Today’s NBA has been dominated by superteams. However, the formation of superteams is not a new phenomenon. In fact, looking at each team’s storied history, we can find that some franchises have formed superteams as early as the ‘60s and ‘70s.
For the purposes of this dive into the history, a superteam is defined as a team with at least three Hall of Fame caliber players playing at the same time. It wasn’t uncommon for all-stars to pair up even back then, but having at least a trio of superstars in one team made it virtually unfair for all other teams who can’t match a superteam’s star power.
1960-67 Boston Celtics
Without a doubt, the Boston Celtics dominated the 1960s. The legendary Bill Russell definitely played an indispensable role in making the Celtics the most formidable team in that era, but the Celtics also had a bevy of future Hall of Famers that made the team virtually unstoppable.
Apart from Russell, the ‘60s era Celtics that won 9 Championships in that decade had Hall of Famers KC Jones, Bob Cousy, John Havlicek and Sam Jones in the roster. Although Cousy retired in 1963, Russell, Havlicek, KC Jones, and Sam Jones played in the same team until 1967.
1970-73 Los Angeles Lakers
For the early part of the 1970s, the Los Angeles Lakers arguably had the best backcourt and the best center in the league, as well as one of the first superstars of the small forward position.
At some point in the 1970s, the Lakers’ starting lineup had Hall of Famers Jerry West, Gail Goodrich, Wilt Chamberlain, and Elgin Baylor in it. The early ‘70s Lakers made two consecutive Finals appearances in 1972 and 1973, winning a title in ’72.
1982-89 Los Angeles Lakers
Although the Lakers were already a force to be reckoned with in the early ‘80s, having won chips in ’80 and ’82 under the leadership of Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Los Angeles didn’t reach superteam status until the acquisition of James Worthy.
Big Game James was drafted in 1982 and the superstar small forward was the final piece to set up the Lakers’ dominance in the ‘80s. The three Hall of Famers went on to win three more championships in the 80’s.
1983-90 Boston Celtics
The Celtics won the 1981 Championship led by arguably the best frontcourt of all time composed of Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parish. However, Boston became an even more formidable force in 1983 with the addition of 1979 Finals MVP Dennis Johnson.
With four Hall of Famers in the starting lineup, Boston made four straight Finals appearances from 1984 to 1987, winning it all in ’84 and ’86. The Championship matchups between the Celtics and the Showtime Lakers also made for must-watch television.
Superstars joining other superstars isn’t a modern NBA phenomenon.
In 1982, the 76ers had a core led by Hall of Famers Julius Erving, Bobby Jones, and Maurice Cheeks, but the Sixers fell short in the Finals against the Lakers. Philadelphia answered by trading for then two-time MVP and Hall of Fame Center Moses Malone.
Malone won another MVP award in the 1982-83 season and the stacked Sixers squad made it all the way to the Finals, and won the Larry O’Brien trophy with an impeccable 12-1 postseason record.
1995-98 Chicago Bulls
The Bulls were an undeniable powerhouse in the ‘90s, winning three straight championships from 1991 to 1993, but the Bulls on its second three-title run in the ‘90s were an even scarier team. With Michael Jordan coming out of retirement, the Bulls recruited Hall of Fame power forward Dennis Rodman to complement the dynamic duo of Jordan and Scottie Pippen.
The Bulls’ Big Three led Chicago to three straight championships from ’96 to ’98. It was also this Bulls core that finished the 1995-96 season with a historic 72-10 record.
1998-99 Houston Rockets
After the Bulls’ second three-peat, the Houston Rockets sought to form another contender in the West. The Rockets traded for Scottie Pippen to join Hall of Famers Hakeem Olajuwon and Charles Barkley in Houston.
Unfortunately, the trio of Hall of Famers were past their prime at this point and were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by the Los Angeles Lakers led by Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant. The Rockets’ Big Three was short-lived as Pippen was traded to the Portland Trail Blazers.
2003-04 Los Angeles Lakers
In 2003, the Lakers failed to reach what could have been their fourth straight trip to the Finals so they signed free agents Karl Malone and Gary Payton in hopes of making a resurgence.
On paper, the Lakers were a formidable team, with a lineup composed of Gary Payton, Kobe Bryant, Karl Malone, and Shaquille O’Neal, all Hall of Famers today. However, the two-time MVP Malone and the 9-time All-Star Payton were past their prime at this stage, and the Lakers lost in the Finals to the Detroit Pistons.
2007-12 Boston Celtics
The 2007-08 Boston Celtics season is perhaps the greatest bounce back season in the history of the league. After finishing last in the Eastern Conference, the Celtics acquired legendary sharpshooter Ray Allen and 2004 MVP Kevin Garnett to form a Big Three with Paul Pierce.
These offseason moves instantly made the Celtics a contender, and Boston ended the regular season with a 66-16 record on the way to winning the NBA Title. The Celtics’ Big Three remained title contenders in the following years and made it back to the Finals in 2010, but another superteam dethroned Boston in the East.
2010-14 Miami Heat
Arguably the most disliked team in recent NBA history, “The Heatles” had three of the top five picks of the 2003 Draft joining forces. LeBron James and Chris Bosh joined Dwyane Wade in the Heat to form the most dominant team of the early 2010’s.
With three future Hall of Famers all in their prime, Miami made four straight Finals appearances from 2011 to 2014 and won back-to-back championships in 2012 and 2013.
2012-13 Los Angeles Lakers
By 2012, Kobe Bryant had nothing left to prove, but chasing that sixth ring was undoubtedly a goal. The Lakers thus tried to maximize the tail end of Bryant’s career by adding three-time Defensive Player of the Year Dwight Howard and two-time MVP Steve Nash to form a Big Four with Bryant and Pau Gasol.
However, the stars’ personalities, particularly Howard’s and Bryant’s, didn’t mesh well together. The Lakers were knocked out in the first round of the postseason and Howard left in free agency.
2014-17 Cleveland Cavaliers
King James returned home to Cleveland to join then up-and-coming superstar point guard Kyrie Irving, and the Cavaliers traded for then three-time All-Star Kevin Love to form a new Big Three.
The Big Three Cavs reigned over the East from 2014 to 2017 and ended Cleveland’s 52-year championship drought in 2016 after beating the Golden State Warriors. Cleveland’s Big Three was broken up when Irving requested a trade and was transferred to the Boston Celtics.
2016-19 Golden State Warriors
It could be argued that the Warriors were a superteam before 2016 having won the 2015 Championship then breaking the record for the best regular season in history by finishing 73-9 in the 2015-16 season. But the star power of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green was taken to a whole different level when 2014 MVP Kevin Durant signed with Golden State.
With three MVP awards between Curry and Durant, and with the shooting excellence of Thompson and the defensive prowess of Green, the Warriors had what was arguably the most formidable quartet of players in the league’s history. The Warriors won back-to-back titles in 2017 and 2018 and made the Finals in 2019 but the injury-riddled Warriors lost to Kawhi Leonard’s Toronto Raptors.
2017-18 Oklahoma City Thunder
After being abandoned by Kevin Durant, the Thunder had to rebuild around Russell Westbrook. In the 2017 offseason, the OKC front office pulled out all stops and traded for then four-time All-Star Paul George and ten-time All-Star and all-time great scorer Carmelo Anthony to form a new Big Three.
Unfortunately, Oklahoma City’s Big Three looked better on paper than on the court and OKC was knocked out by the Utah Jazz in the first round of the playoffs.