Teams That Defy the Odds: The Best Underdog Stories in Basketball History

Teams That Defy the Odds: The Best Underdog Stories in Basketball History

Basketball is a game where height, speed, and skill usually determines who is going to be the winner. However, sometimes the underdogs come out as the ultimate victors. These unexpected victories add excitement to the game and create some of the greatest moments in basketball history. In this article, we look at a few stories of teams who defied all odds and emerged victorious in the face of adversity.

1. The 1979 Illinois State Redbirds

The 1979 Illinois State Redbirds were a true underdog story. Coached by Gene Smithson, the Redbirds had a 21-5 record, but they were not expected to make any kind of impression in the NCAA tournament. However, the team made it all the way to the Final Four, where they faced off against Indiana State, led by Larry Bird, in a game that is still referred to as the “Game of the Century.”

Despite a valiant effort by Bird, the Redbirds managed to pull off a surprising victory, advancing to the championship game. Although they eventually lost to Michigan State, the Redbirds became one of the most memorable underdog stories in basketball history.

2. The 1995 Houston Rockets

In 1995, the Houston Rockets were in a tough spot. They were the sixth seed in the Western Conference and had to face some tough opposition in the playoffs. However, the team was led by Hakeem Olajuwon, one of the greatest centers in NBA history.

The Rockets made it all the way to the NBA Finals where they faced off against the Orlando Magic, led by the young phenom Shaquille O’Neal. Though the Magic were heavily favored, the Rockets managed to win the series by sweeping four straight games, with Olajuwon putting up dominant performances throughout the series. The team’s unexpected victory is still considered one of the greatest upsets in NBA history.

3. The 2011 Dallas Mavericks

The Dallas Mavericks have had some great teams over the years, but the 2011 team was not expected to contend for the championship. The Mavericks had made the playoffs for the eleventh consecutive year, but they were aging, and the team had seemed to have lost its edge.

Led by Dirk Nowitzki and a supporting cast of lesser-known players, the Mavericks managed to win their first NBA championship by beating the Miami Heat in six games. It was a remarkable victory for the team and capped off an amazing playoff run that proved to be one of the greatest underdog stories in NBA history.

4. The 1983 NC State Wolfpack

The 1983 NC State Wolfpack basketball team was one of the most exciting underdog stories in college basketball history. Coached by Jim Valvano, the team had a mediocre regular season record and were not expected to make it far in the NCAA tournament.

However, the team managed to defeat a number of top-ranked teams, ultimately winning the championship in an epic game against the heavily favored Houston Cougars. Valvano’s joyous sprint across the court remains one of the most iconic moments in college basketball history, and the team’s improbable victory continues to inspire people to this day.


Underdog stories are what make basketball so thrilling. A little bit of luck, some skilled players, and a great coach can sometimes take a team all the way to the top. These stories remind us that anything is possible, and inspire us to never give up hope, no matter how difficult the circumstances may seem. The stories of these teams will continue to be retold for years to come, inspiring generations of basketball fans with the hope of achieving the impossible.