Underdogs to Champions: The Most Surprising NBA Title Runs

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Just like any other sport, the limelight often shines on the favorites in leagues like the National Basketball Association (NBA). But every so often, the underdogs have their fair share of glory, too.  These teams, often overlooked and underestimated, make their mark and remind us that in this sport, surprises are always just around the corner.

As NBA fans, we celebrate these dark horses of the NBA – the teams that defied the odds and turned the tables in their favor. So, let’s name some teams that have gone on to clinch the coveted NBA championship, overcoming pre-season predictions and creating some of the most thrilling narratives in sports history.

The 1995 Houston Rockets

The 1995 Houston Rockets were a classic underdog story, defying the NBA Championship Odds that year. During the regular season, they won only 47 games and lost 35, which was not considered great. But when the playoffs came around, something incredible happened. The team, led by legendary center Hakeem Olajuwon, found their stride and started winning. They didn’t just scrape by, either – they defeated four teams that had each won 50 or more games in the regular season.

This remarkable achievement has never been done before and hasn’t been repeated since. It’s one of the most surprising and inspiring moments in NBA history, reminding us all that it’s not how you start but how you finish that truly matters.

The 2004 Detroit Pistons

Under Coach Larry Brown’s guidance, the team initially underrated, grew into a strong force in the 2004 season. Key players like point guard Chauncey Billups, who was awarded the Finals MVP, and center Ben Wallace, known for his defensive prowess, played critical roles in the team’s success.

They faced the Los Angeles Lakers, a team full of superstars including Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant, in the NBA Finals. Despite the odds, the Pistons clinched the championship in a stunning 4-1 series victory. This marked the Pistons’ third championship title and their first since 1990.

Interestingly, the Pistons’ win made history as they became the team with the lowest regular season winning percentage (.659) to win an NBA championship since the NBA-ABA merger in 1976.

The 2011 Dallas Mavericks

The Mavericks, led by Dirk Nowitzki, were seen as clear underdogs when they entered the Finals against the Miami Heat and their formidable ‘Big Three’ – LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh.

This was the first season that the Heat’s ‘Big Three’ were playing together, and with three of the league’s top players on their roster, they were heavily favored to win the championship. However, the Mavericks had other plans. They put up a spirited fight, showing incredible resilience and teamwork throughout the series.

Dirk Nowitzki, one of the best “big men shooters,” was mainly instrumental in their success. His unique blend of height, shooting accuracy, and agility made him a nightmare matchup for the Heat. He averaged 26 points per game in the Finals and was rightfully awarded the Finals MVP.

Despite being the underdogs, the Mavericks pulled off a stunning upset, beating the Heat 4-2 in the series. This victory marked the Mavericks’ first NBA championship in franchise history, making it an even more significant achievement.

The 2016 Cleveland Cavaliers

The team, led by the imperious LeBron James, accomplished what seemed impossible, overturning a 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals against the formidable Golden State Warriors. This was an unprecedented feat, as no team in NBA history had ever returned from such a deficit in the Finals.

The Warriors, with their ‘Splash Brothers’ – Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, were a force to be reckoned with. They had set an NBA record that season with 73 wins and seemed invincible. But the Cavaliers, undeterred, rose to the challenge.

LeBron James and Kyrie Irving put on a series of stellar performances. James, in particular, demonstrated why he is often considered one of the greatest players in NBA history. He averaged a double-double over the series with 29.7 points and 11.3 rebounds per game, earning him the Finals MVP.

Their victory ended a major championship drought for Cleveland, which had not seen a major sports title for 52 years.

The 2020 Los Angeles Lakers

The 2020 Los Angeles Lakers championship run was an emotional and triumphant journey marked by resilience and dedication. After a decade without a championship and the heartbreaking loss of Lakers’ legend Kobe Bryant earlier in the year, the team came together to honor their fallen comrade in the most fitting way possible – by winning the championship.

Led by LeBron James and Anthony Davis, the Lakers showcased a perfect blend of experience and talent. James, with his leadership and unmatched basketball IQ, and Davis, with his versatility and defensive prowess, formed a formidable duo that proved too much for their opponents.

Their victory was not just about basketball. It was about healing and unity. It was a tribute to Kobe Bryant, whose mamba mentality had been the driving force behind the Lakers for years. His tragic loss served as a rallying cry for the team, and their win was a testament to their resolve to carry forward his legacy.


The NBA is a rich source of underdog stories that embody the thrill and unpredictability intrinsic to the sport. These narratives of resilience, teamwork, and unyielding determination not only amplify the excitement of the games but also shine a light on the essence of true sportsmanship. They exemplify the power of determination and self-belief, showing that any team, regardless of the odds stacked against them, can overcome challenges and triumph.

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Fortunes Crown

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