ESPN.com celebrates its 20th anniversary this week. Starting Monday we'll be highlighting some of the top teams, athletes and moments that characterized greatness in sports from 1995-2015.
From the 1996 Chicago Bulls' three-peat squad, to the improbable 2004 Boston Red Sox, to the 1999 U.S. women's soccer team, which teams made the cut? Our staff chose the following squads as the best of the best.
The story of each team below is told through the lens of the experts, writers and voices who witnessed these monumental achievements and coaches and athletes who participated in them.
No. 20: 1996-98 Tennessee Volunteers
Both the '95 UConn team and my '98 Tennessee Lady Vols were great championship basketball teams. But I think that my '98 team was the best of the decade because of the intensity with which it played the game.
My '98 team was the superior team in terms of defensive play and rebounding. But looking at the Huskies, they were a better passing team. They had five players who could really distribute the ball. They had the dimensions offensively to really break down a defense, whether they were facing pressure man or zone -- anything.
We lost to UConn twice during its undefeated, championship season, the final time in the 1995 title game. But I think if you matchup up my '98 team against that UConn team, we would have a good chance to win.
-- Tennessee Lady Volunteers coach Pat Summitt
No. 19: 1997-98 Denver Broncos
In January 1999, John Elway and the Broncos were again in the Super Bowl, this time against Atlanta and his former coach. Dan Reeves' game plan: Stop Davis and let Elway beat us. "My thought, 'Good, let's go,'" Elway said.
By throwing for 336 yards and one touchdown -- and running for another score -- Elway led Denver to a 34-19 triumph.
"I don't think there's any doubt now that he's a winner," said Elway's father, Jack.
Three months later, Elway retired at 38 after considering the decision for weeks. "The pressure's all gone," he said to his wife the next day. "I can't believe how happy I am."
No. 18: 2014 San Antonio Spurs
Maybe you're like me and you believed the San Antonio Spurs' triumph in the 2014 NBA Finals after their heart-shattering loss in the 2013 Finals is one of the greatest emotional bounce-backs we've seen in sports. Maybe you're like me and you believe there's an important lesson in handling defeat to be learned from it. And maybe you're like me in that the words of Gregg Popovich will convince you that you've been thinking about this the wrong way. ...
The true winners accept that defeat is always a possible outcome. The highest achievers are those who are unafraid of failure. The very best are those who use their losses to propel them to victory.
No. 17: 2006-08 Florida Gators
A lot of good will come out of this. You have never seen any player in the entire country play as hard as I will play the rest of the season, and you'll never see someone push the rest of the team as hard as I will push everybody the rest of the season. You'll never see a team play harder than we will the rest of the season. God bless.
No. 16: 2008 Boston Celtics
This was an obliteration. There's no other word. Obliteration. The Celtics did more than just capture their 17th title Tuesday night, playing their finest game of the season and crushing the spirit of a longtime foe in the process. Boston 131, Los Angeles 92. And you know what? It wasn't even that close. For Celtics fans, the only way Game 6 could have been more satisfying was if Kobe flipped out in the fourth quarter and punched Sasha Vujacic during a timeout, then got dragged to the locker room by five teammates screaming, "This isn't over! This isn't over!" while Sasha sobbed into a towel. Maybe that didn't happen, but everything else did.
No. 15: 2014-15 Kentucky Wildcats
Go ahead and rage against tradition. As much as we are a nation of sports fans who adore the underdog, who hold 1980 in Lake Placid as the gold standard, who want every NCAA championship game to end with another Jimmy V scrambling for someone to hug, the overdog's time has come.
The Kentucky Wildcats are likable, embraceable overdogs. Root for them to pull this off. Now that they have blown West Virginia out by a staggering 78-39 score in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament and find themselves halfway home in a sudden-death event set up for them to fail, go ahead and get behind these tall and remarkably poised kids as they try to deliver the only 40-0 college basketball season we'll see in our lifetime.
No. 14: 1996 U.S. men's basketball team
All Olympics I've been telling people that teams in 1996 are better than the teams in 1992. Certainly Yugoslavia showed that. We had a game on our hands, but our guys responded.
-- U.S. Olympic men's basketball coach Lenny Wilkens
There's really no comparing it to the first time, because you'll never duplicate the first time of anything. You saw it tonight, a team that was well-prepared and well-organized gave us difficulties for a half. Teams will slowly catch up to us talent-wise, and if they play great together, they might be able to challenge a U.S. team in the near future, simply because of time spent together.
-- Basketball player John Stockton
No. 13: 2005-06 Florida Gators
The blowouts in the Final Four shouldn't damper what was two great weekends in the NCAA tournament.
We had George Mason's historic mid-major run to the Final Four. Bradley shocked Kansas and Pitt to reach the Sweet 16, as did Wichita State. Northwestern State stunned Iowa on a buzzer-beater. UCLA had a frantic comeback win over Gonzaga. Texas' win over West Virginia and LSU's wins over Texas A&M and Texas were all thrillers. There were so many highlights in the first two weekends that showed the beauty of the tournament.
Ultimately, the best team in the field, or shall we say the team that played the best basketball, won the event. Florida wasn't the most talented team to start the season, but the Gators did play the best basketball over the final three-week period. This title was no fluke.
No. 12: 2003-04 USC Trojans
The back-to-back No. 1s by the Trojans illustrate what can happen when the right man fills the right job. Losing schools with tradition and resources lay dormant, hoping to find the coach who can unlock those tools and take the school back to the top.
In 1998, the year before Bob Stoops arrived, Oklahoma went 5-6, unacceptable at a school that had won six national championships. In 2000, the Sooners won the national championship.
In 2000, the year before Carroll arrived, USC went 5-7. In 2003, the Trojans won a share of the national championship. This week, at the FedEx Orange Bowl, the Trojans won the whole thing, the 11th in school history, and did so by humiliating the Sooners in a matchup of the two schools that have dominated the first half of this decade.
No. 11: 2013 Seattle Seahawks
After failures as an NFL head coach with the New York Jets and New England Patriots, Pete Carroll went to USC to prove to himself that old-school football could work. To Carroll, that meant rugged defense and running the football, a mindset he then imported to his next NFL stop with the Seattle Seahawks.
On Sunday night at MetLife Stadium, Carroll's old-school football produced an old-school Super Bowl beatdown, something that was common in the 1970s and 1980s. The Seahawks won their first NFL championship by dominating the Denver Broncos 43-8 in Super Bowl XLVIII.
No 10: 2002-04 Connecticut Huskies
When it was all over at the Final Four in New Orleans, more people had watched Diana Taurasi and the Huskies win a third consecutive national championship than any previous college game, men's or women's, in ESPN history. It was a fitting farewell audience for Taurasi, a player who did as much on the court as anyone before her to bring the women's game into the forefront of the nation's sporting consciousness.
No. 9: 1997-98 Detroit Red Wings
[Red Wings coach Scotty Bowman] teaches things that make you a winner. You learn details, the defensive side of the puck, don't cheat the game, play hard both ways, short shifts, a team mentality, and those kinds of things, Things that will help you win because that takes care of almost all situations.
-- Red Wings associate coach Barry Smith
It's quite a remarkable accomplishment, especially in this day and age. [Bowman] is such a student of the game and such a student of the history of the game. He has his finger into every aspect of the game, that's just his nature.
-- Red Wings associate coach Dave Lewis
No. 8: 2009-12 Alabama Crimson Tide
We can pretty much hold a retirement party for the "Is Alabama a Dynasty?" debate. The Crimson Tide are not only a dynasty, they're the program other football teams want to be when they grow up.
This is Bama's second consecutive national championship, its third in four seasons. If this keeps up, they're going to have to rename the trophy The Nicky, or ask the Tide to join the NFC South.
"Dynasty," said senior long-snapper Carson Tinker. "I say it all day. Unprecedented. Dynasty, man!"
Do you know how hard it is to get to a national title game? Saban and Bama not only get there, but they keep coming back. And they keep winning. It is beyond impressive, it's historic.
No. 7: 1999 U.S. women's soccer team
The message of that moment and the entire accomplishment of that '99 team was teamwork. Every player on that team, every woman, was an important part of it. And the ads told that story, and what we put on the field confirmed it. It was so impactful, because it made people believe that anything was possible. It had that 1980 hockey moment effect. It was wonderful and motivating and gave you ambition and hope, really. The way we won and the personalities and their stories made it possible for women's soccer to fill football stadiums. It really changed the way people looked at life for a while. I really believe it changed society, not just sports or women's sports.
No: 6: 2012-13 Miami Heat
When the Miami Heat won the 2011-12 NBA Finals, we didn't just see a team beat the competition. We just witnessed the validation of a grand experiment.
And it all wouldn't have happened if the most talented player in the game didn't realize he needed to evolve.
In a way, the Heat triumphed on Thursday night to beat the Oklahoma City Thunder because they lost one Sunday night last June to the Dallas Mavericks. The loss sent LeBron James into a deep hibernation of introspection. As the story goes, James didn't leave his house for weeks, soaking in the Finals defeat and contemplating his next move.
And that next move did change everything -- James, the Heat and perhaps the landscape of the NBA itself.
No. 5: 2000-02 Los Angeles Lakers
On one part of the podium stood Shaquille O'Neal, palming the Larry O'Brien championship trophy with his massive right hand. Standing nearby was Kobe Bryant, holding out three fingers while sporting a Lakers championship hat, tilted to the side.
If you're a Lakers fan, once again savor the moment. If you're a Laker hater, get used to it. With Wednesday's 113-107 win over the Nets, the Lakers earned a sweep of the NBA Finals and a three-peat -- and all indications are that the streak will continue.
-- ESPN The Magazine columnist Jerry Bembry
No. 4: 1998-00 New York Yankees
This core group, winning four World Series out of five years, in this day and age, when you have to come through layer after layer of postseason play, we can put our record, our dedication, our resolve against any team that has ever played the game of baseball.
-- Yankees manager Joe Torre after winning the 2000 World Series
No. 3: 2001-04 New England Patriots
Even without a league mandate, the Patriots just might be the automatic AFC entry for the next several years. Yes, they are that good. They won their third Super Bowl in four years and almost everyone in the vicinity of ALLTEL Stadium -- with the notable exception of the Patriots -- invoked the D-word when it was over.
The Patriots matched the achievement of the Dallas Cowboys of the middle 1990s, but within the context of today's free agency system, New England's feat is vastly more impressive.
No. 2: 2004 Boston Red Sox
We won because we believed. We won because we knew that if we focused, no one could beat us. And we won because the greatest fans on Earth, while wavering on that bandwagon, stayed true to us and with us through the very end.
I am honored and privileged to be able to call myself one of the 25, because there will be tens of hundreds more World Series champions, but there will never be another team like the 2004 Boston Red Sox.
No. 1: 1996-98 Chicago Bulls
I talked to Michael [Jordan] in the locker room before Game 6 in Utah [in the 1998 NBA Finals]. He was the last one to get taped, and Scottie [Pippen] was lying on a table near him getting ice and electric stimulation for his bad back. Scottie had hurt himself taking so many charges from [Karl] Malone and others. I said, "Mike, do you think you can go 48 tonight?"
He was very quiet, very serious. "I will if I have to," he said.
"I don't know," I said.
"Whatever it takes," he said. "Let's do it tonight."
He wound up playing 44 minutes and getting really tired at the end. With a couple of minutes to play, I called a timeout, and he said, "We're gonna win this one." And I said, "I know." When Michael says that, it's always a good sign.