A superteam in the National Basketball Association (NBA) is a franchise whose roster typically has three or more Hall of Fame caliber players that are in their prime. A more conservative form would be 'All-Star' or All-NBA level players who have recently or are currently still chosen to represent the best of the Eastern and Western conferences as All-Star players or were voted in as part of the All-NBA team at the end of every season. The first Superteam was ushered in when LeBron James decided to join his fellow draft-class players, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, at the Miami Heat at the end of the 2009–10 season.
The three were named "the Big 3" and would establish their dominance by making it to the NBA Finals for all of the four years that they were together, winning back-to-back titles in the 2012 NBA Finals and the 2013 NBA Finals. James had joined the Heat as a back-to-back MVP winner and equal six-time All-Star with Dwyane Wade, whilst Chris Bosh had been a four-time All-Star.
Due to this, many other Superteams have been formed/drafted since then in order to secure a championship. The second superteam that was formed was again led by LeBron James when he returned to the Cleveland Cavaliers to play with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love from 2014 to 2017. The most prominent superteam since Miami Heat's formation was the Golden State Warriors team from 2016 to 2019. This team included four perennial All-Stars in Stephen Curry (also 2-time MVP, and first unanimous MVP winner), Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Kevin Durant. At the start of the 2018–19 season, the Warriors then signed All-Star DeMarcus Cousins from the New Orleans Pelicans in free agency and was the first NBA franchise in 42 years (since the 1975–76 Boston Celtics) to start five players that had been All-Stars the previous season.
Although Superteams are mostly thought of as a fairly new concept, some have tried to apply the term to teams of the past, prior to the 2000's, due to the multiple players considered "superstars" or "stars" at the time, that were on the team. However, some refute this by claiming that the stars on these teams were past their prime and teamed up as a last ditched effort to try to win a championship, such as the 2007–2012 Boston Celtics. Teams that feature multiple stars that were drafted by the team they play on, do not meet the "super team" criteria in many people's eyes.
- 1 Superteams of the NBA
- 1.1 1956–1969: Bill Russell's Celtics
- 1.2 2010: LeBron James and Chris Bosh join the Miami Heat, create first modern superteam
- 1.3 2014–2018: Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Golden State Warriors
- 1.4 2018–19 season: Warriors form an 'All-Star' team
- 1.5 Other franchises look to create their own 'Big 3'
- 2 Pre-modern NBA: Great teams
- 3 Controversies
Superteams of the NBA
1956–1969: Bill Russell's Celtics
After winning 11 championships in 13 years, the Boston Celtics of the late 50s and 60s were regarded as an NBA super team, serving as a guidepost for potential future dynasties. Led by 5-time MVP Bill Russell, these Celtics won an NBA record 8 consecutive championships.
Prior to the 1976 settlement of Robertson v. National Basketball Association, free agency did not exist in the NBA. As a result, Russell and his teammates were acquired through NBA drafts and trades. John Havlicek was drafted by the Celtics in 1962, Tom Heinsohn was drafted by the Celtics in 1956, and Sam Jones was drafted by the Celtics in 1957. Bob Cousy was not acquired by the Celtics in the 1950 NBA draft, but was instead taken in the Chicago Stags dispersal draft. Others, like Bill Sharman and Bailey Howell, were traded for by the Celtics. Even Russell himself was acquired in a draft-day trade.
2010: LeBron James and Chris Bosh join the Miami Heat, create first modern superteam
After the 2009–10 season had concluded, LeBron James was in free agency and had free choice to choose which team he would play for next. He had just come off one of his highest-accumulating statistic production of his career, had been voted an All-Star six times and had won back-to-back MVP awards with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Although there was much speculation and hype surrounding James and his choice, it was kept hidden for many weeks until he announced his plans on a live television broadcast via ESPN that would be called "The Decision". He had chosen to join the Miami Heat where his fellow draft-class member and good friend, Dwyane Wade, was currently playing.
Dwyane Wade had already had proven himself a superstar with the Miami Heat where he had won the NBA Championship in the 2005–06 season as well as winning the Finals MVP. Other achievements also include being a 6-time All-Star, 5-time All-NBA and the NBA Scoring Champion in the previous season before LeBron James joined the Miami Heat. Chris Bosh, another member of the same draft-class, would also come to join James and Wade where he had just been a 4-time All-Star and the franchise's all-time leader in points, rebounds, blocks and minutes played when he had left the Toronto Raptors. The three would join together and make 4-straight NBA Finals appearances, with the first one coming the very season that they banded together. They lost the 2011 NBA Finals to the Dallas Mavericks before winning two straight over the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2012 and the San Antonio Spurs in 2013, respectively, and becoming the first Eastern Conference team to win back-to-back titles since the Chicago Bulls of the late 1990s. During this time, they had dominated much of the NBA and the Eastern Conference only to have a rematch with the San Antonio Spurs in the 2014 Finals, in which they had lost in five games.
Following their loss, LeBron James was once again in free agency and had left the Miami Heat to return to his hometown team, the Cleveland Cavaliers and thus ending the run of the Miami "Big 3". During their time together, James had won back-to-back MVP and Finals MVP (2012 and 2013) as well as all 3 members being voted as an All-Star for every season that they were together. The 'Three' would also make NBA history with such feats as accumulating 27 straight victories between February 1 to March 27 of the 2012–13 season, the second-longest regular season winning streak in NBA history, as well as being only the second time that three teammates had each scored 30 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in a regulation match, which was last set over 50 years prior.
Many other players and franchises would follow in the footprints of LeBron James and join other Superstar-caliber players to form their own Superteam in a quest to win an NBA Championship and challenge the Miami Heat Superteam. However, it would be LeBron James who would disband it and form the next 'Big 3' in the league.
2014–2018: Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Golden State Warriors
After the 2014 Finals loss, LeBron James went back into free agency, ending his stint with the Miami Heat, as he decided to head back to his hometown team (the Cleveland Cavaliers) to once again form another 'Big 3' to compete for the title. Cleveland had already had Kyrie Irving on their roster who was drafted by the Cavaliers in 2011 (taken 1st overall). Before James joined the Cavaliers, Irving had already won Rookie-of-the-Year in 2012, was a two-time All-Star (and All-Star MVP in |2014) as well as being the youngest player in NBA history to score at least 40 points at Madison Square Garden. Joining them via trade would be Kevin Love from the Minnesota Timberwolves to complete the new LeBron James' 'Big 3'. Love had finished the previous season with his best production since joining the league with career high-averages in points and assists as well as making the All-Star game in 2012. In his 6-year stint with the Wolves, he had also recorded the longest streak of 'Double-Doubles' (double figure in two of either points, rebounds, assists, blocks or steals) at 52 in a row as well as the first player since Moses Malone in 1982 to record a 30 points and 30 rebounds night in a regulation game. With the Boston Celtics and San Antonio Spurs respective Big 3's nearing retirement, Lebron James sought to secure a string of easy championships with the Cleveland Cavaliers just as he attempted to do with the Miami Heat. With Cleveland's acquisition of Kevin Love, who was considered one of the best power forwards in the league, Kyrie Irving, a perennial All-Star and 'future superstar', LeBron James had formed the second 'Big 3' in NBA history that had instantly made the Cleveland Cavaliers a title favorite.
During the same season that James had returned to the Cavaliers, the Golden State Warriors had an emerging team, as well, that would later become the dynasty that would dominate the league and establish itself as another Super team with the addition of Kevin Durant. Although James' team was built through trades and Free Agency, the Warriors would build their team through the draft and development to obtain the core that would come to challenge the Cavaliers for the best team in the league and the Championship. This "homegrown" method of team building "from the ground up", essentially, is said to disqualify the Golden State Warriors from the "super team" criteria. The Warriors had drafted Stephen Curry as the No. 7 pick in 2009, Klay Thompson as the No. 11 pick in 2011 and Draymond Green as the No. 35 pick in 2012 to form the nucleus of this team while adding Andrew Bogut (former No. 1 draft pick in 2005) and Andre Iguodala (2-time Defensive Player of the Year) to their roster to complete the core players that would ultimately challenge for the title in the 2014–15 season. Although the Warriors would eventually be noted as a Super team, during this season, their core players had yet to make an All-Star or All-NBA team except for Stephen Curry (All-NBA and All-Star in 2013) and Andre Iguodala (All-Star in 2012). The Warriors finally broke through during the 2014–15 campaign when they completed the regular season with the No. 1 seed with 67 wins out of 82 games and would make it through as the winners of the Western Conference to face LeBron James's Cavaliers (the Eastern Conference champions) in the NBA Finals.
The young Warriors team would win the Finals over the Cavaliers in six games and bring home the NBA Championship to Oakland for the first time in 40 years (last won in 1975). This would firmly establish the Warriors as a great team as their core players won a multitude of awards in their breakthrough season, along with competing for multiple others: Stephen Curry (MVP, All-Star selection, All-NBA First team), Klay Thompson (All-Star Selection, All-NBA team, tenth in MVP voting), Draymond Green (All-Defensive team selection, the runner up for the Defensive Player of the Year award) and Andre Iguodala (2015 Finals MVP). Cleveland's 'Big 3' had won accolades, as well, that further bolstered their claim as a legitimate Super team despite losing the Finals: Kyrie Irving (All-Star Selection, All-NBA Third team) and LeBron James (All-Star Selection, All-NBA First team). Following the 2015 Finals, these two teams would dominate their respective conferences the next year and have a rematch in the finals.
The Warriors had started the 2015–16 season by breaking the opening number of wins (at 24, before losing on December 12 to the Milwaukee Bucks) as well as a number of other NBA records by the end of the season. These include the most road wins in a season (at 34), most consecutive number of home wins (at 54) and most important of all, the best regular season record at 73–9, which slightly edged the record held by the Michael Jordan led Bulls when they had a 72–10 regular season record. The Cleveland Cavaliers had topped the Eastern Conference and would again make it to the NBA Finals after defeating the Detroit Pistons, the Atlanta Hawks and the Toronto Raptors. The Warriors would also make it to the Finals, but en-route they would face some problems in the Western Conference Finals where they found themselves down 3–1 in the series against the Oklahoma City Thunder after having beat the Houston Rockets and the Portland Trail Blazers in the previous rounds. The Warriors would go onto win the series and once again face the Cavs for the NBA title which would ultimately end with the Eastern team coming back from a 3–1 deficit and become the first team to win the title from that position. Again, a number of accolades were awarded to players of both teams and further enhancing their status as superstars. Both teams' key players were selected into the All-Star match. Stephen Curry became the first-ever unanimous MVP, LeBron James won Finals MVP in the series and Draymond Green joined both LeBron and Curry as part of the All-NBA teams.
That following off-season (before the 2016–17 campaign), the Warriors made a move to re-assert their spot as the most dominant franchise in the league by acquiring Kevin Durant when he became a free agent. Durant had been a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder and was part of the team that had the edge over the Warriors (3–1 lead) in the Western Conference Finals but unfortunately lost their lead and missed out on returning to the NBA Finals for the first time since 2012. Durant joined the Warriors highly decorated and arguably as one of the best players in the league with a resume that consisted of an MVP (in 2014), five-time NBA Scoring Champion, seven-time All-Star and six-time All-NBA which was said to have had put a highly talented Warriors team into a league of their own. The Warriors were now heavy favorites among some to win the NBA Championship in the 2016–17 season and take back the title from their Superteam rivals, the Cleveland Cavaliers. Some in the media, however, such as Shannon Sharpe and Nick Wright, still strongly believed that the Warriors - even with the addition of Kevin Durant - were no match for the Cavaliers. Much like the past two seasons, the Warriors and the Cavaliers made it through their respective conferences and met again in the Finals.
On the way to reaching the playoffs, the Warriors had matched or broken several NBA records. With the addition of Kevin Durant to a rather successful Warriors team, they would again reclaiming top seed overall with a 67 win regular season along with breaking the most games won by a 40-point margin or higher, and extending their run of most games without back-to-back losses in the regular season to 146 (stretching from 9 April 2015 to 2 March 2017). When the postseason came around, again the Warriors showed their Superteam strength by breaking the record for best start to the postseason (at 15–0), longest win streak in the playoffs (15) and best ever postseason record (16–1), whilst the Cavaliers made a strong run of their own by entering the Finals with only one loss from all of their series (entered the Finals at 12–1) before eventually relinquishing the title to the Warriors in a 4–1 series loss. The season ended with more accolades spread between the two teams including the Warriors having four players elected into the All-Star match (Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson) which tied an NBA record, as well as the Cavs having their "Big 3" also included (LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love). All-NBA selections were also given to Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, LeBron James and Kevin Durant who also won the Finals MVP thus further supporting the claim that of the two teams, Kevin Durant had tipped the balance in favor of the Warriors.
Although both the Warriors and the Cavaliers would remain favorites in their respective conferences, there was another shift in the Superteams when starting point-guard and member of the Cleveland's 'Big 3',The Cavaliers traded Irving to the Boston Celtics in August for Boston Celtics' own starting point-guard, Isaiah Thomas, who was injured at the time of the trade. Although Thomas had won an All-NBA selection the previous season, he was not seen as the same caliber of player as Kyrie Irving nor was there as much hype for the new 'Big 3' where eventually Thomas would struggle to come back from his injury and would be subsequently traded. This left the Cavaliers to still be led by LeBron James who had still managed to help his team make it through the Eastern Conference to the Finals albeit with a more troubled path than usual with near loses in series to the Indiana Pacers (4–3 series win) in the First Round and the Boston Celtics (4–3 series win) in the Eastern Conference Finals and only finishing fourth in the Eastern Conference standings. The Warriors also did not finish atop of the Western Conference (2nd in the West) and also had difficulty winning the Western Conference Finals over the Houston Rockets with only a slim 4–3 series win. Despite this, the Warriors finished the regular season with 58 wins and had cemented themselves as the team with the most regular season victories over a three-year span and would continue to write themselves into NBA records when they swept the Finals' series over the Cleveland Cavaliers (4–0) to take a second-straight title and win three of the four finals matches with their essential 'Super team' counterpart.
Kevin Durant would again win the Finals MVP and make the All-NBA team, alongside LeBron James and Stephen Curry. While the two teams had battled for the previous 4-straight Finals (an NBA first), it would mark the end of their rivalry when James joined the Los Angeles Lakers on a four-year deal after he became a free agent. Note: the starting players of the Golden State Warriors (Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala and Klay Thompson) were also known as the "Hampton 5" or the "Death Lineup".
2018–19 season: Warriors form an 'All-Star' team
As in 2016 when the Warriors signed Kevin Durant in free agency, the Warriors had reaffirmed their place as a "super team" cast when they signed Demarcus Cousins as a free agent from the New Orleans Pelicans in the 2018 off-season. Although he was injured when he joined the Warriors, he was still considered a dominant 'big man' with great skill and defensive tenacity which won him two All-NBA selections and been a four-time All-Star representative prior to the signing. He had joined a super team cast and the Golden State Warriors would be the first franchise in 42 years to be able to start five All-Star representatives (having all been All-Stars the previous year), one in each of the traditional basketball positions. It would be almost a year after his injury when Cousins would finally take the floor when the Warriors faced the Los Angeles Clippers on January 19, 2019, that the Warriors would be able to start all five perennial All-Stars in a game.
Other franchises look to create their own 'Big 3'
Oklahoma City Thunder: Russell Westbrook, Paul George, Carmelo Anthony
During the 2017 off-season, a year after Kevin Durant left for the Warriors, the Oklahoma City Thunder had moved to acquire Paul George, from the Indiana Pacers, and Carmelo Anthony, from the New York Knicks, to join Russel Westbrook in their bid to form their own 'Big 3' against the established Superteams: the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Anthony joined the Thunder as an aging star but had boasted 10 All-Star Appearances and 6 All-NBA selections whereas George was arriving at the prime of his career which had 4 All-Star appearances and 3 All-NBA selections as well. However, that would all come to an end the following season after a less-than-impressive showing by Carmelo that saw him traded to the Houston Rockets in their attempt to form a 'Big 3' along with James Harden and Chris Paul at the beginning of the 2018–19 season. Harden had been a part of the Houston organisation since he was traded from the OKC Thunder in 2012. He would have five All-Star appearances and four All-NBA selections by the time that Anthony joined his team. Paul joined the rockets from the Los Angeles Clippers at the start of the 2017–18 season and had arrived with 5 All-Star appearances and 4 All-NBA selections. This would also fail when after a few weeks into the season, the Rockets decided to trade Carmelo Anthony to the Chicago Bulls who would eventually waive him and thus ending the Houston 'Big 3'.
Toronto Raptors: Kawhi Leonard, Kyle Lowry, Pascal Siakam
During the 2018 off-season, the Toronto Raptors traded DeMar DeRozan to the San Antonio Spurs for four-time All-Star and two-time Defensive Player of the Year Kawhi Leonard. They began the 2018–19 NBA season 12–1, and finished the season with a 58–24 record. With Pascal Siakam winning the NBA Most Improved Player Award with averages of 16.9 points, 6.9 rebounds and 3.5 assists, the Raptors formed a 'Big 3' of Leonard, Siakam and 6-time All-Star Kyle Lowry. In the playoffs, the Raptors continued their successes, by beating the Orlando Magic in five games and the Philadelphia 76ers in seven games, capped by Leonard's historic buzzer-beater. They went on the beat the 60–22 Milwaukee Bucks with MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo in six games. Finally, they defeated the injury-plagued Warriors in six games in the NBA Finals to win their first NBA championship. Unfortunately, Kawhi decided to not return to the Raptors next season, and he ended up going to the Los Angeles Clippers.
Philadelphia 76ers: Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Jimmy Butler
On November 13, 2018, the Philadelphia 76ers made a mid-season trade for Jimmy Butler from the Minnesota Timberwolves to have him join up with their emerging superstars, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. Butler joined the team as a veteran with 4 All-Star, 2 All-NBA and 4 All-Defensive team selections to add to Embiid's growing talent (accumulating an All-Star, All-NBA and All-Defensive team selection) and Simmon's budding-superstar potential that would see him earn an All-Star appearance later that season. The 76ers would also move for Tobias Harris (had one of his best productive seasons averaging 20.9 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.7 assists), from the Clippers, on deadline day to add another 'star' to the Philadelphia starting lineup to create their own version of a 'Big 4'.
Brooklyn Nets: Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, James Harden
Near the start of the 2020–21 season, on January 13, 2021, the Brooklyn Nets traded for James Harden in a blockbuster 4-team trade, that reunited Harden with his Oklahoma City Thunder teammate Kevin Durant, and put him alongside All-Star Kyrie Irving to form a new super team in the East. Later they managed to sign former All-Star players LaMarcus Aldridge and Blake Griffin on waivers.
Pre-modern NBA: Great teams
Since superteams did not exist in the NBA before 2010, many have tried to retroactively apply the term to teams of the past, however. Multiple teams of the past had at least three Hall-of-Famers or other star players that joined forces to dominate the league and become a strong force that won an NBA Championship. Some - notably LeBron James fans - consider the Boston Celtics between 2007-08 and 2010-11 as the first modern "super team" after they traded for Kevin Garnett (a nine-time All-NBA and All-Star), and Ray Allen (seven-time All-Star and two-time All-NBA) from the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Seattle SuperSonics respectively, to join Paul Pierce (five-time All-Star and two-time All-NBA). However, many others saw the move as a last-ditch effort by old players to win a championship. This was evident when the newly formed Big 3 did not even enter the 2007–08 season as the title favorites. As the season went on, however, the Big 3 played extremely well together and would finish the regular season with a 66-16 record. They won their ring in the 2007–08 season, but with injures to their defending Defensive Player of the Year award winner, Kevin Garnett missing the playoffs, they would lose the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals in 7 games to the Orlando Magic, who would go on to lose the championship 1-4 to the Los Angeles Lakers. With Garnett coming off an injury, they would go to the Finals in the 2009–10 season, for a second time in three seasons, only to lose to the Los Angeles Lakers being led by Kobe Bryant, who won his second straight Finals Most Valuable Player award.
In the 1980s, the Los Angeles Lakers had a formidable team in the "Showtime" Lakers that had a roster that boasted multiple stars that included the trio of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (six-time MVP, nine-time All-Star and All-NBA) with Magic Johnson and James Worthy who each would go onto win multiple All-Star and All-NBA selections including a Finals MVP for Johnson in his rookie year. In a decade of this team together, they had won 5 NBA Championships and developed a culture of 'Hollywood-glamour' and entertaining basketball.
During this time, they had a 'rival dynasty' in the Boston Celtics who would challenge the 'Showtime' Lakers for NBA Championship Rings where they had won three during their reign. Although their core players were all young and had yet to make their mark, they would go onto win a number of accolades during the 80s that cemented their place as one of the most dominant teams of the decade, let alone the league. Throughout the 1980s, these accolades included for Larry Bird (nine All-Stars, three MVPs, 10 All-NBA and two Finals MVP), Robert Parish (seven All-Stars, two All-NBA), Kevin McHale (five All-Star, two All-NBA), and Dennis Johnson (five All-Star, two All-NBA and one Finals MVP), making them the dynasty of the East to their counterpart Lakers in the West.
There have been some controversies about the new 'Superteam' era that has been brought into the NBA. Claims persist that superstar players are no longer looking to make the game competitive but rather finding an easier way to attain an NBA Championship Ring and nullifying other contenders by joining with other superstars. From James' decision to the Miami Heat and Durant joining the all-time winning-est team in NBA history in the Golden State Warriors, there was derision from the media and fans in their choice to take an 'easy way' to the Finals and unbalance the NBA. However, there have been cases for both sides as others argue that the NBA still has its highest TV grossing revenue and that it was all done under the rules of the Salary Cap and that it's rather some entertainment in sports that should be enjoyed.