Ranking the Top Five Duos in NBA History

Great teams come and go. Great players, too, come and go. But when you have two great players coming together to form a single great team, there’s something different. A truly great NBA duo can dominate the league for years, and that is just what these tandems managed to do.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Bill Russell and Bob Cousy, Boston Celtics
  • Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson, Milwaukee Bucks
  • Julius Erving and Moses Malone, Philadelphia 76ers
  • Larry Bird and Kevin McHale, Boston Celtics
  • Shaquille O’Neal and Penny Hardaway, Orlando Magic
  • David Robinson and Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs
  • Steve Nash and Amar’e Stoudemire, Phoenix Suns
  • Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming, Houston Rockets
  • Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
  • Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors

NBAE (Brian Drake/NBAE via Getty Images)

  1. John Stockton and Karl Malone, Utah Jazz (1985-2003)
  • NBA Titles: 0
  • All-Star Selections: 24

Easily the longest-lasting duo on the list, the tandem of John Stockton and Karl Malone played together for 18 seasons. Stockton has more assists than anyone in league history and Malone has more points than anyone in league history not named Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and yet this tandem often gets overlooked for—you guessed it—their lack of championships. There really is no shame in that, however, as the 1990’s Jazz are part of a long list of teams that peaked at the wrong time, with a certain #23 in Chicago sitting atop the NBA throne. Regardless, their pick and roll prowess coupled with their five Western Conference Finals and two NBA Finals appearances are more than enough to net them a spot on this list.

(Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

  1. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat (2010-2014)
  • NBA Titles: 2
  • All-Star Selections: 8

It’s no secret that these two are by far my favorite on this list—I’d say I missed no less than ten games games that these two played over their four seasons together. They were automatic in transition, and the absolute prime of the second-best player of all time happened to occur during these four years. They punched their ticket to the NBA Finals in every season they were together, and won the franchise’s second and third championships in 2012 and 2013. With all of this said, however, I can’t rank them higher than four on this list because of two things. 1) LeBron’s short-lived tenure in Miami and 2) Wade’s health. Had LeBron not left for the allure of home, or had Wade not battled knee issues for a good portion of the 2012, 2013 and 2014 seasons, I have no doubt in my mind that #3 and #6 would be fighting for the #1 spot.

(Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images)

  1. Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, Chicago Bulls (1987-1998)
  • NBA Titles: 6
  • All-Star Selections: 16

Their six rings are the most of anyone on this list, and despite what Nick Wright and Colin Cowherd may tell you, Michael Jordan is still the greatest player of all time. There’s no reason for me to sell his legacy to you here, so I won’t even bother. They terrorized the NBA for much of the 1990’s, and I see no reason why eight titles wouldn’t have been a possibility had MJ not traded in the sneakers for the spikes in 1993. However, I also believe that Scottie Pippen, while being a Hall of Famer and one of the undeniable greats of the game, is the worst player on this list. And for that reason, they will have to settle for third.

(JESSE D. GARRABRANT/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES)

  1. Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal, Los Angeles Lakers (1996-2004)
  • NBA Titles: 3
  • All-Star Selections: 13

Kobe and Shaq, much like LeBron and Wade, didn’t play together for nearly as long as many NBA fans wanted to see. Their breakup in 2004 was well-documented, but their time together as a duo was nothing short of incredible. People like to tell you that Shaq “carried” Kobe to three championships, but that’s just simply not true. Kobe was 22 years old when he averaged 28.5 PPG in the regular season, only to raise his average to 29.4 in the postseason en route to a repeat. He was only 23 when he averaged 27/6/5 on 51% shooting in the NBA Finals to cap off the three-peat. And when he finally starting reaching his prime age-wise in 2003, he led the Lakers in scoring while turning in one of the best single-season stat lines in recent history—30 PPG, 7 RPG, 6 APG. By the way, he was still only 24. Throw in the prime years of the most dominant player in NBA history, four Finals appearances and three championships, and you’ve got the second greatest duo of all time.

(Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

  1. Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Los Angeles Lakers (1979-1989)
  • NBA Titles: 5
  • All-Star Selections: 19

Magic and Kareem. The duo of the 80’s. In my opinion, the best duo ever. They won a championship their first season together—Magic’s rookie season. They won again two years later—Magic’s third season. Three years later in 1985, they were crowned champions again. They then waited a year, then proceeded to repeat in 1987 and 1988, with the 1987 team considered by many to be in the conversation for greatest ever. Kareem then retired in 1989. If that’s not dominance, I really don’t know what is. They both won MVPs during their time together—something no other duo on this list can say—and they revolutionized the game during a time when the league needed it most. In short, they’re the greatest duo to ever step on an NBA floor.

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