What is considered the best era of NBA basketball has witnessed two different conferences dominate, for two different decades. From the 69-70s to the 07-08s, the east has won 11 titles to the west’s 5. But how have the past 10 years compared to this? How have the west fared against the east?
The NBA is a two-conference league, so let’s look at the last 19 NBA Championships since the Jordan era. Over the past 19 years, the Western Conference has won 11 of the last 19 NBA championships, while the Eastern Conference has only won one. Via this ranking, it’s clear that the West has continued to dominate throughout the majority of this time period. Today, the West has the top 3 players in the league, while the East has only got one. For the Eastern Conference to get back on track, they will need to make strides in getting more players drafted into the NBA.
Over the past two decades, the NBA has had some of the best teams in the league, and the two conferences have paid back to the league with some of the most memorable and competitive series of all-time. Both conferences have produced extremely talented and successful teams and players since the NBA began its current divisional format in the 1985-86 season, and the West and East have matched up in 19 of the last 24 NBA Finals.
The NBA has taken on a whole new image since Michael Jordan retired. To appeal to a wider audience, the game gradually modified to favor attacking players while reducing the roughness of the game. Even the tiniest amount of physicality now earns you a penalty in the shape of a regular foul or even a technical foul. That makes one question how Michael Jordan would perform in the current age if he didn’t have to deal with much defensive opposition.
However, the NBA environment has changed in favor of one conference over the other since 1999. Jordan and the Chicago Bulls won six NBA championships in eight years, dominating the Eastern Conference, which included the Larry Bird-led Boston Celtics and Isiah Thomas-led Detroit Pistons. Since then, the league has changed dramatically, and the title winners are shown here for each year through 2021. It’s time to find out which conference has been the most difficult since 1999.
San Antonio Spurs, 1999 (West vs. East 1-0)
With a title, the San Antonio Spurs began the post-Michael Jordan era. The Jeff Van Gundy New York Knicks were easily dispatched by Tim Duncan and David Robinson, who were a twin-tower powerhouse. In a lockout-shortened season, the Spurs faced an unexpected opponent in the Knicks. New York was just the eighth seed in the East, and they were anticipated to fade away.
However, led by Patrick Ewing, the club utilized their rugged style of play to reach the NBA Finals. Unfortunately for them, their road was too tough, as Gregg Popovich guided the Spurs to a five-game championship victory. With Tim Duncan winning Finals MVP and ushering in an era of dominance, the West takes a 1-0 lead in the matchup.
Los Angeles Lakers, year 2000 (West vs. East 2-0)
Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, Phil Jackson, and the Los Angeles Lakers would define the following three years. No team could match the Lakers’ dominance, which was spearheaded by Shaquille O’Neal, the NBA’s most dominating big man. The Lakers were an unstoppable force with Shaq and Kobe Bryant’s ascension to superstardom. It was the start of a decade-long run of supremacy for the Lakers, who were playing in their new home, Staples Center.
Phil Jackson, the former coach of the Chicago Bulls, was hired by the Lakers to manage the club, and he did it admirably. Kobe Bryant, 21, was named to the All-Defensive Team, Shaq was named MVP, and the Lakers went into the playoffs with confidence. The Lakers advanced to the NBA Finals, beating the Indiana Pacers in six games, and O’Neal was named Finals MVP for the first time.
Los Angeles Lakers, 2001 (West vs. East 3-0)
The Lakers were a force again the next season. Phil Jackson returned as coach, Shaq remained the team’s most dominating big man, and Kobe Bryant established himself as a true superstar. Horace Grant, a former Chicago Bulls champion, was signed by the Lakers, and the rest is history. Shaquille O’Neal was named to the All-NBA First Team, while Kobe Bryant was named to the All-NBA Second Team.
This Lakers team has the potential to be the most dominating ever. They were 15-1 in the playoffs, only falling in Game 1 of the NBA Finals against the 76ers, who were led by MVP Allen Iverson. They were probably the most dominating team of their era going into the 2002 season, with Shaquille O’Neal winning Finals MVP for the second time.
Los Angeles Lakers, 2002 (West vs. East 4-0)
The Lakers were back in business once again. They had their two superstars back, but this time Kobe would win the All-Star Game MVP while also being named to the All-Defensive Team. Both Kobe and Shaq were named to the All-NBA First Team and were focused on putting their disagreements aside in order to win their third consecutive title.
And they accomplished it by sweeping the Trail Blazers, beating the Spurs in five games, and controversially terminating the Sacramento Kings’ season in seven games. Despite claims that the officials enabled the Lakers to win, they advanced to the NBA Finals and swept the New Jersey Nets to complete a three-peat. As things stand, they are the last team to complete a three-peat.
San Antonio Spurs, 2003 (West vs. East 5-0)
The Big Three era, headed by Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili, began in the 2003 season. Duncan would win his second consecutive MVP award, while Parker would improve in his second season. Manu Ginobili, who had just been acquired, was also a huge help for the club, which was still coached by Gregg Popovich and David Robinson, who was in his last season.
The Spurs would go on to win the NBA Finals in six games, beating Jason Kidd and the New Jersey Nets. This Spurs squad may be the greatest of all time in terms of sheer skill and roster depth. San Antonio would become a force to be reckoned with for the remainder of the decade and beyond thanks to Duncan’s domination as the greatest power forward in the game.
The Detroit Pistons won the NBA championship in 2004. (West vs. East 5-1)
The 2004 Pistons were a unique collection of players who exemplified the importance of teamwork above individual performance. The Pistons, unlike the Los Angeles Lakers, who finished second this season, did not have any great players whose egos got in the way of the team. Rather, the club acquired scoring power forward Rasheed Wallace, who will join Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, and Ben Wallace in a strong starting five.
The Pistons would upset the Los Angeles Lakers, who added future Hall of Famers Gary Payton and Karl Malone, as well as Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant, to their roster. The Lakers lacked team cohesiveness, while the Pistons were dominating defensively and won the NBA championship with Billups as Finals MVP. O’Neal was moved to the Miami Heat soon after the 2004 season, making it one of the most unexpected seasons ever.
San Antonio Spurs, 2005 (West vs. East 6-1)
The San Antonio Spurs would once again be the NBA’s most talked-about team. The Spurs finished second in the Western Conference, led by Tim Duncan, and both Duncan and Manu Ginobili were named to the All-Star Team. The Spurs were once again a force in the playoffs.
They faced the Nuggets and the SuperSonics in the playoffs before defeating MVP Steve Nash and the Phoenix Suns in the Western Conference Finals. In the NBA Finals, they played the defending champions, the Detroit Pistons, in a seven-game series. Duncan and Ginobili combined for 48 points in Game 7 to help the Spurs win 81-74, and Duncan was named Finals MVP.
Miami Heat – 2006 (West vs. East 6-2)
Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat completed a remarkable comeback against MVP Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks in the 2006 NBA season, making them one of the most unlikely NBA winners in history. The Heat, headed by All-Star Dwyane Wade and Shaquille O’Neal, were a fantastic team, but they should not have fought back from a 2-0 hole against the dominating Dallas Mavericks.
The Heat would win the Finals due to Dwyane Wade’s historically outstanding Finals series, in which he averaged 34.7 points per game, 7.8 rebounds per game, 3.8 assists per game, 2.7 steals per game, and 1.0 block per game. The Heat would go on to win four straight games before losing the series in six games, limiting Dirk to just 39.0 percent shooting from the field.
San Antonio Spurs, 2007 (West vs. East 7-2)
The San Antonio Spurs would repeat as champions, defeating LeBron James, 22, and a below-average Cleveland Cavaliers team. Tony Parker was outstanding throughout the series, topping all scorers with 24.5 points per possession and earning Finals MVP. Of course, the Spurs still had Tim Duncan (18.3 points per game and 11.5 rebounds per game) and Manu Ginobili (17.8 points per game and 5.8 rebounds per game) on the roster.
Despite LeBron’s best efforts, his squad was no match for the Spurs, who swept them in four games. This would be LeBron’s first Finals defeat, but he bears little responsibility for the series since he was just 22 years old at the time and lacked All-Star quality teammates. Regardless, the Spurs would win their fourth NBA championship since 1999.
Boston Celtics, 2008 (West vs. East 7-3)
When the Boston Celtics brought in Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to join Paul Pierce, they made some of the greatest deals in NBA history. Pierce had been a devoted Celtic for so long that the team rewarded him with the finest lineup he had ever seen. The Celtics, led by the Big Three and a young Rajon Rondo, are the most talented team in the NBA, even ahead of the Lakers.
The Lakers acquired Pau Gasol from the Memphis Grizzlies and paired him with Kobe Bryant. Pau Gasol was expected to be Shaquille O’Neal’s successor in many respects. Despite Gasol’s contributions, the Lakers were swept by the Celtics in the Finals, including a 39-point hammering in Game 6. After trailing 1-3 in the series, the Lakers were anticipated to lose, and it was Boston’s turn to rule once again, with Paul Pierce earning Finals MVP.
Los Angeles Lakers, 2009 (West vs. East 8-3)
For the first time since 2002, the Los Angeles Lakers would be on top of the globe. With Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum on the squad, Kobe Bryant got the support he needed to make up for the loss he had suffered the year before. The Orlando Magic had a lot of shooters surrounding defensive standout Dwight Howard, but head coach Stan Van Gundy made an unwise move to put Jameer Nelson back in the lineup, which threw off the team’s chemistry.
The Lakers took advantage of the situation, winning the series in five games. Bryant was the series’ best player, averaging 32.4 points per game, 5.6 rebounds per game, and 7.4 assists per game on his way to his fourth title and first Finals MVP. During the series, Howard averaged a monstrous 15.4 PPG and 15.2 RPG, but Bryant was a man possessed and would not be stopped.
Los Angeles Lakers, 2010 (West vs. East 9-3)
Kobe and the Lakers would win again a year later. The Lakers’ great combination of Bryant and Gasol were back, and Phil Jackson was on a mission to win his 11th NBA title. The Lakers found themselves in a rematch with their arch-rival Boston Celtics, which seemed fitting. Unlike the 2008 series, the Lakers put up a strong fight.
The series would stretch seven games, and it would take clutch heroics from Metta Sandiford-Artest (previously Ron Artest) and Pau Gasol to compensate for Bryant’s poor 6-24 shooting performance. Bryant would earn Finals MVP despite averaging 28.6 points per game and 8.0 rebounds per game throughout the series, and leading all scorers with 23 points in Game 7.
Dallas Mavericks, 2011 (West vs. East 10-3)
When the Dallas Mavericks defeated a far more talented Miami Heat squad assembled by LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh during free agency, they accomplished one of the most improbable championship wins in NBA history. The Mavericks possessed a superstar in Dirk Nowitzki and several competent veterans, but they handled the Heat badly. But it occurred, primarily because Dirk was on a mission and LeBron James was having his worst season.
During the series, LeBron James was outscored by Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Dirk Nowitzki, and Jason Terry, and he played one of the most surprising roles for his team. James was passive, didn’t want the ball, and seemed to be crumbling under the strain of being on a great team. Over the following two seasons, the King would right his wrongs, but Dirk and the Mavericks were clinical in their 6-game triumph.
Miami Heat – 2012 (West vs. East 10-4)
LeBron James won his first NBA championship with the Miami Heat in a matchup against the Oklahoma City Thunder, who were led by Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. James made up for his mistakes from the previous season by averaging 28.6 points per game, 10.2 rebounds per game, and 7.4 assists per game. Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh aided James, but it was all about The King.
The Miami Heat ignored the commotion and concentrated on becoming the league’s most skilled team, with the youthful Thunder having little chance. The Thunder won Game 1 due to Kevin Durant’s 36 points, but it was not to be for Oklahoma City, as James Harden struggled throughout the series, while LeBron won Finals MVP.
Miami Heat – 2013 (West vs. East 10-5)
LeBron’s second NBA championship came against his long-time nemesis, the San Antonio Spurs. LeBron and the Cavaliers were swept by the Spurs in 2007, but this time LeBron would have a team behind him. The series would be close throughout, with both sides splitting the first six games. It all came down to Game 7, where LeBron James would have one of his greatest performances of his career.
In a closeout Game 7, James scored 37 points, hitting jump jumpers as Gregg Popovich begged for his defenders to sag. The Spurs used that approach throughout the game, forcing LeBron to settle for jumpers rather than scoring at the rim. The King, on the other hand, made them pay by winning his second NBA championship in a row as the Eastern Conference’s representative.
San Antonio Spurs, 2014 (West vs. East 11-5)
In 2014, the San Antonio Spurs exacted sweet vengeance on the Miami Heat, sweeping them in five games. At his age, Tim Duncan was still the greatest inside defender, while Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili were still important pieces in Gregg Popovich’s scheme. Kawhi Leonard, though, came as a two-way superstar.
The Spurs were strong on both ends, with Kawhi Leonard leading the charge in guarding LeBron James throughout the series. With Duncan earning his fifth title and Kawhi Leonard winning his first NBA Finals MVP, the Spurs were just too strong to be defeated.
Golden State Warriors, 2015 (West vs. East 12-5)
The Golden State Warriors embarked on a five-year dynasty in 2015. All season, they had a great core of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, and head coach Steve Kerr unleashed the “Lineup of Death,” which included Andre Iguodala at power forward and Draymond Green at center. This combination was unstoppable and would usher in a new age of basketball.
The Warriors were the favorites in the West, but they were up against a formidable opponent in the Cleveland Cavaliers. LeBron James returned to Cleveland to reunite with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, who are also All-Stars. However, both of The King’s stars would suffer injuries, leaving him with just Matthew Dellavedova to depend on. LeBron James tried but fell short, leaving the Warriors with the NBA championship and Andre Iguodala with his first and only Finals MVP award.
Cleveland Cavaliers – 2016 (West vs. East 12-6)
The Cleveland Cavaliers accomplished the greatest amazing Finals comeback in NBA history by overcoming a 3-1 hole and defeating the record-breaking 73-9 Golden State Warriors to win the NBA title. During the series, LeBron James was nearly superhuman, while Kyrie Irving overcame Stephen Curry in Game 7 with one of the most clutch baskets in Finals history.
Cleveland was not anticipated to have a chance in this series, but LeBron James would not be denied his third title and first with the Cavaliers. LeBron averaged 29.7 points per game, 11.3 rebounds per game, and 8.9 assists per game, while Irving added 27.1 points per game. The Warriors would not be able to repeat as Western Conference champions in 2016, despite the fact that the following two years would be in their advantage.
Golden State Warriors – 2017 (West vs. East 13-6)
Kevin Durant reached the NBA Finals for the second time in his career in his debut season with the Golden State Warriors. His first Finals participation was cut short due to a Miami Heat superteam, but this time he had his own superteam.
LeBron James and his teammates have no chance with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and Andre Iguodala all back. Durant took his vengeance on LeBron James in the Finals, sweeping the series in five games and extending Golden State’s reign of terror for another two years.
Golden State Warriors – 2018 (West vs. East 14-6)
Kevin Durant and the Golden State Warriors were once again a formidable opponent. Even with a healthy Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love joining LeBron James, the Cleveland Cavaliers had no chance. Durant scored 28.8 points per game in the series and was named Finals MVP for the second time in a row.
Many people chastised the Warriors for dismantling the Cavaliers so easily in the Finals, yet it was precisely because of this that Durant departed Oklahoma City in free agency. He understood that playing with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson would earn him rings, and he did so while helping the Golden State Warriors maintain their dynasty.
Toronto Raptors (2019) (West vs. East 14-7)
When Kawhi Leonard led the Raptors to the NBA championship in 2019, he completed one of the best seasons in NBA history by a superstar. The Raptors made significant moves to get Leonard, Danny Green, and Marc Gasol to the team, due to Masai Ujiri’s foresight. While franchise point guard Kyle Lowry was still on the club, these three formed a new starting lineup.
Many people thought Kawhi Leonard didn’t want to be in Toronto, but he was the greatest player in the league on his way to his second NBA title and second Finals MVP. The Raptors got a reprieve in the Finals when Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson were injured, but their journey to the Finals was really remarkable.
Los Angeles Lakers, 2020 (West vs. East 15-7)
The Los Angeles Lakers won their 17th NBA title by taking advantage of a shorter season and the addition of superstar Anthony Davis. With Anthony Davis and Finals MVP LeBron James leading the way, the Lakers dominated the Miami Heat in six games.
No team had a chance in the playoffs against the Lakers, who were by far the most skilled and physical team in the league. The Portland Trail Blazers barely qualified for the playoffs, the Houston Rockets were a joke, and the Denver Nuggets were worn out from numerous 7-game series. The Heat were forced to play without Bam Adebayo and Goran Dragic in the Finals, perhaps making them the worst team in NBA Finals history. Even yet, the Lakers took care of business, with LeBron winning his fourth and last title for the West.
Milwaukee Bucks in 2021 (West vs. East 15-8)
The Milwaukee Bucks are the most recent NBA champions and the eighth Eastern Conference club to reach the finals. The Bucks made a 0-2 comeback against the Phoenix Suns, and Giannis Antetokounmpo was named Finals MVP after a dramatic Game 6 closeout.
Giannis Antetokounmpo’s 50-point onslaught, which featured an accurate 17-19 shooting night from their usually unreliable superstar, helped the Bucks win Game 6. Throughout the series, the Suns failed to contain Antetokounmpo, and Milwaukee punished them again and time again. Along with Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon, Giannis became the third player in NBA history to win MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, and Finals MVP.
Which Conference Has a Longer History of Being Tougher?
Since Michael Jordan’s retirement, the Western League has produced some of the greatest teams in NBA history, making it the harder conference. The Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio Spurs are responsible for 11 of the past 19 Western Conference titles, while the Warriors and Mavericks are responsible for the other four. The Spurs and Lakers dynasties were especially impressive to watch, since they included some of the greatest players of all time, including Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, and Tim Duncan.
LeBron James, who played for the Miami Heat and Cleveland Cavaliers, was a big part of the East’s success. The 2008 Boston Celtics superteam was a unique combination of players, as were the 2004 Detroit Pistons, who dominated the league in defensive performance. The 2006 Heat had Shaquille O’Neal, and the most recent winners, the Toronto Raptors and Milwaukee Bucks, had great teams as well. However, since Michael Jordan’s final NBA victory, the West has won the most championships and had the greatest players in terms of total victories and skill.
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For the last 19 years since the Michael Jordan era, only the West has managed to win the NBA title. And in the last two years, the disparity in conference titles seems to be getting worse. Since the departure of LeBron James the Lakers have only managed one title in 2012, while the Spurs have managed to win three in that period that includes their first in 2014. Since the Michael Jordan era, the Lakers have won the title six times, while the Spurs have won six times, with the Lakers winning twice in the last 19 years, while the Spurs have won 11 times in that period. And if the Lakers win the championship this year, it will be the 11th time they have won the title in the last 19 years, so it will. Read more about how many rings does phil jackson have as a coach and player and let us know what you think.
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