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5 Toughest NBA Championship runs of the 21st century 

LeBron and the Lakers won the 2020 NBA Finals in the Orlando bubble.
LeBron and the Lakers won the 2020 NBA Finals in the Orlando bubble.
Modified 19 Dec 2020, 02:11 IST

Winning an NBA Championship is the ultimate goal for every franchise. Last season, the LA Lakers won their 17th NBA championship after a dominant run in the Orlando Bubble. Many, including Finals MVP winner LeBron James, have described this championship as one of the hardest ever won.

A topic of heated discussion is that not all championships are equal. Experts, fans, and analysts often debate over which title was more important than the other.

It is true that some championships were definitely harder to achieve. With that in mind, we take a look at the five toughest NBA title runs from the 21st century.

Top 5 hardest NBA title runs in the 21st century

The LA Lakers' 2020 championship was anything but easy but then, there are no easy NBA championships. While people point out the lack of fans in the stands as a pressure-release for the players, the bubble environment had its own unique obstacles.

On that note, let us review the five toughest NBA title runs from the 21st century.

#5 San Antonio Spurs - 2003 NBA Playoffs

2003 NBA champions. Photo Credit: AP.
2003 NBA champions. Photo Credit: AP.

The 2002-03 San Antonio Spurs were arguably the greatest San Antonio team ever. Tim Duncan won his second MVP in the regular season and David 'The Admiral' Robinson was still with the team.


The team already had Tony Parker and Manu Ginóbili in their backcourt. Stephen Jackson, Bruce Bowen, Malik Rose, Steve Smith, and Steve Kerr formed a solid supporting cast.

The Spurs took over the NBA in the regular season with a 60-22 record and advanced in a stacked Western Conference.

The Spurs faced the 44-38 Phoenix Suns in the first round and won a hard-fought six-game series against Shawn Marion, Stephon Marbury, Penny Hardaway, and Amar'e Stoudemire.

In the second round, the Spurs put an end to the Shaquille O'Neal - Kobe Bryant Lakers' (50-32) run of three consecutive NBA titles after a six-game series.

San Antonio then defeated the 60-22 Dallas Mavericks with Dirk Nowitzki, Steve Nash, Michael Finley, and Nick Van Exel in the WCF.

In the NBA Finals, the Spurs won the championship against the Jason Kidd-led New Jersey Nets.

Their NBA title run included defeats of the reigning three-time NBA champions, LA Lakers, and a 60-win Dallas team with two Hall-of-Fame players in their prime.

#4 Detroit Pistons - 2004 NBA Playoffs

Photo Credit: Detroit Free Press.
Photo Credit: Detroit Free Press.

The 2003-04 Detroit Pistons had a solid group of players who had played in the previous year's Eastern Conference Finals. However, a mid-season trade for forward Rasheed Wallace made them a truly great team.

Still, other teams in the East (Indiana Pacers and the New Jersey Nets) and in the West (LA Lakers, San Antonio Spurs, and the Minnesota Timberwolves) were tipped as favorites to make it to the NBA Finals.

However, Detroit became one of the greatest defensive teams in NBA history and managed to complete an unlikely but incredible NBA title run.

Detroit (third seed in the East) defeated Ray Allen and the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round. They went on to beat the reigning Eastern champions, New Jersey Nets in seven games (without home-court advantage) in the second round.

The Indiana Pacers were the number one seed in the East and hosted Detroit in the Eastern Conference Finals. However, Larry Brown's team handed Jermaine O'Neal, Ron Artest, and Reggie Miller a six-game loss in the ECF.


In the NBA Finals, Detroit competed against the LA Lakers. The Shaq - Kobe duo also had Karl Malone and Gary Payton on their side. However, Chauncey Billups, Ben Wallace, Rasheed Wallace, Tayshaun Prince, and Richard Hamilton defeated that famous Lakers team in five games.

The LA Lakers did have a few locker-room issues, but they had dominated the Western Conference in the NBA Playoffs until Detroit stopped them in the Finals.

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Published 19 Dec 2020, 02:11 IST
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