The greatest sports teams of all time

Sports fans love a good debate. Heck, if someone suddenly banned all those LeBron vs. Jordan hot takes, ESPN would just be one long ad for State Farm. But there are a few of the greatest teams that prove hard to argue over. Oh, true fans will still do it because that's what fans do, but these all-time greats tend to win the argument before it's started. 

Whether it's a perfect season or an unforgettable moment, an underdog story or a decade-long dynasty, there's no one way to become an all-timer. But once you do it, you exist in rarefied air. Was it your superstars or your depth? The brilliant coaching or the will to win? When you become this great, the answer is usually yes to all of these and a whole lot more. Here are a few teams that became more than champions. They became the greatest teams to ever lace 'em up.

The '92 Dream Team

No one had ever seen anything like the 1992 Dream Team. They were more the Avengers than a basketball team, a collection of living, breathing legends, who had decided to join forces for one magical summer. This wasn't some piddly All-Star team. These were the greatest players to ever play the game, at the peak of their powers and the popularity of the sport, taking on the world. The squad was captained by two retiring superstars, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, fresh off his HIV diagnosis, but Michael Jordan, well on his way to becoming one of the most famous men alive, was the main attraction. 

Together they would cruise to the gold medal, winning their eight games by an average margin of 43.8 points a game. The team never called a single timeout and set Olympic records for assists (29.9 per game), blocked shots (5.9 per game), field goals (369), field goal percentage (57.8), and steals (22.1 per game). And the odd part was, the greatest game this team played may have been behind closed doors, at least according to Michael Jordan, who described one particular scrimmage in Monte Carlo as the best he'd ever been part of. As Chuck Daly, the head coach of the squad said at the time, "You will see a team of professionals in the Olympics again. But I don't think you'll see another team quite like this. This was a majestic team."

1972 Miami Dolphins

If no one can beat you, then you're the best, baby. That's how it works. As they say, you can't argue with success, and the Dolphins' perfect 1972 season certainly qualifies. It helps that no other NFL team has ever matched their accomplishment, going undefeated for an entire season. Sure, the 2007 New England Patriots had a perfect regular season, but they were defeated in the Super Bowl by the underdog Giants. Close, but no cigar, Tommy Terrific.  

Under the stewardship of Don Shula, who would go on to seize the all-time wins record for an NFL coach, this no-nonsense bunch took care of business for 17 straight games. From star players like Larry Csonka and Paul Warfield to their largely anonymous defense that embraced their lack of fame with the "no-name defense" nickname, everyone did their part to keep this train rolling. Not even a catastrophic injury to their star quarterback, Bob Griese, could slow them down. Instead, their backup, 38-year-old veteran quarterback Earl Morrall, came off the bench and led them the rest of the season and through a playoff game before yielding his team back to Griese in the AFC Championship. There may have been teams who scored more or featured more Hall of Famers, but no one has ever matched their unbeaten record, and it's possible no one ever will.

1972 UCLA Bruins Basketball Team

Between 1964 and 1975, the UCLA men's basketball team won so much, it almost became a burden. When sophomore forward Larry Farmer stormed into the locker room after vanquishing Villanova to capture the 1971 crown, he was shocked at what he saw. "I was expecting the seniors would be giving high-fives, jumping up and down, hugging and screaming. ... Instead when I got in there, it was quiet and guys were just relieved to have won. It was like, 'Phew, mission accomplished.'" That's how it was for the Bruins under Coach John Wooden, where perfection was the goal and winning was merely the byproduct. Lucky for them the very next season was perhaps the most perfect in basketball history.

The 1971-72 squad went 30-0, winning by an average margin of over 30 points. Center Bill Walton averaged 21 points and 16 rebounds per game for the season, his first with the team. When all was said and done, the Bruins would win an astounding 88 straight games over four seasons, but the '72 squad was the most dominant of them all. And this was with every team in the nation gunning for the long-time champions, who went on to win seven titles in a row. As Providence power forward Marvin Barnes said at the time, "You beat those guys and you've beaten history, an institution and the gods." Fortunately for UCLA, not many can claim to have done that.

The 1927 Yankees

To many, they're the benchmark for baseball dominance. It seems like some team is held up as the new '27 Yankees almost every year before invariably letting us down. But come on, how can any team compare to these legends? Their lineup reads like a freakin' Cooperstown wing. Fronting this Murderers Row of superstar hitters was Babe Ruth himself, who led the league with a record-setting 60 home runs that year. Earle Combs had the second most hits in the league, with 231. And then there was Lou Gehrig, who led the league in RBIs, with 175, to go along with his .373 batting average, 47 homers, and MVP Award. That's not even mentioning Tony Lazzeri and Bob Meusel, who raked the ball all over the park, too. 

They won 110 games, sweeping the Pittsburgh Pirates in the World Series to take home the crown and help save the sport after the disastrous Black Sox scandal. As Washington Senators first baseman Joe Judge said at the time, "those fellows not only beat you but they tear your heart out. I wish the season was over."

2013 New Zealand All Blacks

The All Blacks come from a nation of just over 4 million people, or roughly the population of Los Angeles, and yet they have dominated worldwide rugby for over a decade. In that time, they've won back to back World Cups, in 2011 and 2015, and may be getting even better. Former World Cup-winning coach Sir Graham Henry said the 2018 team is "probably the greatest All Blacks team ever, right now," and he's got a Sir in his name. 

Because of the intense international rugby calendar, the All Blacks play the top teams from around the world every year several times over. And yet the squad has claimed World Rugby's Team of the Year title 10 times since 2005. Since World Rugby introduced a ranking system in 2003, the All Blacks have held the top spot more than 80 percent of the time. But for our money, the best of the best was their 2013 squad, which went undefeated, the first time a rugby team hasn't lost a game for an entire year.

1995 Nebraska Cornhuskers

The 1995 Nebraska Cornhuskers didn't just win, they won with attitude. It was a break for the vanilla program, which had struggled up to that point to form an identity or find a breakthrough year. Well, this was it. While character came into question throughout the season, particularly with star running back Laurence Phillips' repeated off-field incidents, everything came together on the field for head coach Tom Osborne. The results spoke for themselves. It was a perfect season, capped off by a trouncing of the previously undefeated Florida Gators, putting up 62 points on the shellshocked challengers before lifting the National Championship trophy in the air.

The Cornhuskers averaged 52.4 points a game that year and scored 49 or more points in eight of their 12 games. They beat four Top 10 opponents by more than 30 points, rushed for 399.8 yards a game, and trailed only once the entire season. Heck, 27 players from that team would make their way to the NFL. There have been dominant college teams dating back nearly a century, but as ESPN commentator Paul Finebaum said, the '95 cornhuskers were "one of the most punishing teams I've ever seen."

2016 U.S. Women's Gymnastics Team

It's not hard to pick the best gymnastic team because the numbers can just speak for themselves. So when we tell you that the 2016 U.S. Women's Gymnastic Team is the best of all time, we mean it. They defeated second-place Russia by 8.209 points in the finals of the Olympics that year, the largest margin of victory since 1960. And here's the thing, there were far fewer competitors back then, and the routines have grown increasingly complicated over the last 50 some years, so really the 2018 team was dominant in a way the sport had never seen before.

"The Final Five," as they were known, was Gabby Douglas, Laurie Hernandez, Madison Kocian, Aly Raisman, and Simone Biles, who would go on to win the individual gold at the games as well. Oh, and Raisman took home silver. As a team, they went a perfect 12-for-12, and posted a winning team score for all four events. Raisman even said at the time, "I heard we still would've won if we had a couple falls, but it's still better when you have that magical moment of hitting 12-for-12." In fact, they were so dominant, they would have won the gold even if you removed Biles, by far their best gymnast, from the team. Now that's domination.

2011-13 The Washington Kastles of World Team Tennis

The Washington Kastles are the most dominant tennis team in history. And good luck arguing because chances are this is the first time you've ever heard of team tennis in your life. So maybe you just want to trust us when we tell you that the Kastles streak of 34 straight victories between 2011 and 2013 is so impressive it managed to beat the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers' similar streak of 33 games, and they had Wilt freakin' Chamberlain.

Oh, and the Kastles also managed to win five championships in a row during their run, making them the greatest dynasty in the history of team tennis. You can snicker all you want, but World Team Tennis is a high-endurance, high-skill sport, combining men's and women's singles, men's and women's doubles, and mixed doubles, and the action rarely stops. So when we tell you that the Kastles' motto is "refuse to lose," just know that's no easy feat.

2014-17 UConn Women's Basketball Team

Deciding on the best women's basketball team ever is pretty simple actually. Just take a look at the University of Connecticut, and then pick their best. That's because UConn's women's basketball is the standard by which any winning program should be judged, man, woman, amateur, or pro. They did, after all, reel off 111 straight wins and four consecutive nations championship between 2014 and 2017, breaking the record of 90 straight wins held by, wait for it, UConn. 

The UConn team was so dominant, only allowing three teams within 10 points during their win streak, that fans and sports writers started to wonder if they were destroying the sport. One day after UConn trounced Mississippi State in the Tournament by 60 points, Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy tweeted: "Hate to punish them for being great, but [the Huskies] are killing women's game. Watch? No thanks."

UConn head coach Geno Auriemma responded shortly thereafter: "Don't watch. Nobody's putting a gun to your head to watch. So don't watch. And don't write about it. We are what we are. You know? We do what we do." And what they do is win.

1984-85 Edmonton Oilers

To celebrate their centennial in 2017, the NHL asked its fans to vote for the greatest team in the history of the sport. The results weren't surprising if you know anything about hockey.

The 1984-85 Oilers featured a stacked roster of future Hall of Famers, All-Stars, and ideal role players. Oh, and the best player to ever put on skates. Having Wayne Gretzky alone would have been enough to put them in the conversation. That season he set playoff records for assists and points, while leading the Oilers to their second consecutive Stanley Cup.

But he was just the tip of the iceberg, if you will, and he'd be the first to admit it. In fact, he said of the honor, "We had a love for the game. All of us loved being at the rink. We loved playing and we loved practicing. ... We practiced hard."

1970 Brazil National Team

Soccer is, by far, the most popular sport in the world. So, to be the best team in its history means something. That's why it's all the more impressive that there really isn't much debate when it comes to the greatest team.

With political intrigue hanging over the Brazil National Team, and an unpopular decision to fire its coach at the last minute, Brazil's rabid fans feared the worst heading into the 1970 World Cup. Instead, their team managed to turn their sport into something bordering on poetry. Some of that came from fired manager João Saldanha, who had insisted the team "play beautifully" at all costs, even the cost of winning. Under new manager Mário Zagallo, the team managed to do both. His approach was simple. "What this team needs are great players, players who are intelligent. Let's go with that and see where it takes us." It took them all the way to victory, allowing stars Pelé, Carlos Alberto, Roberto Rivelino, and Tostão to play a fast and loose style focused on quick offense over a stifling defense. As winners of the the first World Cup broadcast in color, the Brazilians became "more than a team," according to World Soccer Magazine. "The Brazilian side that won the 1970 World Cup in such style have become a myth, a team to be held up as the ultimate exponents of the beautiful game."