When LeBron James on July 8, 2010, made his decision to join the Miami Heat and form a big three, the NBA was alarmed that forming a trio of three superstars was a recipe to win NBA championships. LeBron James was not the first one and not the last to join a team to form a powerhouse with multiple star players. Last year’s NBA Finals featured two big three’s squaring off against each other in the form of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green versus LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love. Teams around the NBA are now hoping to replicate the model of a big three, but this idea of a big three did not start with LeBron James and the Miami Heat in 2010.
Since the NBA came into existence teams have tried to put together teams full of superstars. The Lakers and Celtics have been the most successful franchises with replicating the big three model, and it has resulted in the two teams combining for 33 NBA championships. There have also been big three’s that have been put together that have failed miserably. Sometimes the failed big three concept can give a team temporary success, but then they fall into NBA purgatory by either missing or barely making the NBA playoffs for numerous years.
These are the 8 best and 7 worst Big 3’s in NBA history:
15 Best: Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce (2007-2012)
The Celtics struggled in 2006 and needed to get their superstar some help in order to reach contender status once again. GM Danny Ainge pulled off two enormous trades landing Ray Allen from the Seattle Supersonics and Kevin Garnett from the Minnesota Timberwolves, and the Celtics would win 42 more games in 2007-08 than they did the previous year with the help of their two new super stars. They faced their biggest rival in the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2008 NBA Finals, and the trio won the title in their first year together.
The team reached the NBA Finals again in 2010 again against the Los Angeles Lakers but lost the second time around. They would make the playoffs every year together. Kevin Garnett would win the defensive player of the year award in 2008, Ray Allen set the record for most three pointers made in a career, and Paul Pierce became the third Celtic to score 20,000 points.
14 Worst: Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley and Clyde Drexler (1996-1998)
All three of these superstars were some of the best players to ever play in the NBA, but by the time they teamed up it was too late for them to achieve success at an elite level as a team. The goal was to win the NBA championship so this trio could go out on top. It initially looked promising when the Rockets reached the Western Conference Finals in 1997, but they were defeated by the Utah Jazz in 6 games. The newly added Barkley mixed in well with Olajuwon and Drexler averaging 19 points and 13 rebounds a game. The 1997-1998 season was a struggle for the team as a whole as they barely made the playoffs as an eighth seed. They were bounced in the first round again by the Utah Jazz, and Drexler called it a career ending this big three’s hopes at winning an NBA title.
13 Best: Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul Jabbar and James Worthy (1982-1989)
The ShowTime Lakers are arguably one of the greatest teams to ever grace an NBA court. Kareem Abdul Jabbar had been picked up in a trade from the Milwaukee Bucks in 1975, Then the Lakers used the first pick in the 1980 and 1982 draft to select Magic Johnson and James Worthy. This big three was able to win three championships together in 1985, 1987, and 1988. Magic Johnson was one of the greatest passers in NBA history, Abdul Jabbar was one of the best centers to ever play the game, and Worthy was a quality player on both offense and defense. The ShowTime Lakers also won the Western Conference championship six times to go with their three NBA championships.
Their quick pace on the floor is what garnered the nickname ShowTime, and their back to back titles in 1987 and 1988 were the first back to back titles since the Celtics had done so in the 1960s.
12 Worst: Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Deron Williams (2013-14)
In the Nets' second year in Brooklyn they were looking to make a splash on the NBA landscape. They sent shock waves around the NBA when they pulled off a blockbuster trade with the Boston Celtics to acquire future hall of famers Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. Many thought with these two and their super star point guard Deron Williams they would be able to contend in the East. With this trio they made it to the second round of the playoffs and lost in five games to the Miami Heat. Garnett and Pierce showed that they were too old to be considered superstars, and they only stayed together for one year.
In 2014 Pierce left to join the Wizards, and the Brooklyn Nets have been one of the worst teams in the NBA ever since.
11 Best: Julius Erving, Moses Malone and Andrew Toney (1982-1986)
The Philadelphia 76ers had been one of the best teams in the NBA during the late 70s and early 80s, but they could not get over the hump. They had made multiple long runs in the playoffs. The Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers were their two arch nemeses, and although they had two great scorers in Julius Erving and Andrew Toney they needed another game changing player. Before the 1982-83 NBA season the 76ers acquired Moses Malone.
Malone would help the 76ers finally get over the hump, and Malone also was named the MVP that season for his 24 point and 15 rebound per game averages. Erving's scoring output dipped a little bit that year to 21 points a night. He still grabbed almost seven rebounds a night as well, and Andrew Toney provided 20 points a night for the offensively efficient Sixers.
10 Worst: Rajon Rondo, DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay (2015-16)
The Sacramento Kings have been a dysfunctional franchise for some time now, and they thought they could make a real push for the playoffs after acquiring Rudy Gay and Rajon Rondo. The team did not have any depth though, and therefore stumbled to a 33-49 record during their lone season together during the 2015-16 NBA season. DeMarcus Cousins is arguably the best center in the NBA, and proved it by getting 27 points and 11 rebounds per game. Rondo was able to somewhat revive his career by leading the NBA in assists. Rudy Gay averaged a modest 17 points a night, but the Kings just couldn’t find ways to win games with these three. DeMarcus Cousins has not been in a winning culture since coming into the league unfortunately, and this trio dissolved after just one season.
9 Best: Larry Bird, Robert Parish and Kevin Mchale (1980-1993)
Larry Bird debuted with the Celtics in 1979, and proved early on he was worth waiting for to graduate from Indiana State University. In 1980 the Celtics were able to acquire Robert Parish and Kevin McHale without having to give up much. This trio would end up winning another three NBA championships for the Celtics franchise, and all three players are hall of famers. Bird was such a great shooter, rebounder, and passer, and McHale and Parrish were gritty players.
All three of them were great rebounders which led to the Celtics always getting a ton of extra possessions. The 1985-86 season was the trio's best year as the team won 67 games and only lost once at home. The Celtics' last championship with this trio came in 1986, but they stayed together until Bird's retirement in 1993.
8 Worst: LaMarcus Aldridge, Brandon Roy and Greg Oden (2007-2011)
This trio had the potential to be great, and poor play did not derail this big three. The injuries are what ultimately led to the failure of these three to bring success to the Portland Trail Blazers. Aldridge was fortunate to not get bit by the injury bug the way Roy and Oden did. Aldridge has carved out a nice career so far averaging 19 points and 8 assists a game, and Roy was a three time All-Star before he suffered from knee problems.
Oden was the number one pick in the 2007 NBA Draft but only played 82 total games with the Trail Blazers. Despite Aldridge and Roy playing at a high level the Blazers were unable to even win a playoff series while these three were members of the team.
7 Best: Bill Russell, Bob Cousy and Tom Heinsohn (1956-1963)
Any trio that has as much hardware as these Celtic greats has to be considered one of the best big threes to ever play in the NBA. Bob Cousey started playing for the Celtics in 1950, and although he was playing at a high level he needed more help to bring an NBA championship to Boston. The Celtics were able to acquire both Bill Russell and Tom Heinsohn prior to the 1956-1957 NBA season. Heinsohn ended up beating out Russell for the rookie of the year award. Russell turned out to be one of the best and most recognized players in NBA history, and he led the Celtics to six NBA championships while playing together. After Cousy retired in 1963 the Celtics won two more NBA championships with Russell and Heinsohn.
6 Worst: Josh Smith, Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe (2013-14)
Greg Monroe was the first of this big three that was acquired by the Pistons through the draft, and they also were able to get Andre Drummond via the 2012 NBA Draft. The Pistons made a big splash in free agency by signing Josh Smith. Many around the league thought that the Pistons had one of the best front courts in basketball, and Monroe and Smith were known as above average scorers. It was also thought that they would pose a defensive threat to the competition. Of the big three Drummond was the most impressive by averaging 13 points and 13 rebounds a game, but Josh Smith was a major disappointment only shooting 42 percent from the field.
The team was only able to win 29 games during the 2013-14 NBA season, and the next year this big three was dismantled with the waiving of Josh Smith.
5 Best: Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli (2002-2016)
The trio of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli have made the Spurs one of the most notable dynasties that the NBA has ever seen. Tim Duncan finally retired after the 2016 playoffs, and Ginobli and Parker are no longer the biggest stars of the Spurs. This big three’s journey began in the 2002-03 NBA season. The trio won their first NBA championship together, and they sent off the legendary David Robinson on a high note. The Spurs would enjoy three more NBA titles in 2005, 2007, and 2014. The Spurs conceivably should have won another championship in 2013, but a Ray Allen three pointer with time winding down in Game 6 extended the series to a Game 7 which they eventually lost.
It is undeniable that all three of these gentlemen will be headed to the hall of fame someday for their contributions to the Spurs' championship runs.
4 Worst: Derrick Rose, Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis (2016-present)
The Knicks got an unexpected star in Kristaps Porzingis out of the 2015 NBA Draft, and they were looking to turn their team into a possible contender in the east during the 2016 offseason. Derrick Rose is a former MVP with the Chicago Bulls. The Knicks acquired Rose via trade, and Rose bragged about how great the Knicks would be this season. Unfortunately, the season has been in turmoil since the start for these three.
The Knicks appear to be headed for another season without a playoff berth, and through the first 43 games they have compiled a disappointing record of 19 wins and 24 losses. Carmelo Anthony has also been rumored to possibly want out of New York which makes the Knicks' future bleak. This trio won't last long.
3 Best: LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh (2011-14)
When Lebron James said on live television that he was taking his talents to South Beach, it seemed the entire NBA would have to go through Miami in order to win an NBA Championship. The Heat had previously acquired Chris Bosh before hearing LeBron’s great news. The team surprisingly lost to the Dallas Mavericks in the first year of their super team’s existence, and many saw this as a major disappointment. LeBron James was able to finally shed the blemish on his career of never being able to win an NBA championship, and he proved he was still the best player in the world by winning the MVP award in 2012 and 2013.
Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh still played at an All Star level during the big three era. Altogether the big three made it to the finals every year of its existence, and won two out of four titles.
2 Worst: Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Dwight Howard (2012-13)
The Lakers' first season without Phil Jackson ended in a second round playoff exit at the hands of the Oklahoma City Thunder. During the 2012 NBA offseason the Lakers were determined to make their team into a contender once again. The Lakers first acquired Steve Nash from the Phoenix Suns, and now featured two former MVPs on the same team. The next move made by the Lakers sent shock waves throughout the league when they sent Andrew Bynum to the Philadelphia 76ers and acquired Dwight Howard as part of a multi team trade.
The moves ended up not resulting in an NBA championship, and after five games coach Mike Brown was fired. The team barely made the playoffs. Kobe Bryant got hurt at the end of the year, and because of this burden the Lakers were swept in the first round of the playoffs. Steve Nash could not stay healthy while on the team and Dwight Howard did not get along with Kobe Bryant.
1 Best: Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, and Dennis Rodman 1995-98
On March 18, 1995, Michael Jordan announced he was coming out of retirement, and he was able to will the Bulls to the second round of the playoffs. They lost to the eventual Eastern Conference champion Orlando Magic. During the 1995 offseason, the Bulls picked up a third potential superstar player to pair with Jordan and Pippen in Dennis Rodman. Dennis Rodman was a rebounding machine, and with his presence on the team the Bulls would win three straight NBA championships from 1996-98.
Jordan provided the bulk of the scoring and was a great defender. Scottie Pippen was a great all around player, and was considered by many to be the best defensive player in the league at the time. The combination also notably set the record for most wins by a team in a season at the time with 72 during the 1995-96 NBA season.