In my ten years of watching professional sports, I’ve seen my fair share of dominant, historic teams that demolished competition and racked up championships. But for each one that won the championship, there was the great team that should’ve won or could’ve won but lost, and some of those were never able to overcome the hump before their window closed. These are the best 12 teams, from the NBA, NFL and MLB, that should’ve won titles during my 10 years watching sports and did not.
- Oklahoma City Thunder
A case can be made that the three most valuable players in the NBA are Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook, Houston’s James Harden and Golden State’s Kevin Durant. Each one was on the Oklahoma City Thunder team that reached the NBA Finals in 2011-12 and won only one Finals game in their brief time together. That’s a shame, because looking back now, that team on paper could have neared dynasty status. But when Harden was traded and Durant left, Oklahoma City dropped far out of title contention.
- San Francisco 49ers
For three straight years, the 49ers reached the NFC championship game and were arguably the best team in the conference. With running back Frank Gore and electrifying quarterback Colin Kaepernick as the driving forces of a punishing rushing attack and the league’s top defense with linebackers Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman, Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks and the conference’s top coach in Jim Harbaugh, the 49ers should’ve been a team for the ages. Yet they reached the Big Game only once, losing to the Ravens in XLVII, and are now one of the worst teams in the league and without Kap, Harbaugh, Gore, Willis and even their stadium.
- Cleveland Indians
The Indians could very well win the World Series this year, but they were bitterly close to beating the Chicago Cubs in the Fall Classic and ending a 68-year World Series drought. The team boasted baseball’s best rotation, two aces in the bullpen and a ton of talent in the lineup, along with one of the best managers of his generation in Terry Francona. The Indians also held a 3-1 lead and blew multiple chances to win Game 7 in the late innings.
- Carolina Panthers
For most of the 2015 season, we were wondering whether the Panthers should be considered one of the best teams of all-time. Quarterback Cam Newton, the league’s MVP, led an unstoppable offense that tallied 500 points and were the best team in the NFC in rushing touchdowns and rushing yards. The defense almost as good, with Defensive Player of the Year Luke Kuechly at the helm and superstars such as corner Josh Norman, linebacker Thomas Davis and defensive tackle Kawann Short. After demolishing a very talented Arizona team in the NFC Conference Championship game, the Panthers fell victim to Von Miller and the Denver Broncos and missed the playoffs last season.
- Atlanta Falcons
Under offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and league MVP Matt Ryan, the high-flying Falcons were one of the best offenses of all-time and famously held a 28-3 lead over the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LI. The offense, with receiver Julio Jones and running backs Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman, was multidimensional and creative and the defense did enough to keep the team in games. But Tom Brady and the Patriots ensured that the Falcons wouldn’t win their first Super Bowl in franchise history by staging a comeback for the ages.
- Phoenix Suns
Even today, the Suns teams of the 2000s are regarded as some of the finest offenses of all time, despite never reaching the Finals. Phoenix was led by a transcendent head coach in Mike D’Antoni and had two-time MVP point guard Steve Nash running the show. Add in center Amar’e Stoudemire and forward Shawn Marion and reserves Boris Diaw and Leandro Barbosa and it is no surprise that the team exceeded 60 regular seasons twice in three years. They never have won the West, but I consider them to be my favorite historic team to play with in the NBA 2K video game. And the jersey game was on point.
- Texas Rangers
For two straight years, the Texas Rangers reached the World Series and lost. The most devastating loss was the second time, against the St. Louis Cardinals. In two games, the Rangers were an out away from eliminating the Cards but were unable to pull through for the franchise’s first championship. Still, they’ve topped 87 wins in eight of the last nine seasons, so maybe this could be their year.
- Arizona Cardinals
I’m a huge Cowboys and Ravens fan, but I was devastated when Kurt Warner’s Arizona Cardinals lost a heartbreaker to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLIII. The Cardinals had made an epic comeback thanks to two Larry Fitzgerald touchdowns before Pittsburgh’s Santonio Holmes made a toe-tip catch in the back of the end zone to give the Steelers the lead for good. Arizona also fielded a strong team in 2015 with 13 wins, but were obliterated in the NFC Championship Game by the Carolina Panthers.
- Detroit Tigers
When you have the best hitter of his generation and one of the best pitchers of his generation, the expectation is World Series. But despite having first baseman Miguel Cabrera and ace Justin Verlander, the Tigers have yet to win big. From 2011 to 2013, the Tigers reached the American League Championship Series all three years and never won a World Series. With a roster full of aging stars, their championship window has all but closed.
- Los Angeles Dodgers
Like the Tigers, the Los Angeles Dodgers have sent out some of the best players in the game to the mound and plate but haven’t found much success in the postseason. The Dodgers have won the NL West each of the past three seasons but haven’t advanced past the NLCS in those appearances. Los Angeles will have a strong chance to go to the World Series this October, but they’ll have stiff competition.
- Orlando Magic
The 2008-09 Orlando Magic were such a good team that after watching them, they became my favorite team. At the center of the team was Dwight Howard, who set the NBA world ablaze with a Superman-style dunk in the Slam Dunk Contest and racked up Defensive Player of the Year awards at a staggering rate. The Magic had a stellar head coach in Stan Van Gundy and a deep supporting cast, including point guard Jameer Nelson, shooting guard J.J. Redick, forward Hedo Turkoglu and Marcin “The Polish Hammer” Gortat. Orlando pulled away from the reigning NBA champs in the Boston Celtics before upsetting LeBron James and the Cavaliers, but were ultimately sent home by the Los Angeles Lakers in the Finals. The Magic haven’t been the same since and have missed the playoffs each of the past five seasons.
- Indiana Pacers
The Paul George Pacers will be a team that time will forget, but if not for the Big Three-led Miami Heat, Indiana could’ve represented the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals multiple times. This team was unrivaled on defense, with contributions from a franchise player in George, a talented big man in Roy Hibbert and the unforgettable guard Lance Stephenson, but lost to Miami in the playoffs three straight seasons, two of those in the Eastern Conference Finals. The closest they ever got was in Game 7 in the 2012-13 season, when the Pacers had the Heat beat until LeBron’s game-winning, buzzer-beating layup.
NBA: Denver Nuggets, Chicago Bulls, Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Clippers
NFL: San Diego/Los Angeles Chargers, Minnesota Vikings, New York Jets, Dallas Cowboys
MLB: Washington Nationals, Tampa Bay Rays, Colorado Rockies, Toronto Blue Jays