The Best Sports Teams of All Time
Tribute to the Greatest Sports Teams Ever
In July 2009, Sporting News magazine took a bold step to name former UCLA Basketball Coach John Wooden as the greatest American athletics coach of all time. To those of us who grew up listening to Dick Enberg call the play-by-play of UCLA's games during the Wooden era, this was no surprise and in fact long overdue.
While Coach Wooden clearly deserves a feature all his own, reading about this accolade inspired me to think of many other dominant sports programs, including such great teams as the New York Yankees, Boston Celtics, Soviet Union Hockey Team, and others. More recently, the Golden State Warriors and the New England Patriots deserve to be included in this list.
This article highlights some of the greatest sports teams of all time from a number of major sports. They are listed in no particular order.
UCLA Basketball: 1970–71 (Under John Wooden)
UCLA's basketball program under Coach John Wooden is the first team highlighted in this feature on sports' greatest teams. During his 27 seasons as head coach, the team never suffered a losing season and eventually won 10 national championships in a span of 12 years, including an unprecedented seven straight.
From 1972 to 1974, the team cemented its dominance of American college basketball by running off 88 consecutive victories.
While UCLA drew great talent, including centers Lew Alcindor (aka Kareem Abdul Jabbar) and Bill Walton, particularly impressive were the championships won in 1970 and 1971 when a smaller UCLA team overcame the likes of 7'2" Artis Gilmore of Jacksonville University to keep the Bruins on top of the basketball charts.
Some say UCLA's boosters kept the team stocked with top prospects, but as the 1980s Philadelphia 76ers know, it takes more than talent to win championships. Coach John Wooden was the reason UCLA was so dominant for so many years.
Boston Celtics: 1957–1969
The Boston Celtics' dynasty in NBA basketball from 1957 to 1969 was equally impressive to UCLA's run in the college ranks. Led by Coach Red Auerbach and center Bill Russell, the Celtics won an unlikely 11 championships in 13 years.
New York Yankees: 1949–58 (Under Casey Stengal)
Perhaps no professional team has dominated their sport like the New York Yankees. As a franchise, the New York Yankees won 26 World Series over five eras. From 1949 to 1958, with Casey Stengal at the helm, America's top baseball organization won the Fall Classic eight times in 10 tries. Perhaps, the greatest single season of any Yankee team came in 1961 when Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle propelled them to a major league record 109 games.
New England Patriots: 2001–2019
The New England Patriots of the current era may be considered the best franchise and team of all time. This is especially so given the era of the salary cap. They had to rebuild their team many times and yet they managed to go to 10 Super Bowls and win six of them. Financed by owner Robert Kraft, coached by Bill Belichick, and led by quarterback Tom Brady, the Patriots have had their way in American football's NFL.
Besides the 10 trips to the Super Bowl, the New England Patriots under Kraft, Belichick, and Brady won 10 American Football Conference (AFC) championships and 16 AFC East Division championships. As of this writing, quarterback Tom Brady became the oldest quarterback in NFL history to win a Super Bowl, and he has shown no signs of retiring. In 2020, he ended his 20-year career with the Patriots when he announced his move to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Soviet Union Hockey: 1954–1990
From 1954 to 1991, the Soviet Union's National Hockey Team won 30 medals in 31 international competitions including seven Olympic gold medals in nine tries and 19 golds overall.
New Zealand's All Blacks Rugby
A gentleman named Kerry gets credit for this entry. As he wrote in the comments below:
In over a hundred years of rugby, the All Blacks hold an 84% winning record against all opposition played. They have also won 74% of all test matches played, and hold a winning record against every test nation in the world (including the British & Irish Lions, and the World XV).
Romania (the best team in Eastern Europe), Canada (the best team in North America), Japan (the best in Asia), and other World Rugby heavyweights Ireland, Scotland, Italy, Argentina, Samoa, and Fiji have never beaten New Zealand.
The average margin when playing the All Blacks is 25-12; that is, they have scored more than twice the number of points than all opposition combined.
New Zealand is so good that they have never been ranked lower than third on the World Rankings. In 1987, they were crowned the first-ever Rugby World Champions, beating France in the final 29-9.
Since 1996, when rugby became professional, the All Blacks have played 149 games, winning 121. Their victories have led to nine Tri-Nations Championships in 13 years, playoff appearances in every World Cup to date, a first-ever test series victory in South Africa, seven undefeated tours to Europe; including two Grand Slams Tours (when a team plays England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales in successive weeks and win), a test series whitewash against the British & Irish Lions, a world record 30 test victories in a row on home soil (spanning five years), the Bledisloe Cup, and the Hillary Shield.
Only five test nations in history have ever beaten the All Blacks: Australia, South Africa, France, England, and Wales (who have not beaten New Zealand since 1954). The most successful team to ever play New Zealand is South Africa (winning just 40% of the time), while Australia have won the most times (39 victories from 132 matches).
This small, tiny nation boasts a player pool of just 90,000, yet they provide the bulk of the Rugby Hall of Fame.
Thanks, Kerry, for your contribution.
Notre Dame Football (Under Frank Leahy)
Notre Dame's reputation as America's premier college football school was molded under the direction of Knute Rockne and the Four Horsemen. Yet in the 1940s, the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame won four national championships under the leadership of Coach Frank Leahy.
Oklahoma Sooners (Under Bud Wilkinson)
From 1947 to 1963, the Oklahoma Sooners football team won 145 games, three national championships, and an NCAA Division I record 47 consecutive games. Bud Wilkinson was the head coach of the team over that span of time.
Chicago Bulls (Under Phil Jackson)
Under the direction of Coach Phil Jackson and superstar Michael Jordan, the Chicago Bulls won six NBA championships in the 1990s.
Los Angeles Lakers in Four Eras
As an NBA franchise, the Los Angeles Lakers have won 15 league championships from 1949 to 2009. In 1972, the team led by Wilt Chamberlain and Jerry West won a major sports record 33 consecutive games. In the 1980s, led by Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul Jabbar, the Lakers franchise won five championships in nine seasons. Under the direction of Phil Jackson, the team has won four more championships since 2000.
Golden State Warriors: 2015–2018
The Golden State Warriors have dominated the American NBA for four seasons. They appeared in four straight championship series and won three of them including the 2014–2015, 2016–2017, and 2017–2018 seasons.
The team was crafted by basketball icon and consultant Jerry West, executive Bob Myers, and Coach Steve Kerr with the help of previous coach Mark Jackson. In the 2014–2015 championship season, the Warriors were led on the court by players Stephan Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Igoudala, and Draymond Green.
The 2015–2016 team broke the NBA record for single-season wins, but lost in the championship finals in a seven-game battle with the Cleveland Cavaliers led by LeBron James.
In the off-season after 2015–2016, Golden State added supreme free agent Kevin Durant to the same cast of four listed above and easily won the 2017 and 2018 Championship Series, both against the Cavaliers. They took the two best of seven series, four games to one in 2017, before sweeping the series 4-0 in 2018.
Montreal Canadiens: 1960–1961 (Under Scotty Bowman)
Since its establishment in 1909, the Montreal Canadiens (a professional hockey team) have won 24 Stanley Cups, including 11 in 20 years. Under the direction of Coach Scotty Bowman, they won six in the decade of the 1970s.
Edmonton Oilers: 1984–1990 (Under Glen Sather)
From 1984 to 1990, led by Wayne Gretzky and Coach Glen Sathers, the professional hockey team Edmonton Oilers won the NHL's Stanley Cup five times.
Australia National Cricket Team
The oldest test cricket organization in the world since 1877, the Australian Cricket National Team has made all six world cup finals and won four of them including the last three (1999, 2003, and 2007). As of 2007 they are undefeated in 29 consecutive World Cup games.
University of North Carolina Women's Soccer: 1983–2009
The women's soccer team of the University of North Carolina won 20 national championships in 27 years from 1983 to 2009, including nine straight from 1986 to 1994.
What Do You Think?
This list represents my own personal rundown of the greatest sports teams of all time, but perhaps you think I've missed one. Please let me know in the comments below if there's a team you think should be included on this list—and why!