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What was evident from minute one of the 1995-96 NBA season was that the Chicago Bulls were completely locked in.

Michael Jordan was back for a full season after returning from his near two-year lay-off late in the 1994-95 season. In addition, the Bulls shored up their rebounding deficiencies of the previous season by trading for Dennis Rodman, the league’s premier rebounder and one of its top defenders. Seven-time All-Star Scottie Pippen was in his prime as the league’s best two-way player.

The result was almost preordained, with Chicago roaring out to a 23-2 start to the season. The Bulls went 31-1 during a ridiculous nine-week stretch of play, and hit the All-Star break at 42-5. The only question remaining was whether they would break the NBA’s all-time regular season record of 69-13, set by the 1971-72 LA Lakers.

They did so with two games to spare, finishing at 72-10. Chicago was first in the league that season in offensive rating, first in defensive rating, and first in net rating.

With the regular season as prologue, the Bulls ripped through the postseason, dropping just one game in three playoff series to reach the NBA finals.

And Chicago finished its magical season off by defeating the Seattle Supersonics in the championship series in six games, again establishing the Bulls as the best — and, now, historically best — team in the league.

David Aldridge

Jamaican track team, 2012

As good as this iteration of Manchester City have been under Pep Guardiola, their record at the London Stadium is not perfect.

West Ham eliminated them from the League Cup in October 2021, and City’s 2-2 draw there in the penultimate league game of that season ensured the title race went to the final day.

Yet nine years before that, Jamaica’s track team turned up, turned it on and won all the showcase track events. Only the US took more athletics medals, with Jamaica claiming four golds, five silvers and four bronzes — 13 total — but they won all the feature events.

Shelley-Ann Fraser-Pryce took 100 metres gold and 200 metres silver. Usain Bolt claimed the 100m gold medal in 9.63 seconds, an Olympic record, breaking his own record from Beijing four years before, with compatriot Yohan Blake in second.

Bolt took 200m gold too, in 19.32secs, as part of a Jamaica one-two-three. They became the first nation other than the US to sweep all the medals in a 200m Olympic final, while Bolt became the first man to retain 100m and 200m Olympic crowns.

To cap it all off, the men’s 4x100m team took gold in a ridiculous 36.84secs, the first time any quartet had gone under 37 seconds in history, bettering their own world record in the process.

Liam Tharme

Since Major League Baseball entered the Wild Card era in 1995, there have been teams that scored more runs than the 1998 New York Yankees. There have been teams that allowed fewer runs than the 1998 Yankees. And there was even one team, the 2001 Seattle Mariners, who won more regular season games than the 1998 Yankees.

But no baseball team in recent memory has run roughshod over its competitors in such complete fashion as the 1998 Yankees.

Unlike those 116-win Mariners, or the 111-win Dodgers in 2022, the Yankees extended their regular-season dominance into October, going 11-2 in the postseason while sweeping San Diego to capture the World Series. They were the best team from a dynasty that captured four championships in a five-year span.

The strength of the club was its lack of flaws. The team did everything well and possessed enviable depth. Tino Martinez led the Yankees with 28 homers — but seven of his team-mates hit 17 or more. Seven regulars finished with an on-base plus slugging percentage above .820. Ten batters posted a .350 on-base percentage or better.

And their stars played like stars: Derek Jeter hit .324. Bernie Williams racked up a .997 OPS. The relentless offense stabilised a reliable rotation, and a bullpen led by Mariano Rivera shortened games. The Yankees accomplished all this in an era before teams openly started tanking; the Red Sox won 92 games in 1998 and the Blue Jays won 88.

But the Yankees still lorded over the sport like no other team in recent memory.

Andy McCullough

The 1989 49ers outscored their postseason opposition by a staggering 100 combined points, a differential that obviously included the 55-10 Super Bowl drubbing of the Broncos. That’s an NFL record never likely to be broken.

When it mattered most, the 1989 team was a juggernaut of juggernauts. Quarterback Joe Montana was never better than that season. He helped produce two 1,000-yard receivers, Jerry Rice and John Taylor, in an era that wasn’t nearly as conducive to passing success as the modern day. The 49ers’ combined margin of defeat from their two losses was only five points.

There are some who favor the 49ers’ 1984 team, also a Super Bowl champion, over the 1989 one. That ’84 squad did post a better record (15-1) and more efficient metrics in the regular season. But it’s impossible to ignore the historic playoff dominance of the ’89 version, and center Jesse Sapolu — who played for both teams — once delivered perhaps the best verdict on the issue.

“Well, you know, Jerry Rice was on the ’89 team,” Sapolu said, chuckling. “He wasn’t on the ’84 team.”

David Lombardi

St Helens, 2006

St Helens have had many great sides in rugby league’s Super League era, but the class of 2006 were on another level.

Under Daniel Anderson, they swept all before them domestically — winning the Challenge Cup, the League Leaders’ Shield and the Grand Final. They then topped all of those achievements by beating Australian champions Brisbane Broncos in the World Club Challenge having been completely written off in the build-up.

They had the power of James Graham, Keiron Cunningham and Francis Meli but the panache of Sean Long, Paul Wellens and the emerging James Roby, who is still playing at 37. They did it all without the immense Paul Sculthorpe, ruled out for most of the season with injury.

But to complement it all they had Jamie Lyon — one of the best Australians to grace the game in England — in the centres for his second and final season. He was named Man of Steel, the player of the year, in 2005.

They were simply a joy to watch.

Craig Chisnall

Barcelona, 2008-09

Barcelona’s first official game of the 2008-09 campaign was a 1-0 defeat at Numancia. A week later they drew 1-1 at Racing Santander — hardly a great start for new coach Pep Guardiola, whose only previous experience was in charge of the Barca B youth team.

Many at the Camp Nou were nervous, but one observer was convinced that Barca were on the right track.

“A in ‘juego de posicion’ and B in quickly moving the ball,” wrote Johan Cruyff in his El Periodico de Catalunya column. “C in pressing and good numbers in the balance of losing the ball/winning it back. Room for improvement? Of course. They need to polish the final pass and — the most difficult — ending moves decisively.

“But there are no doubts, goals will come if you play well, and this Barca can play very, very well.”

Cruyff knew quite a lot about football. By November, Barca were top of La Liga with Lionel Messi, Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta et al playing very, very well, and the team scoring lots and lots of goals.

In April they won 6-2 at Real Madrid, a historic hammering of their greatest rivals. A few weeks later they beat Manchester United 2-0 in the Champions League final, becoming the first ‘treble winners’ in Spanish football history.

It was a breathtaking achievement, and no team ever has ever been simultaneously so aesthetically pleasing and devastatingly decisive.

Guardiola has gone on to win a lot since then, but it will never be possible to match his first year as a senior coach.

Dermot Corrigan

We measure dominance in so many ways but, at the base level, dominance is about winning. And the 1972 Miami Dolphins are the only modern-era NFL team to win every game they played.

The Dolphins went 14-0 in the regular season and won two playoff games to advance to the Super Bowl, where they beat Washington. 

The Dolphins won with two overpowering units: their offense scored more points and gained more yards than any team in the league, and their “No Name Defense” finished first in fewest points and yards allowed. No other team has led the league in all four categories.

The Dolphins were so dominant they could overcome the loss of their Hall of Fame quarterback Bob Griese, who went down with a broken ankle in the fifth game of the season. The Dolphins did not regress with Earl Morrall, a backup for most of his career, partly because they did so many other things so well.

They had two 1,000-yard rushers in Hall of Famer Larry Csonka and Mercury Morris, two Hall of Fame offensive linemen in Bob Langer and Larry Little, and a Hall of Fame wide receiver in Paul Warfield.

And perhaps most importantly, they had a Hall of Fame coach in Don Shula.

Dan Pompei

Australia, 2003

Australia dominated cricket in the 1990s and 2000s by bringing a brashness to a sometimes conservative game through stars like Ricky Ponting, Glenn McGrath, Adam Gilchrist and, above all, Shane Warne, who reignited the lost art of leg-spin bowling and is one of a handful of sporting figures who sincerely merits the title “genius”.

The Australians were sporting bullies, blowing opponents away by being highly aggressive with bat and ball. 

In The Ashes — the name given to battles between Australia and England — victories were evenly split before 1989 but, between that year and 2005, Australia won 28 Tests and lost just seven. All but one of those defeats came in dead rubber matches.

It is hard to pick the high-water mark of this team’s sustained period of dominance but 2003 works nicely. In the 2002-03 series, Australia comfortably crushed England, the Ashes having long since turned from contest to procession.

The year 2003 is also key because Australia won the World Cup in the shorter one-day format of the game, the middle of a hat-trick of tournament wins. While their success in 1999 had elements of fortune to it, in 2003 Australia steamrolled the competition by winning all 11 matches and thrashing India in the final.

Cricket would be changed forever by a team whose best form of defence was to attack.

Joey D’Urso

Leicester City winning the Premier League title has to be straight in at No 1. They were 5,000-1 outsiders. To put it another way, there was more chance of finding the Loch Ness Monster.

This wasn’t a magical Cup run where you can have a lucky draw, smash and grab a few results and score a scrappy goal to win it in the final. Or a story about the best players in the world all peaking at the same time.

Leicester — who should have been relegated the season before, who had a team of rejects, whose manager was the favourite to be sacked before a ball was kicked, whose striker played non-League football up until the age of 25 — came out on top against some of the biggest clubs in the world across 38 games.

And they didn’t just win the league. They won it with two games to spare. They won it by 10 points. At the risk of sounding like Sky’s Martin Tyler when Aguero scored that goal, you’ll never see anything like this ever again. And I mean that – you won’t. There will never be another footballing fairytale like Leicester City winning the Premier League.

Stuart James

During the Cubs’ World Series run in 2016, it became a running joke in Chicago that national outlets kept forgetting the White Sox had also won the World Series 11 years prior.

The 2005 White Sox breezed through the World Series, and really the playoffs, in such efficient fashion that it’s not surprising people outside Chicago forgot about it. But they were dominant from beginning to end, “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts” kind of championship team, complete with a colorful, quotable manager in Ozzie Guillen.

The 2005 White Sox never trailed in its division during the regular season, won 99 games, and went 11-1 in three rounds of the playoffs, sweeping the Houston Astros out of the Fall Classic.

There was plenty of drama packed into those 12 playoff games — they won the four World Series games by a total of six runs — but it just so happened the Sox were always on the right side of it.

They swept the defending champs, the Boston Red Sox, in the first round before losing the opening game of the ALCS to the Los Angeles Angels and winning four straight behind four complete games from their starting pitchers.

“That is one thing I’m confident I can say I’ll never ever see again,” catcher A.J. Pierzynski said.

Jon Greenberg

US Women’s National Team, 2019

When a nation has won half of a tournament’s entire history of titles, it can be tough to single out their best iteration. Yet it’s hard to argue against the 2019 United States women as being the greatest World Cup winner from the history of the women’s and men’s games.

The talent at Jill Ellis’ disposal was a near embarrassment of riches. Alex Morgan was at her goalscoring best, with Megan Rapinoe putting in an otherworldly effort on the wing. The midfield of Rose Lavelle, Julie Ertz and Sam Mewis was so balanced that it would make Thanos blush, while the defensive work of Crystal Dunn, Becky Sauerbrunn, Abby Dahlkemper and Kelley O’Hara did wonders ahead of Alyssa Naeher’s clutch shot-stopping.

That doesn’t factor for players who didn’t start almost every game: Christen Press and Tobin Heath were electric on the right wing, while Lindsey Horan and Morgan Gautrat seamlessly integrated into midfield. Ali Krieger and Mallory Swanson would have started at full-back for most nations, too.

The real proof of greatness was the range of ways in which they conquered the World Cup.

They made headlines with a 13-0 group stage win against Thailand, but their final five wins came against European nations which had made massive gains since 1999. A group stage finale win over Sweden queued up an impressive run through the knockouts: 2-1 over Spain, a statement 2-1 win over hosting France, and then a silencing 2-1 win over an England side on the rise.

Then came the clincher against the Netherlands. They were poised, they brought flair, and they made the most of their talents. It doesn’t get much greater than that.

Jeff Rueter

Mercedes, 2020

Each season from Mercedes’ record streak of eight Formula One championships from 2014-21 has a case for being the most dominant. Statistically, 2016 was the peak for Mercedes as it won 19 of a possible 21 races.

But the team was never stronger than in 2020.

In a season overshadowed by the Covid-19 pandemic, Mercedes produced its quickest, most innovative F1 car — the W11. Lewis Hamilton was at the peak of his powers on-track, sweeping to a record-equalling seventh title with 11 victories. He even crossed the line on three wheels at Silverstone, a last-lap puncture not enough to deny him victory.

Hamilton also found his voice off-track in 2020 amid activism around the world with the Black Lives Matter movement. Mercedes showed its support by turning the car livery all-black in a strong anti-racism message. Valtteri Bottas was the perfect team-mate, contributing to a harmony that was felt throughout the team thanks to a strong no-blame culture fostered by team boss Toto Wolff.

Mercedes won 13 of the 17 races on the shortened calendar, but was only beaten twice on merit — both times by Max Verstappen — while the other two defeats came due to misfortune or minor slip-ups. The regular one-second margins in qualifying in the early part of the season equate to a lifetime in modern-day F1.

Luke Smith

The All Blacks, 2015-16

“This is the best All Blacks team I have ever seen,” offered Sean Fitzpatrick, who won 92 caps for New Zealand. So he would know.

The Rugby World Cup 2015: one to forget for the English; Japan shocked the Springboks; Scotland were oh-so close against Australia. But this tournament was all about the All Blacks.

The ABs of 2015-16 would go on a record-creating 18-match winning streak, starting with a Bledisloe Cup (the annual competition between New Zealand and Australia) success in August and extending until November the following year when Ireland defeated them at Soldier Field, Chicago. It was era-defining.

Under Steve Hansen the ABs would not only win the aforementioned World Cup — the first side to retain the trophy — but would claim the 2016 Rugby Championship. Sure, England would go on to equal their 18-game winning streak, but that team just does not compare. Because what stands out most about this ABs side is the number of leaders in its ranks: Richie McCaw, Kieran Read, Dan Carter, Sam Whitelock, Aaron Smith, Ben Smith, Sam Cane, Beauden Barratt.

Add in the flash players Sonny Bill Williams, Julien Savea, Ma’a Nonu, Nehe Milner-Skudder and Israel Dagg, and you have yourself rugby galacticos at their finest.

If they were the best Sean Fitzpatrick has ever seen, it’s certainly the best any of us have ever seen.

Abi Paterson

LA Lakers, 1986-87

The 1986-87 Lakers were something different. Besides a 65-17 record, they had the league MVP, Magic Johnson, and Defensive Player of the Year, Michael Cooper. Johnson was also the Finals MVP.

Johnson’s career-high 23.9 points and 12.2 assists saw him win his first league MVP. Cooper was the prototype for today’s 3-and-D player. His defense was so dominant, he won the award while only starting two games. That’s a feat we’ll likely never see again.

The squad also included Hall of Famers Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy. They lead the NBA in offensive rating (115.6) while being seventh in defensive rating (106.5) — no one could better their net rating of plus-9.1.

The Lakers were 11-1 in the Western Conference before knocking off Larry Bird’s Boston Celtics, 4-2, in the Finals.

This team was as dominant as any during the Showtime era and was the core of what would prove to be back-to-back championship winning sides when the Lakers won the title again in 1988.

Jason Jones

Essendon, 2000

Like most sports with a draft system, Australian Rules Football is designed with parity in mind. Therefore, one team’s outstanding season can shine even brighter.

Step forward Essendon.

The Melbourne-based club suffered a shock one-point loss to Carlton in the 1999 preliminary finals — one game short of the grand final — after an 18-4 record in the regular season. Their reaction the following year is considered by many to be the greatest season in more than 100 years of Australia’s indigenous football.

Essendon completed a 21-1 regular season in 2000; a record beaten only by Collingwood (18-0) in 1929. The only defeat came in their penultimate fixture against a top-eight-chasing Western Bulldogs, with Essendon already assured top spot on the AFL ladder.

More importantly, Essendon followed it by winning their three finals games, including a 45-point revenge victory over Carlton in their preliminary finals rematch and thrashing Melbourne by 60 in the grand final.

Essendon forward Matthew Lloyd was the regular season’s leading goalkicker with 94 goals and finished on 109; a benchmark beaten once since 1996.

They were a team of several prolific goalscorers. The year’s strongest attack and meanest defence. One determined to right their previous wrong, that also timed its best form for the finals where so many favourites have previously come unstuck. It remains an iconic success.

Michael Bailey

Oddly enough, the National Hockey League in 1977 was very much like the Premier League today — a distinct collection of haves and have-nots, with a handful of powerhouse teams at the top and a greater number of weak links at the bottom.

The league had expanded rapidly — from six teams in 1967 to 18 in 1977. Expansion terms for the newcomers were so onerous that the established teams with the smartest managers took full advantage. That was Montreal, run by Sam Pollock, coached by Scotty Bowman, and blessed with the deepest well of talent in the league.

The Canadiens had nine future Hall of Famers in their line-up, including the league scoring champion, Guy Lafleur.

In that dominant 76-77 season, the Canadiens lost only once at home in 40 games (33-1-6) and seven times on the road for an overall record of 60-8-12, which gave them the overall regular-season title. That is the fewest regular-season losses in the modern era.

In the playoffs, they completed the double and won the Stanley Cup, defeating the St Louis Blues, the New York Islanders and the Boston Bruins in their three playoff rounds, winning 12 games in total and losing only twice. It marked the second of four consecutive Stanley Cups Montreal would win between 1976 and 1979, but it was the most decisive of the quartet.

Eric Duhatschek

Nebraska college football, 1995

Nebraska in 1995 made no attempt to disguise what it planned to do.

Sometimes, in fact, the Huskers just told their opponents. And still, they won every game in devastating fashion, capped by a 62-24 rout against No 2 Florida in the Fiesta Bowl to secure the second of three national championships in the final four seasons under coach Tom Osborne.

The 1995 team, without argument, rated as Osborne’s best in a 25-year reign during which his teams won more than 10 games per season on average. The Huskers scored 53.2 points per game and rushed for seven yards per carry in the regular season.

Five running backs could have started for most teams nationally, headlined by Lawrence Phillips, the troubled junior who sat out more than half of the season while suspended. He ranked perhaps as the most gifted runner of Osborne’s time. True freshman Ahman Green filled in capably.

Nebraska was so dominant and balanced that its individual statistics did not reflect the team’s level of greatness. And it cost quarter-back Tommie Frazier, who attempted fewer than 15 passes per game, his best shot to win the Heisman Trophy.

Frazier finished second to Ohio State running back Eddie George. Everything else that year, the Huskers won.

Mitch Sherman

West Indies, 1984

The great Michael Holding probably put it most succinctly. “We hammered everyone,” he said when summing up the West Indian dominance of Test cricket over a period that really extended from 1976 to 1995.

They went 15 years without suffering a Test match series defeat at one point, including 27 undefeated matches from 1982-84, and beat all their regular opponents home and away. Their barrage of fast bowlers left opponents battered, bruised and broken. Their own batsmen were just as brutal. The side evolved over time, exploiting a conveyor belt of thrilling talent. Any number of teams might have warranted selection for this particular exercise, but the class of 1984 might have been the best.

Clive Lloyd’s team won a then-record 11 Tests in a row between March and November, including a 5-0 thrashing of England in England, the likes of which no team has ever emulated.

From Gordon Greenidge’s double centuries to Larry Gomes’ dogged reassurance and Viv Richards’ gum-chewing swagger, their batsmen were untouchable. But it was their fast bowling battery that set them apart. Surviving Joel Garner — Big Bird at 6ft 8in — pounding in from one end and Holding, Whispering Death, from the other was one thing. But it was not as if Malcolm Marshall or Eldine Baptiste offered any respite first change.

Lloyd succeeded in knitting wonderfully talented individuals from disparate Caribbean nations into a cricketing dream team. They were graceful. They were ruthless. For those confronting them, they were utterly terrifying. The world had no answer.

Dominic Fifield

The 1985 Bears did not have a perfect record — they went 15-1 in the regular season — but the argument can be made that no team dominated as thoroughly as they did.

They turned it on when it mattered most, outscoring three opponents in the post-season by the score of 91-10. Consider this: the Bears won their division by seven games. They were so confident in their abilities that they recorded “The Super Bowl Shuffle,” a rap video predicting their championship, in early December one day after their only loss.

Their defense has been hailed as the best of all time, and it could defeat opponents with overwhelming talent (three Hall of Famers in Richard Dent, Dan Hampton and Mike Singletary, and another who could be one in Steve McMichael) as well as with a cutting-edge scheme (Buddy Ryan’s 46 defense).

The defense was complemented by the best rushing game in the league, led by maybe the greatest runner ever in Walter Payton. The Bears were so superior they didn’t even miss two of their better players, safety Todd Bell and linebacker Al Harris, who sat out the season because of contract disputes.

Dan Pompei

 

United States ‘Dream Team’, 1992

Any debate of the greatest teams of all time cannot omit the 1992 United States men’s Olympic basketball team, better known as the Dream Team.

The roster had just 12 players and yet the amount of talent on display was staggering.

It combined the stars that defined the NBA in the 1980s, such as Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, with the next generation of players that would make the league a global phenomenon — namely Michael Jordan. Eleven of the 12 players are in the Hall of Fame, and the only reason it’s not all 12 is that one roster spot was reserved for the best college player of the day, Christian Laettner.

Looking at the summer of 1992 as a season, the Dream Team made its debut at the Tournament of the Americas, an Olympic qualifying event. The team played six matches there, winning by an average margin of 51 points. Their win over Cuba by a score of 136 to 57 prompted Cuba’s coach to remark, “You can’t cover the sun with your finger.”

From there they moved on to the Olympics in Barcelona, where they outscored their opponents by an average of 44 points across eight games. The closest contest they had came in the gold medal game against Croatia, and even then they still won by 32 points.

Michael Dominski

(Photos used in top design: Michael Regan/Getty Images; Sebastian Gollnow/picture alliance via Getty Images; Clifton Boutelle/Getty Images; Ian MacNicol/Getty Images; Nigel French – EMPICS; Brian Bahr / AFP via Getty Images; S&G/PA Images via Getty Images; Steve Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images; Etsuo Hara/Getty Images. Designed by Eamonn Dalton)



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