One of the tough aspects of betting on the NBA championship and NBA futures is the lack of value and unpredictability. The preseason title favorite is usually in the thick of it come playoff time, reaches the conference finals and their betting odds drop significantly with each round as they move on.
That’s what makes the 2019-20 Miami Heat so special – they have a chance to break the cycle and cash in as huge underdogs to win the NBA championship. Back in October 2019, which feels like a lifetime ago due to the COVID-19 season stoppage, the Heat were as high as +5000 to win the title, according to Odds Shark’s database.
To put that in perspective, that would easily make them the biggest underdog in the league’s history to win the NBA championship, based on preseason odds. Even bettors who took a shot on them prior to the NBA bubble got tremendous value when they were listed at +4000.
That got me thinking. What other teams in the NBA’s storied history have shaken up the pecking order and made their way to championship glory?
Thanks to sportsoddshistory.com, we have those betting odds dating back to the 1984-85 season when the Los Angeles Lakers won as +200 favorites. Considering this is the NBA, the underdog list won’t be very long but if these stats can assist you for an argument/debate at your local pub about NBA championship underdogs, that’s a win in my book!
What Team Was The Biggest Underdog To Win The NBA Championship?
|2014-15||Golden State Warriors||+2800|
2014-15 Golden State Warriors
Representing the birth of a dynasty that has forever changed the way basketball is played, the 2014-15 Golden State Warriors top our list and it wasn’t even close. The Warriors were coming off a fairly successful campaign in 2013-14 when they pushed the Los Angeles Clippers to seven games in the first round but to consider them as title contenders at that time, even with everything we know now, was a bit much.
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That’s because LeBron James had taken his talents back to Cleveland to team up with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love to form another Big 3. Cleveland opened that season as the championship favorite but lost in six games in the Finals to Golden State, which ended the regular season with the best record in the NBA. The value was all but gone after this NBA championship run as the Warriors opened as odds-on title favorites for the next four seasons.
2010-11 Dallas Mavericks
The Dallas Mavericks may not have the championship pedigree like the Lakers or Celtics but ever since the arrival of Dirk Nowitzki, the Mavs have been a staple in the Western Conference playoffs. They’ve seen the highs (winning the championship in 2011) to the lows (losing as a No. 1 seed to the Warriors in 2008) and everything in between. But for one magical season, they proved the doubters wrong.
For a back story, by the time the 2010-11 season came along, there was overall Mavericks fatigue on their championship odds. Bettors had been burned way too many times by an underachieving Dallas squad like in 2006 when the Mavs squandered a 2-0 series lead in the NBA Finals to the Heat. Well, they exacted revenge in 2011 and Nowitzki kicked to the curb the stigma of European basketball player softness.
The fact that the Mavericks did it over the publicly loathed Miami Heat with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh just made it that much sweeter for bettors who cashed in on a 20-1 ticket.
2018-19 Toronto Raptors
Also known as the season when Kawhi Leonard cemented his place in the Basketball Hall of Fame, it makes sense the Toronto Raptors had such long odds to win the championship for the 2018-19 season. The Warriors were just coming off back-to-back championships and opened the season at -150 odds to three-peat. But like any NBA championship run, you can always point to injuries that lead you down a rabbit hole of “what if” questions.
The Raptors “lucked” out by getting to face a depleted Warriors team in the NBA Finals that was missing Kevin Durant for all but 10 minutes of Game 5 and lost Klay Thompson to an injury in the following game. That being said, not enough credit is given to the Raptors for beating the teams they did prior to the Finals.
They edged the Sixers in the second round on a Game 7 buzzer-beater and rallied vs the Bucks after going down 2-0 in the Eastern Conference final where their odds were up to +2000 to win the championship at some sportsbooks. The Raptors of the past would’ve folded like a lawn chair but Leonard carried it home for them and Toronto got its first major sports championship since 1993 (Go Blue Jays!).
2003-04 Detroit Pistons
For the young ones, there was a time when a 78-74 final score was common in the NBA playoffs and no team personified that era more than the Detroit Pistons. The Pistons might be the best success story of any of the examples listed because of their roster. Not one player on the team got NBA MVP votes or was first-team All-NBA that season but what they did have was the best defense in the league.
The Pistons smothered teams with Ben Wallace and Rasheed Wallace in the paint and tough guards in Chauncey Billups and Richard Hamilton who complemented each other perfectly. Going into the season, the Pistons had +1500 odds to win the championship and were the third-likeliest team, based on betting odds, to come out of the East behind the New Jersey Nets and Indiana Pacers.
Even going into the NBA Finals, they weren’t given much respect considering they still hold the record for longest championship odds entering the Finals at +500. That’s because they were opposing the Lakers, who had three-peated from 2000 to 2002. The Lakers had peak Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant along with Gary Payton and Karl Malone and were trying to regain championship glory.
Long story short: the Lakers got run out of the gym in the opener, kept it interesting by winning Game 2 in overtime and never made it back to LA after dropping three straight in Detroit.
1993-94 Houston Rockets
The first NBA season without Michael Jordan with the Bulls, this might have been one of the more wide-open NBA championship races of all time. At least four teams could lay claim to being the best team in the league going into the season: the Phoenix Suns, Seattle Supersonics, New York Knicks and Houston Rockets. Out of the four, the Rockets had the longest odds but they had the best player in Hakeem Olajuwon.
The Dream had an incredible season by winning both MVP and Defensive Player of the Year, something that’s only been done two other times in NBA history (Michael Jordan, 1988, and Giannis Antetokounmpo, 2020). The Rockets may have had doubters going into the season but they were all but gone after Houston finished the season 58-24 SU and had +600 odds going into the playoffs.
That being said, if the Knicks’ John Starks hadn’t gagged so badly in Game 7 of the NBA Finals, we might be talking about the New York Knicks in a whole new light compared to the mockery they’re subjected to today.
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Odds Shark Staff Thu, Aug 4, 11:20am