Legendary University of Tennessee Lady Volunteers basketball coach Pat Summitt retired on Thursday after 38-years on the sideline in Knoxville.
The 59-year-old Summitt, a seven-time NCAA Coach of the Year who is the winningest teacher in college basketball history with an astounding overall record of 1,098-208, was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease in May 2011.
Summitt helped lead the Lady Vols to eight NCAA Division I Women’s basketball championships since taking over the program in 1974.
Still, the 1997-1998 squad that went 39-0 en route to seizing the national title is widely regarded as her best and one of the greatest teams ever assembled in sports history.
In tribute to Pat Summitt, I decided to nominate the five best teams since the 1995 season.
There are a few caveats regarding the noted list.
For one, unfortunately for Summitt and Tennessee, the list strictly focuses on professional sports teams who participate in the NFL, NBA or MLB.
Secondly, only teams that competed from the 1995 season to present day are eligible.
The 1995 season was chosen as a benchmark because it was the first year that baseball instituted the wild-card and Michael Jordan returned that spring from his initial retirement.
Lastly, if a superior franchise won consecutive crowns, they are forbidden from being nominated twice.
For example, the 1995/1996 and 1996/1997 Chicago Bulls teams were both two of the preeminent units ever assembled.
Nevertheless, only one of those two spectacular squads will qualify for selection.
Without further adieu, below are the five premier professional teams since the 1995 season.
1) 1998 New York Yankees- This Yankees juggernaut won an astounding 114 games, in comparison to 48 losses, in the regular season and strolled through the playoffs with a record of 11-2 to capture New York’s 24th championship. In total, the Bombers compiled a spellbinding mark of 125-50.
2) 1995/1996 Chicago Bulls- This Michael Jordan-fueled team overwhelmed all foes on the hardwood. The Bulls won an NBA record 72 games in the regular season to amass a surreal .878 wining percentage. Chicago continued to dominate as they went 11-3 in the playoffs to collect the first-crown of what would ultimately become their second three-peat in the 1990s.
3) 1999/2000 Los Angeles Lakers- Los Angeles triumphed in 82 of the 105 games they played for the 11th best winning percentage (.780) in league history. A vintage Shaquille O’Neal commanded the paint and a young Kobe Bryant overshadowed his peers at the shooting guard position. Prior to their ugly divorce, a harmonious O’Neal and Bryant established one of the truly masterful tandems ever.
4) 1998/1999 Denver Broncos- After steamrolling the field and dabbling with perfection for the first three-quarters of the season, the Broncos stumbled a tad. Despite minor struggles late, John Elway and Terrell Davis propelled the Broncos to a 14-2 regular season record before trouncing the overmatched Atlanta Flacons 34-19 in Super Bowl XXXIII to earn consecutive Lombardi Trophies.
5) 2003/2004 New England Patriots- After a worrisome 0-2 start, Tom Brady and the Patriots never lost again. New England capped a brilliant 14-2 regular season with a narrow 32-29 victory over the mediocre Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl XXXVIII.
* Honorable Mentions:
1) 1996/1997 Chicago Bulls- Virtually as dominant as the 1995/1996 Bulls, one of the ruling teams in NBA history.
2) 1999 New York Yankees- Virtually as dominant as the 1998 Yankees, one of the ruling teams in MLB history.
3) 1999/2000 St. Louis Rams-“The Greatest Show on Turf” was one of the most potent offenses to ever step onto the gridiron.
4) 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks- In a seven-game series, with Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling throwing in the prime of their respective careers, the Diamondbacks could have overcome any team on the diamond.