How many different NBA Finals matchups have there been?
The participants of the 2021 NBA Finals are officially in: the Milwaukee Bucks and Phoenix Suns will do battle to determine the league’s next champion. It’s the first time in the ultimate series for both teams; in fact, there were 75-combined years between the two franchises since their last appearances in the NBA Finals (1993 for the Suns, 1974 for the Bucks) before they qualified for this year’s affair.
These teams haven’t been here in a long time, and they’ve never met one another in the NBA Finals before, either. That means we have a new NBA Finals matchup in 2021. That got me thinking: how many different NBA Finals matchups have there ever been?
How Many Different NBA Finals Matchups Have Happened?
The answer to this question depends on how you consider teams that have moved through the years but are still technically the same franchise. For the purposes of this exercise, we will consider teams to be different when they move between cities. As in, the Minneapolis Lakers and Boston Celtics playing each other in the 1959 NBA Finals, that counts as its own matchup, not a matchup between the Los Angeles Lakers and Celtics.
With that in mind, there have been 45 different NBA Finals matchups. The annual event began in 1947, which makes the 2021 NBA Finals the 75th of its kind.
What NBA Finals Matchup Has Been the Most Common?
Long-time followers of the NBA and those who are away of its history won’t be shocked to learn the answer to this one. The Los Angeles Lakers versus Boston Celtics is the most common NBA Finals matchup by a wide margin, occurring 11 times throughout history (1962, 1963, 1965, 1966, 1968, 1969, 1984, 1985, 1987, 2008, 2010).
The next-most common NBA Finals matchups are the St. Louis Hawks versus Boston Celtics (1957, 1958, 1960, 1961), Los Angeles Lakers versus Philadelphia 76ers (1980, 1982, 1983, 2001), and Golden State Warriors versus Cleveland Cavaliers (2015, 2016, 2017, 2018), all matchups happening four times each.
The only other pairings to come up more than once are Minneapolis Lakers/Syracuse Nationals (1950, 1954), Minneapolis Lakers/New York Knicks (1952, 1953), Los Angeles Lakers/New York Knicks (1970, 1972, 1973), Seattle SuperSonics/Washington Bullets (1978, 1979), Houston Rockets/Boston Celtics (1981, 1986), Los Angeles Lakers/Detroit Pistons (1988, 1989, 2004), Utah Jazz/Chicago Bulls (1997, 1998), Dallas Mavericks/Miami Heat (2006, 2011), and San Antonio Spurs/Miami Heat (2013, 2014).
The NBA has been on a streak of first-time matchups in the Finals for three years now since the four-year stretch of Golden State and Cleveland reserving their summer spots in the series, with Warriors/Raptors and Lakers/Heat being first matchups as well. This is the longest run of unique NBA Finals matchups since 2005-2007 (Spurs/Pistons, Mavericks/Heat, Spurs/Cavaliers).
What NBA Finals Matchups Have Happened Just Once?
Chicago Stags/Philadelphia Warriors (1947)
Baltimore Bullets/Philadelphia Warriors (1948)
Minneapolis Lakers/Washington Capitals (1949)
Rochester Royals/New York Knicks (1951)
Fort Wayne Pistons/Syracuse Nationals (1955)
Fort Wayne Pistons/Philadelphia Warriors (1956)
Minneapolis Lakers/Boston Celtics (1959)
San Francisco Warriors/Boston Celtics (1964)
San Francisco Warriors/Philadelphia 76ers (1967)
Milwaukee Bucks/Baltimore Bullets (1971)
Milwaukee Bucks/Boston Celtics (1974)
Golden State Warriors/Washington Bullets (1975)
Phoenix Suns/Boston Celtics (1976)
Portland Trail Blazers/Philadelphia 76ers (1977)
Portland Trail Blazers/Detroit Pistons (1990)
Los Angeles Lakers/Chicago Bulls (1991)
Portland Trail Blazers/Chicago Bulls (1992)
Phoenix Suns/Chicago Bulls (1993)
Houston Rockets/New York Knicks (1994)
Houston Rockets/Orlando Magic (1995)
Seattle SuperSonics/Chicago Bulls (1996)
San Antonio Spurs/New York Knicks (1999)
Los Angeles Lakers/Indiana Pacers (2000)
Los Angeles Lakers/New Jersey Nets (2002)
San Antonio Spurs/Detroit Pistons (2005)
San Antonio Spurs/Cleveland Cavaliers (2007)
Los Angeles Lakers/Orlando Magic (2009)
Oklahoma City Thunder/Miami Heat (2012)
Golden State Warriors/Toronto Raptors (2019)
Los Angeles Lakers/Miami Heat (2020)
Phoenix Suns/Milwaukee Bucks (2021)
Most Common WNBA Finals Matchups
Check out our similar breakdown of the WNBA Finals matchups history.