It stings when your team loses in the NBA Finals. After the astronomical highs from conference victories and playoff wins, it could feel like falling off a cliff, but remember – making it to the NBA Finals is not a small feat. It’s a testament to a team’s excellence, to their class, and determination.
So, if you’re looking for the teams that have made it yet fell a little short of the championship, you’ve come to the right place. In this article, we’ll talk about what NBA team lost the most championships and a few others.
What Team Has Lost the Most NBA Finals?
With so much history of success, the Lakers are probably one of the last teams you’d think to be at the top of this list, but they are! They’ve lost the NBA Finals 15 times, most of which occurred during the height of the 1960s Lakers and Celtics rivalry.
This record is despite the franchise’s successful history, with the team making 31 appearances in the NBA Finals, significantly more than any other. Coming in at far second is the Boston Celtics with 20.
Despite the Finals losses, however, no student of basketball would ever describe the Lakers organization as a losing franchise. In fact, they’re considered one of the most successful franchises in NBA history. They’re currently tied with Boston as the NBA team with the most championships at 17 each.
In recent years, both teams are again poised to win another championship. The Lakers even won as recently as the 2020 Bubble with the dynamic frontcourt combination of LeBron James and Anthony Davis. The Celtics, on the other hand, has gotten to finals in 2022 and has the roster, led by Jayson Tatum and Jalen Brown, to possibly make it again on the Finals stage again for years to come.
Which Top 5 Teams Have Lost the Most NBA Finals?
With the Lakers at the top, here are some of the other teams with the most NBA Finals losses:
New York Knicks – 6 Finals Losses
The Knicks are the undisputed most valuable team in terms of the franchise’s estimated value. However, what’s so exciting about the NBA is that this does not guarantee winning in the NBA Finals.
The Knicks lost in the NBA Finals Series in 1951, 1994, and 1999. And, perhaps most painfully, they’ve lost thrice to the mighty Lakers in 1952, 1953, and 1972. Fittingly, however, they managed to snag two NBA championships in 1970 and 1973, both against their West Coast rivals.
Philadelphia 76ers – 6 Finals Losses
Formerly the Syracuse Nationals, the Philadelphia 76ers made it to the Finals in 1950, 1954, 1955, 1967, 1977, 1982, 1983 and most recently, in 2001. And, like the Knicks, they’ve lost a total of six times.
Their most recent foray into the Finals came as far back as 2001, against the Lakers. It was stunner of a season for them as the Sixers legend Allen Iverson has a heroic MVP season. Unfortunately, they would come up short against the formidable Shaq-Kobe tandem who had themselves a historic playoff run as well.
Dominant was a word often used to describe the Sixers and Allen Iverson in that career and team-defining 2001 season. He finished the season ahead of Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, and Tracy McGrady in terms of scoring with 31.1 points per game.
The real tests came during the playoffs. The Sixers first had to overcome the Indiana Pacers, Toronto Raptors, and Milwaukee Bucks–all of which they did, even if it was by the skin of their teeth in some of the series.
The Toronto series was especially electrifying with Iverson going toe-to-toe with the Raptor’s Vince Carter in scoring. Iverson scored 52 in Game 2 and followed it up with a 54 point performance in game 4. He was one of only players that has scored 50+ in a playoff game. Vince Carter, on the other hand, put on an equally spectacular show for his Raptors scoring 50 points in Game 3 – a clear indicator that he intended to put up a fight. The series went to a grueling Game 7 which the Sixers won, again led by Iverson’s scoring.
The Conference Finals against Milwaukee was much of the same with the Sixers needing Iverson to carry the scoring load again. The series again went to a crucial Game 7 in which Iverson scored 44 points.
During game one, Iverson put on a 48-point show in an overtime thriller and led the Sixers to a daring victory. It was in this game that Iverson did the iconic step over Tyrone Lue.
Sadly, despite a promising start, the Sixers couldn’t keep up with the Lakers’ might, eventually succumbing to a 1-4 loss in the series. Surely, it was a blow to the spirited Sixers, but do remember, it’s not always about the destination, but the journey.
Golden State Warriors – 5 Finals Losses
Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, and Klay Thompson the dynastic core of the current generation of the Golden State Warriors. The trio has won four championships in six Finals appearances from 2015 to 2022, which makes up the bulk of the Warrior’s winning legacy as a franchise.
However, this does not erase the fact that the franchise has also lost five Finals series in the process. It just goes to show that even a dynasty has its blemishes.
Boston Celtics – 5 Finals Losses
There’s probably no franchise with as rich a history as the Boston Celtics. They’ve been in the league since the beginning, and they’ve been the franchise to look out for almost every year.
In total, they have 17 NBA titles. This impressive collection includes the eight straight from 1959 to 1966, with transcendental players like Bill Russel, John Havlicek, and Bob Cousy on the court for them. But even with all those titles in tow, it doesn’t mean that the organization hasn’t failed at times.
Fittingly, three of these losses came at the hands of their rivals, the Los Angeles Lakers. In total, however, the Celtics have suffered just five Finals losses in with the latest being in 2022 at the hands of the Golden State Warriors.
What NBA Players Have the Most Finals Losses?
Oftentimes, players are also criticized for losing in the Finals as well, not just the team and the organization. Afterall, certain players are just so transcendental that fans put most of the responsibility on their shoulders.
So, if you’re looking for some of the players that have lost the most in the game’s biggest stage, here’s the list:
Jerry West – 8 Times
While there’s no question that Jerry West is one of the greatest players to ever pick up a basketball, he also holds one embarrassing distinction – the player that has lost the most on the game’s biggest stage.
He was a victim of the Boston Celtic’s dominance in the 1960s and 1970s, at the height of the Lakers and Celtics rivalry. He lost a total of eight times. To be fair to the league’s logo man, however, he was able to grab one championship in 1972.
If you’re interested in learning Jerry West‘s story, check out this basketball biography book.
Elgin Baylor – 7 Times
Throughout his illustrious career, Baylor had been a teammate of another Lakers legend – Jerry West. West himself had known the sting of Finals defeat quite well, with seven Lakers finals appearances before finally securing a championship together in 1972.
LeBron James – 6 Times
Given the stature of LeBron James‘ revered career, it’s hard to believe he has lost six times in the Finals. But that’s exactly what happened to what many consider one of the greatest players of all time.
What Factors Contribute to These Championship Losses?
Quite a few factors contribute to winning and losing in an NBA Finals series. Here are the top five:
Strong leadership, on and off the court, can help teams win championships. This leadership often comes from experienced players, coaches, and disciplined administration.
2. Depth of Skills and Talent Distribution
Championship teams have depth and role players to complement star athletes.
3. Clear and Effective Strategy
Victory requires a tactical strategy that blends skills and talents into a cohesive unit.
4. Players’ Health and Fitness
A healthy roster is essential for a championship run. Injuries can derail a team, so teams must maintain player health throughout the demanding NBA season.
5. A Dash of Luck
While it may seem trivial, many successful championship runs involve a certain amount of luck. This can include favorable playoff matchups, key opponents’ injuries, or crucial game decisions going in their favor.
Wrapping Things Up: What NBA Team Lost the Most Championships?
It’s easy to get caught up in the narrative that an NBA Finals defeat is the ultimate proof of failure. However, just winning their respective conferences is worth celebrating in itself.
To even reach the NBA Finals requires a level of skill, teamwork, and tenacity that is frankly mind-boggling! Remember, these are the top-tier gladiators of the basketball world. So, it’s no surprise that some of the most successful teams and players, such as LeBron James and the Lakers, find themselves on this list.
As a fan, it’s easy to forget the sheer number of quality teams your favorites had to conquer just to make it to this hallowed stage. You don’t make it there by accident or pure luck. Your team does not just compete, they also emerge as leaders in fiercely contested conferences despite tough opposition.
We hope you enjoyed this post! If you did, be sure to check out our other basketball FAQ articles here.