- The Golden State Warriors won the 2022 championship, their fourth in eight years.
- Since 1980, five NBA teams have won 70% of the championships and have been involved in 36 of the past 43 Finals series.
- The common theme is that these five franchises have landed all-time great, dominant players.
The Golden State Warriors won the 2022 NBA Championship on Thursday, continuing a stretch of dominance from five franchises over the past 42 years.
Since 1980, the Los Angeles Lakers, Chicago Bulls, San Antonio Spurs, Boston Celtics, and Warriors have won 30 of the past 43 championships — that’s 69.7% of them.
Let’s call them the “Fab Five.”
Only eight other franchises have won championships at all during that time period.
What’s more, the “Fab Five” franchises have often been involved in the Finals, even when they didn’t win. For example, the Warriors lost to the Toronto Raptors in 2019 and the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016. The Spurs lost to the Miami Heat in 2013. The Lakers lost to the Detroit Pistons in 2004 and in 1989. The “Fab Five” have won 30 of the past 43 Finals, but they’ve been involved in 36 of them, often times against one another.
The NBA looks even more lopsided if we include the Heat and Pistons, which have each won three championships in those 43 years.
Broadening that list means seven teams have won 83.7% of the championships since 1980 and have been involved in all but four of the Finals. The only series that didn’t include at least one of those seven franchises: 1990 (Pistons-Trail Blazers), 1994 (Rockets-Knicks), 1995 (Rockets-Magic), and 2021 (Bucks-Suns).
The common denominator: dominant players
There aren’t many through-lines to explain the dominance of these franchises.
Market size and spending power are factors — the Lakers have historically not worried about expenses to build championship teams, and the 2022 Warriors had a payroll of $340 million, including taxes. Owners’ wealth is a significant advantage in the NBA.
But moreover, the common theme is all-time great, dominant players. A single player can dominate a basketball game and carry his team, perhaps moreso than in sports like football or baseball.
Since 1980, 39 of the 43 Finals series have included at least one of the following: Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, LeBron James, and Stephen Curry. Often times, more than one of them have been involved.
Jordan and James are considered the greatest players of all-time. The other six players often make any basketball fan’s Top 10 list.
Of course, basketball is still a team game and co-stars are important. Go through the list of Finals series since 1980, and there are plenty of other recurring names: Isiah Thomas, Dirk Nowitzki, Dwyane Wade, Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, to name a few.
Yet finding that one true face of the franchise is the greatest difference-maker in the NBA. Since 1980, five franchises have been better at it than anyone else.