The Team with the Most NBA Championships in History

This article focuses on the NBA teams with the most championship titles, but before we get started, I do have a broader article that explores the most titles across coaches, teams and players.

The NBA boasts a storied history, packed with exhilarating moments, legendary players, and iconic teams. From the NBA’s inception, certain teams have risen above the rest, etching their names in basketball lore through sheer dominance and triumph on the court. So, what is the team with the most NBA championships of all time?

In the quest for greatness, from every perspective, nothing solidifies a team’s legacy like rings. That’s probably why you’re wondering…

As is the case in virtually every conceivable question of NBA dominance; the answer is quite complicated. There are two major wrinkles in our game plan for determining which team has won the most NBA titles.

  1. Are we talking about a team in the sense of player continuity? Or are we just looking for the most dominant franchise across generations?
  2. Where does the NBA begin? Early NBA history involves several leagues and the story looks different depending on where you draw the lines.

Let’s iron this out…

The Franchise with the Most NBA Championship Titles

If we frame the question in terms of franchise, we can boil it down to a heated tie between the Lakers and the Celtics. Both franchises are officially credited with 17 NBA titles and no other teams come close.

So, can we break the tie?

You can make a strong case for either team as the true champ here. In practice, it often comes down to which team you like better (or which team you hate more).

If you draw a distinction between the Minneapolis Lakers and the LA Lakers, the Celtics get the win. The Boston Celtics have won all of their titles in the same city and with the same name. And that counts for something, especially if you’re a Celtics fan.

However, you could argue that the Lakers have a more impressive set of rings. The Lakers have managed several incredible dynasties under very different talent sets. The Celtics took most of their wins under one wild dynasty in the early years of the league and they’ve just kinda puttered along ever since.

But to my thinking, the Lakers are the rightful holders of the title here, and it all ties back to the birth of the NBA…

When Did the NBA Start?

The NBA was formed in 1949 as a merger between two of the most dominant basketball leagues in the country at the time, the BAA (Basketball Association of America) and the NBL (National Basketball League).

However, the NBA has continuously acknowledged the BAA as it’s official lineage. Therefore, the NBA itself will point to the birth of the BAA in June of 1946 as its official origin date.

Where and how you draw the line is essential to determining which franchise, the Celtics or the Lakers are the more dominant franchise historically.

Why Does it Matter when the NBA Started?

Of the two lineages leading up to the merger, the BAA represents the officially accepted lineage of the NBA. That is, the NBA today counts the stats and history of the BAA as its own.

So NBL history is widely dismissed. As it turns out, there are several important basketball lineages that are dismissed due to time in unacknowledged chunks of the NBA family tree. But the NBL is the only one that presents any problems in terms of determining the team with the most NBA championships.

We need to go over the rough timeline real quick…

When was the NBL formed?

The NBL was formed in 1937. I’m talking about the second NBL, the one that merged with the BAA to create the NBA. There were a couple of earlier basketball leagues under the NBL moniker, dating back to 1898. And currently, the leading Australian basketball league is known as the NBL.

It’s often overlooked (perhaps intentionally dismissed?) that the NBL played about 9 full seasons of basketball before the BAA even existed. That’s a lot of pro basketball history for the current NBA to simply dismiss.

During the 12 seasons the NBL existed before merging with the BAA and thus creating the NBA, there are four cases where a team which still technically exists in some form in the NBA won an NBL championship.

Three of these NBL titles are irrelevant to the topic at hand. Two went to the Fort Wayne Zollner Pistons which would go on to become the Detroit Pistons. One went to the Rochester Royals, early precursors to the Sacramento Kings. Neither of those teams are anywhere near contention for the team with the most NBA championships.

The 4th title wen to the Minneapolis Lakers in the year before they jumped over to the NBA.

Why the Lakers Have a Case for being the Team with the Most NBA Championships

In 1948 John Kundla and the Minneapolis Lakers took the NBL title. These same Minneapolis Lakers would ultimately jump ship to the BAA and go on to win the BAA title in 1949, that following year. Again, these same Lakers would go on to take four of the first five official post-merger NBA titles.

You should see what I’m putting down at this point.

You can make a strong case that the 1948 Lakers title should count. The NBL had too long and important a history to be ignored. And you could also argue that the 1948 Lakers, headed up by George Mikan, may well have beat the 1948 BAA champion Baltimore Bullets, given the chance.

This would award the additional tie-breaking title to the Lakers franchise. If playing the most seasons of title-winning basketball is your guiding light in finding the team with the most NBA championships, the Lakers hold the title.

Why the Celtics Have a Case for being the Team with the Most NBA Championships

You can’t have two champions. So it makes perfect sense that the NBA should chose a lineage and stick to it. It chose the BAA and rules are rules.

However, if you’re really in an argument over things, you can just dismiss both NBL and BAA history. The Lakers won one BAA title, while the Celtics won none.

So, if you discard BAA titles along with NBL titles, staying faithful to the terms of the question ‘what is the team with the most NBA championships?’. The Lakers lose that one notch on the side of their fighter jet and the Celtics are crowned victor as the NBA team with the most title wins in history.

The Continuous Team with the Most NBA Championships

I do hesitate to take this to the next level. But we’re already getting pretty deep into semantics in trying to pick the franchise with the most NBA championships.

And yet, if we’re truly talking about trying to determine which ‘team’ has won the most NBA championships, we need to consider the meaning of the word team itself.

And personally, I think it’s an interesting question. Franchises are cool and all, but franchise fandom is not always basketball fandom. If you’re really into the game, you’re into the participants, the strategy, and the technique.

So you should be interested in looking into just what exactly was the most championship-dominant team in NBA history. What group of players or personas has won the most NBA titles. Unfortunately, that’s probably going to require some deep accounting.

Defining NBA Team Variance

Teams change constantly, often in the middle of a season. So where does one even begin to draw the line?

It’s tangentially related, but I have a sneaking suspicion it might make things easier for us if we narrow our scope. For a group of specific players to win multiple championships together with minimal personnel change, you need titles on the same team in a short period of time. In other words, you need a dynasty.

Conveniently, I’ve done some work digging into NBA dynasties. It turns out, there are really only 7 NBA teams who have won 3 or more titles in a 5 year period. Here they are…

So we can safely limit our options to these 7 individual runs of championship wins.

And here’s where the accounting comes in.

Quantifying NBA Playoff Experience

So, how can you quantify the variance in a roster over multiple seasons?

To get some ideas, lets zoom in on the first team on our list, the John Kundla Lakers. This was the first NBA dynasty, winning 5 titles in 6 years, and that’s ignoring their NBL title just before joining the league (then the BAA).

Considering that rosters were less dynamic in the early years, the first Lakers dynasty is a good candidate for a continuous team with the most NBA titles.

Kundla Lakers Playoff Experience

To get an idea of just how consistent these early Lakers were as a team, one simple metric we can look at is playoff experience. How much time has each player spent on Lakers playoff teams for each title season?

Unfortunately, the NBA didn’t begin recording player MPG (Minutes Per Game) stats until the 1951-1952 season. With half of that Kundla dynasty missing MPG stats, we can’t look at total minutes, but we can look at total seasons of Lakers playoff experience.

If you add up the total number of years that each player had played for the Lakers in the NBA playoffs over the course of the Kundla dynasty, here are the results:


The 1954 Lakers entered the playoffs with 21 years of collective Lakers playoff experience.

Now can we find a team that rivals this?

Auerbach Celtics Playoff Experience

Another strong contender for the title would be the Auerbach Celtics. So what happens if we run a similar operation on the Auerbach dynasty.

Between 1957 and 1969, the Celtics only missed 2 NBA titles. Let’s take a look at the playoff experience on the roster for each of those title runs.


The Celtics peaked twice, in 1964 and 1969, with 39 seasons of collective playoff experience. That’s almost double the Lakers peak at 21.

And this absolutely checks out. Bill Russell, K.C. Jones and Sam Jones took down 8 titles together on the same Celtics squad. There are nine Celtics who won 6 or more rings in a span of 11 years. Between 1959 and 1963, 7 slots on the Celtics roster remained constant: Bob Cousy, Bill Russell, Tom Heinsohn, Jim Loscutoff, Frank Ramsey, Kc. Jones, and Sam Jones. That’s 5 rings each. The Kundla Lakers just don’t come close to any of that.

Laying out the Auerbach dynasty, it’s already apparent that the consistency here is far greater than with the Lakers. The Celtics starters stayed pretty much the same for the first half of their record setting run. The same 5 guys played most of the playoffs minutes on their first 4 title runs.

With the Celtics, we do have player minutes. So we can take a closer look here at just how many minutes of actual Celtics playoff experience the Celtics were fielding in each of their title runs.


What I’ve done here is calculated the sum for each season of the minutes contributed in successful playoff runs with the team. For example, Bob Cousy played 440 playoff minutes in 1957 and 460 minutes in 1959. This translates to a benefit of 440 points in 1957 and 900 (440 +460) minutes in 1956.

I’m confident that this is a relatively strong measurement of team continuity. A team is rewarded for keeping the players who have been important to the team in the past. A team is penalized most heavily for discarding those players who have contributed to previous title runs.

One concern here is that a team is also rewarded for a longer title run. That is, if it takes fewer games to get the title, fewer minutes are played. So a team with a long title may claim an advantage that is perhaps not reflective of team continuity.

Nonetheless, we can still draw some interesting conclusions from the Celtics data here. The 1968 season really stands out. By 1968, the Celtics were fielding a team with a collective 35,378 minutes of Celtics playoff experience. That’s nearly 25 full days of active playoff experience on the team, using the practiced and proven structures of your specific organization.

That experience a pretty incredible advantage. Let’s see if we can find any teams that can beat that.

The Jordan Bulls (6 titles)

The Bulls dynasty was actually incredibly consistent, winning 6 titles, and likely the best challenger to the Auerbach crown. Jordan and Pippen played all 6 of the 90’s Bulls title seasons. The run was divided in half by Jordan’s hiatus. Both the first and second half of the run maintained 7 of the same support players.

Still, across 6 titles, the Bulls never rivaled any of the experience numbers we saw with the Celtics. Below are the Bulls numbers for seasons and minutes of playoff experience.

seasons of playoff experience0122561627
minutes of playoff experience410594101404591291340718145

Minutes peak at 18145. Compare that to the peak for the 1969 Celtics at 38012. Not much of a comparison.

This concept of correlating the minutes played in playoff games with the cohesiveness of a team, I’ll admit it’s not perfect. Still, a 200% difference is significant. The Celtics clearly maintained a level of unmatched team consistency.

Does any team rival the Auerbach Celtics?

There are 4 more dynasties to evaluate. To compete with the Auerbach Celtics in terms of title dominance you would have to maintain an extremely consistent roster.

  1. Pat Riley Lakers – 5 titles
  2. Jackson Lakers – 5 titles
  3. Popovich Spurs – 5 titles (only 3 in close succession)
  4. Kerr Warriors – 4 titles

We can eliminate the Warriors and Spurs pretty easily. The Spurs wins were too few and spaced out. The Warriors with Klay, Curry, Green and Iggy all on the roster through 4 titles beats them easily, but still can’t hold a candle to the 5 titles with 7 of the same players that the Celtics hit.

That leaves the Lakers, in two iconic forms, 5 titles each. The Phil Jackson Lakers can get kicked off the list. Kobe is the only player who stuck with the team through all 5 championship seasons. 6 other players made it through 3 of those seasons. Not enough to compete.

The Pat Riley Lakers hold up a little better. Magic, Kareem and Michael Cooper all played in all 5 title runs. Again, that’s nowhere near 7 players over 5 titles.

And the numbers play that out…


The Riley Lakers peaked in the 1987 season in terms of playoff experience with a team that claimed 16,852 minutes of playoff experience with the team. This leaves us below even the 18,145 minutes high water mark set by the Bulls.

I think we have a winner!

So, what is the continuous team with the most NBA championships?

The continuous team with the most NBA Championship wins is definitively one of the Celtics lineups between 1957 and 1969. The 1959-1963 Celtics maintained 7 of the same key players: Bill Russell, Bob Cousy, Tom Heinsohn, Jim Loscutoff, Frank Ramsey, Sam Jones, and K.C. Jones.

That roster won every title it appeared in. That’s a 5 man lineup and 2 slots into the bench.

They even continued winning for the next 3 seasons after losing Cousy in 64, then Loscutoff and Ramsey in 65. It helped that the picked up Havlicek, but that’s besides the point.

There are plenty of reasons to want to write this anomaly off. It was early in league history. There were fewer than half the teams there are today. And there’s always the ‘they were playing against plumbers’ argument.

While those are fair points to make, it was no accident that this congregation of great players completely dominated the NBA for over a decade.

You have to imagine that, for most of the 60’s, the entire strategy for any team that was not Boston was to try and figure out how to beat Boston.


In terms of franchises, the team with the most NBA championships would be either the Lakers or the Celtics, depending on your perspective. Technically, both teams have 17 title wins.

The Celtics may have a more ‘rule book official’ claim on the title, winning all of their titles under the NBA moniker for the league. But the Lakers become the clear winner if you look at it in terms of the most title-winning basketball seasons played during their existence.

It’s a little superfluous, but if you really dig into the question and try to find the specific ‘team’ ( meaning a collection of players) who have won the most NBA titles together, it’s the Auerbach Celtics.

There’s just no way to beat their incredible run. They crushed 8 titles in a row and 11 total titles in just 13 years. In the 60’s, the Celtics won the NBA title every year except 1967. This was the first year that Bill Russell assumed a role as a player-coach, taking over coaching duties from Red Auerbach.