Ranking The Last 50 NBA Champions

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The Cleveland Cavaliers joined the relatively short list of NBA franchises to win titles in the last 50 seasons, but where do they rank among those championship squads?

June 19, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) celebrates with the Larry O’Brien championship and Bill Russell MVP trophies following the 93-89 victory against the Golden State Warriors in game seven of the NBA Finals at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

The Cleveland Cavaliers of 2015-16 will go down in NBA history as the first team to overcome a 3-1 deficit to win the NBA Finals.

By winning the franchise’s first championship since its inception as an expansion team in 1970, Cleveland also became the 15th club in the last 50 seasons to win a title and the first first-time champion since the Dallas Mavericks in 2011.

As we update the rankings of the last 50 champions, we bid farewell to the Boston Celtics of 1965-66—the last of the Celtics dynasty squads that won eight consecutive titles—and bring the list into the modern expansion era.

The beginning of the last half-century of NBA basketball was marked by explosive growth in the league. From the end of the 1965-66 season to the start of 1970-71, the league nearly doubled in size from nine franchises to 17.

The first of those new clubs to be crowned champions didn’t wait long—the Milwaukee Bucks began as an expansion squad in 1968-69 and took home the title in just their third season, 1970-71.

The Cavs’ title, meanwhile, eliminated another from the list of those eight expansion clubs that has yet to win a title, a list that now includes only the Phoenix Suns and Los Angeles Clippers (nee San Diego Clippers, nee Buffalo Braves).

The breakdown of the title teams from the last 50 seasons, by number of championships, goes a little something like this:

That list includes one team (the Sonics) that no longer exists—the franchise became the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2008—and one team that has gone through a branding change—the Bullets were renamed the Washington Wizards in 1997.

Comparing championship teams is a bit like comparing high-end sports cars—there really isn’t a bad one. Rather, it is trying to discern the differences in the varying degrees of greatness.

The discerning process in this case did consider a number of factors–regular-season performance was a component, factored in with playoff performance and the relative quality of each team’s playoff run.

Hence, let the discerning commence:

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