Which team is the most dominant in professional sports history? originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia
A champion is crowned every single year in professional sports. Some teams display dominance over the entire season, while others get hot in the postseason to win their titles. All championships are measured the same way, but certain teams clearly stand out ahead of others.
Philadelphia has seen its fair share of dominance -- the 2017-18 Eagles, 1967 Sixers and 2008 Phillies come to mind. Did any of them make the cut as the most dominant team in their league's history? Let’s take a look:
Candidates: 1985-86 Boston Celtics (67-15, 15-3 playoffs), 1995-96 Chicago Bulls (72-10, 15-3 playoffs), 2000-01 Los Angeles Lakers (56-26, 15-1 playoffs), 2016-17 Golden State Warriors (67-15, 16-1 playoffs)
Between the Boston and Los Angeles dynasties in the 1980s, no single team was more dominant than the 1985-86 Celtics. Future Hall of Famers Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish, Dennis Johnson and Bill Walton combined to give the Celtics their second-best record in franchise history. The Celtics also held the best home record in NBA history at 40-1 in the regular season and 10-0 in the playoffs.
It’s hard to pick just one Bulls team for this list. Jordan and Co. had an insane stretch of six titles in eight seasons from 1991 to 1998. The best of the bunch, though, came in 1995-96. Chicago set the record for most regular-season wins at the time, going 72-10. Unlike the 73-win Warriors of 2015-16, the Bulls sealed the deal with a ring.
Similar to the Bulls, it’s difficult to narrow down just one team from the Shaquille O’Neal-Kobe Bryant Lakers as the most dominant. The 2000-01 bunch stands out because of its 15-1 postseason run. Los Angeles only went 56-26 in the regular season but asserted its dominance in the playoffs, sweeping away the No. 7 Portland Trail Blazers, No. 3 Sacramento Kings and No. 1 San Antonio Spurs. O’Neal and Bryant averaged 30.4 and 29.4 points per game, respectively, in 16 playoff games.
The only team to top the Lakers’ 15-1 postseason record was the 2016-17 Warriors, who went 16-1. Fresh off a devastating Finals loss to LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers, the Warriors added Kevin Durant and didn’t look back. Durant, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson all averaged at least 22 points per game. Golden State cruised to a 67-15 record and had no trouble in the postseason, only losing Game 4 of the Finals after winning 15 straight games.
Most dominant: 2016-17 Golden State Warriors
Candidates: 1927 New York Yankees (110-44, 4-0 playoffs), 1975 Cincinnati Reds (108-54, 7-3 playoffs) 1998 New York Yankees (114-48, 11-2 playoffs), 2018 Boston Red Sox (108-54, 11-3 playoffs)
The Yankees won 20 championships over 40 years from 1923 to 1962, so how did we single out 1927 as their most dominant of that stretch? Just look at the facts. The ‘27 Yankees won the pennant by 19 games over the Philadelphia Athletics. Babe Ruth hit a then-record 60 home runs to lead the famed Murderers’ Row. New York then swept the Pittsburgh Pirates in the World Series, outscoring the Buccos 23-10.
Skipping way ahead in baseball history, the 1975 Reds rival any team ever. Cincinnati won its division by 20 games with a 108-54 record. Joe Morgan won NL MVP, while Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Tony Perez and Dave Concepcion joined Morgan as All-Stars. It took seven iconic games to beat the Red Sox in the World Series, but this team should be remembered for its stacked lineup and stout pitching.
The Yankees had 23 World Series rings entering the 1998 season, but New York never saw a team like the ‘98 squad. Joe Torre’s club won 114 games (second-most ever), had six All-Stars and went 11-2 in the postseason (including a World Series sweep). Led by Derek Jeter, Paul O’Neill, Scott Brosius and Co., the Yankees scored a league-leading 985 runs. The playoffs were a breeze as the Yankees won their first of three straight titles.
Baseball is a sport with such a long history that it’s rare to have an all-time great team in every era. Lucky for MLB fans, they witnessed an all-time squad just three years ago with the 2018 Red Sox. Boston opened the season 17-2 as Mookie Betts was named AL MVP. The playoffs were just as easy for the Sox, as they dispatched the 100-win Yankees 3-1, the 103-win Astros 4-1 and the back-to-back NL champion Dodgers 4-1.
Most dominant: 1998 New York Yankees
Candidates: 1972 Miami Dolphins (14-0, 3-0 playoffs), 1984 San Francisco 49ers (15-1, 3-0 playoffs), 1985 Chicago Bears (15-1, 3-0 playoffs), 2007 New England Patriots (16-0, 2-1 playoffs)
The 1972 Dolphins still wear the crown as the only unbeaten team in NFL history. The regular season was remarkable, outsourcing opponents 385-171 while employing the league’s best total offense and defense. In the postseason, all three games were decided by seven points or less and the offense never scored over 21 points. The Dolphins were running out of steam in the playoffs, but the dominance shown to complete an undefeated season is incredible.
Just 12 years after the Dolphins’ perfect season, the 1984 49ers nearly ran the table. San Francisco’s only loss came in Week 7 to the Pittsburgh Steelers, a 20-17 game where a late field goal broke the tie. After a 15-1 regular season led by Joe Montana and the NFL’s top scoring offense, the 49ers breezed through the postseason. All three playoff games were decided by more than one possession, including a 38-16 victory over the Dolphins in Super Bowl XIX.
The ‘85 Bears are perhaps the most iconic team in NFL history, but are they the most dominant? It’s a pretty compelling case. Chicago went 15-1 in the regular season, allowing just 12.4 points per game and allowing under 10 points in seven of 16 games. The postseason was more of the same for Mike Ditka’s team, as it shut out the New York Giants (21-0) and Los Angeles Rams (24-0) before just obliterating the Patriots in Super Bowl XX (46-10).
To be the most dominant team in NFL history, you have to win the Super Bowl … right? The ‘07 Patriots are the only team to potentially challenge that notion. Tom Brady (passing) and Randy Moss (receiving) both set the single-season touchdown record for their positions. Only four of 16 regular-season games were within one possession. The Pats also set the then-record with 589 points scored in the regular season. Bill Belichick’s team just couldn’t solve the Giants’ defense in its Super Bowl XLII loss.
Most dominant: 1985 Chicago Bears
Candidates: 1976-77 Montreal Canadiens (60-8-12, 12-2 playoffs), 1984-85 Edmonton Oilers (49-20-11, 15-3 playoffs), 1991-92 Pittsburgh Penguins (39-32-9, 16-5 playoffs)
No team in NHL history scored more points in a season than the 1976-77 Canadiens (60-8-12, 132 points). Led by the wing duo of Guy Lafleur and Steve Shutt, Montreal led the league in both goals scored (387) and goals allowed (171). This Canadiens’ roster had an incredible 10 future Hall of Famers as they swept their rival Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup Final.
The 1984-85 Oilers won their second straight title, and while their record was worse than the year prior, this team was more dominant. Edmonton was one of just five teams in NHL history to exceed 400 goals scored. Wayne Gretzky won the Hart Trophy (sixth straight) and the Art Ross Trophy (fifth straight). Paul Coffey won the Norris Trophy. Jari Kurri won the Lady Byng. The Oilers also opened the postseason by winning nine straight games before beating the Philadelphia Flyers 4-1 in the Stanley Cup Final.
Similar to the 1984-85 Oilers, the 1991-92 Penguins won their second straight title after a worse record season. Led by legendary coach Scott Bowman in his first season with the team, Pittsburgh worked through their regular season troubles and thrived in the postseason. As the lower seed in all four playoff rounds, Pittsburgh defeated the top two teams in the East and won nine straight to close the playoffs. Mario Lemieux led a team with seven Hall of Famers for his second and final Stanley Cup.
Most dominant: 1976-77 Montreal Canadiens
It's always interesting to debate dominance in team sports. Dominance in individual sports is a bit easier to narrow down. Here's a look at some of the best individual athletes in various sports:
Who is the most dominant golfer?
No player dominated golf quite like Tiger Woods in his prime. From 1997 to 2008, Woods won 14 of the 46 major championships and finished in the top 10 29 times. He is second all-time with 15 career major championships and five Masters Tournament wins. Woods is also tied with Sam Snead for the most PGA Tour event wins (82).
Who is the most dominant tennis player?
Serena Williams’ pure dominance of her sport is remarkable. The younger Williams sister has won 23 Grand Slams (one behind Margaret Court’s record), with the first in 1998 and the most recent in 2017. She won a Grand Slam in 14 of 19 years from 1998 through 2017. In addition to her singular dominance, Williams has 14 Grand Slam titles in doubles with her sister Venus Williams.
Who is the most dominant swimmer?
No Olympic athlete is more decorated than Michael Phelps. He ruled the sport of swimming from the moment he jumped in the water. Phelps competed in the 2000 Summer Olympics when he was just 15 years old. While he didn’t medal, it was the start of a legendary career. Over the next four games (2004, 2008, 2012, 2016), Phelps won a record 23 gold medals, including a record eight gold medals at the 2008 Beijing Games.
Who is the most dominant track and field athlete?
From the fastest man in the water, we now present the faster man on land. Bolt was a perfect nine for nine on gold medals in Olympic events before a teammate was busted for doping and his relay team was stripped of its gold in 2016. The Jamaican athlete is the only sprinter in history to win the 100m and 200m dashes at three consecutive Olympics (2008, 2012, 2016).
Who is the most dominant racecar driver?
We’ve covered speed in the water and on foot, so how about in a car? Former NASCAR driver Jimmie Johnson qualifies as the most dominant in his sport’s history. He’s tied with Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty for most Cup Series championships in history with seven and is tied for sixth all-time with 83 career wins. So, what makes Johnson so dominant? It’s the run he had from 2006 to 2010, when he won a record five straight championships.
Logan Reardon contributed to this story.