 teams to have won more than one championship:
- Boston Celtics (17)
- Los Angeles Lakers (16)
- Chicago Bulls (6)
- San Antonio Spurs (5)
- Golden State Warriors (4)
- Philadelphia 76ers (3)
- Detroit Pistons (3)
- Miami Heat (3)
- New York Knicks (2)
- Houston Rockets (2)
Losing multiple times appears to be easier than winning. There are 17 teams who have made it to the finals only to lose on at least two occasions. Additionally, four teams have multiple losses within ever bringing home the trophy: Brooklyn Nets, Phoenix Suns, Utah Jazz, and Orlando Magic all are 0-2 in the finals.
The Pacers famously lost in their only finals appearance. Of course, they were lucky to just make it there. Seven teams have no appearances: Los Angeles Clippers (founded in 1970), Denver Nuggets (1976), Charlotte Hornets (1988), Minnesota Timberwolves (1989), Memphis Grizzlies (1995), Toronto Raptors (1995), and New Orleans Pelicans (2002).
Never making the finals is an ominous kind of perfection, but other teams have the kind others covet. Only three teams have won in every finals appearance. The Chicago Bulls, most notably, are 6-0. The team’s combined record across those six championship series is 24-11.
The other two teams with perfect records have either moved or no longer exist. The Sacramento Kings won in their only appearance in 1951 back when they were the Rochester Royals. The Baltimore Bullets won the BAA title in 1948, before the NBA was formed. The team went on to fold in 1954, the only former champion to cease to exist. Two other teams, have gone out of business. The Chicago Stags and Washington Capitols both lost in their only finals appearances.
Is the West Coast the Best Coast?
While it’s clear the Celtics lead the way in wins and the Lakers in appearances, those teams don’t represent everyone. We thought it would be useful to answer the age old question of East versus West. Here we’ve separated the teams in the league geographically, with the mighty Mississippi River used as the division point.
Total wins: East
East coast teams together have won 40 championships, while the West has taken the other 30. However, there are twice as many teams on the East coast as the West.
Wins per team: West
The 13 West coast teams average well over two championships each, while the east has less than two. With considerably more victories per team, the West clobbers the East here.
Win per opportunity: West
We needed a tie breaker, so we looked to the number of opportunities each coast has had at a championship. The Pelicans, for example, have only had 15 opportunities, while the Pistons have had five times that. East coast teams are an average of 53 years old, with 1,008 opportunities combined. The younger west coast averages about 50 years old, but that translates to only 651 opportunities. That means west coast teams win every 21 opportunities, whereas east coast teams need 25 opportunities to gain a victory.
There you have it: the West coast is the best coast! Of course, BatchGeo is based on the west coast, so our bias is showing clearly. Got your own take on which region is the ultimate NBA champion? Let us know by making your own map for free.