From high fives after a made basket, to hugs after a goal, to fist bumps after a home run, teammates show camaraderie and unity in all kinds of ways during games. As sports fans, we always hope these amicable gestures hold true in real life. We all like to imagine our favorite athletes are truly friends off the field, the court, or the ice.
Of course, it’s never easy for star players to co-exist together, especially on the same team. Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal had a famously rocky relationship during their final years together in Los Angeles in the mid-2000s. In baseball, Alex Rodriguez never saw eye-to-eye with Derek Jeter while the two played for the Yankees.
In a star-studded league like the NBA, finding true friendships between star players is akin to finding a needle in a haystack. However, there are several NBA stars whose chemistry on the court has carried over into off-the-court relationships.
We all know about the “bromance” between LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, but there are several heartwarming stories of NBA players proving friendships don’t end when the final buzzer sounds.
Here are 15 stars who are friends off the court.
15 Chauncey Billups & Rip Hamilton
Chauncey Billups and Rip Hamilton composed a great backcourt for the Detroit Pistons, and they developed great chemistry on and off the court.
The Pistons duo of Billups and Hamilton helped propel the Pistons to the 2004 NBA Championship over the Lakers. Billups won Finals MVP, while Hamilton averaged 21.5 points during the team's playoff run.
The two have been great friends ever since. Hamilton invited Billups to his wedding in 2009, and Billups never forgot the bond he shared with Hamilton and that 2004 Pistons team. When the Pistons retired Billups’ jersey in 2016, Hamilton heaped more praise on his good friend and former teammate.
“My kids asked what is the definition of a role model,” Hamilton said during the jersey retirement ceremony. “I pulled your picture up and showed them.”
Billups returned the favor by predicting that Hamilton's number would be next in line for retirement.
“Rip Hamilton holds so many records...and did a lot of great things in the community," Billups said. "I’m looking forward to that day."
14 Kevin Love & Ricky Rubio
They may play on different teams, but Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio came into their own on the Minnesota Timberwolves. NBA analysts and coaches fawned over their chemistry and likened them to the modern day John Stockton and Karl Malone.
The duo’s success wasn’t lost on Rubio or on Love. They appreciated the talent and friendship they shared. Love helped give English lessons to Rubio as the young Spanish star was learning the language, and discussed fashion and art history with him on social media. Rubio publicly wished Love a “speedy recovery” on social media after the forward’s October 2012 hand injury.
Relations have cooled between the two since Love’s trade to the Cleveland Cavaliers, with Rubio insisting the move was “good for him and good for us,” but one would hope the two have maintained cordial ties to some degree in recent years. Love said as much after a January 2016 game against the T-Wolves, admitting ‘it was great to see those guys, no matter how short it is.”
13 Rashad McCants & Kevin Garnett
We often associate poetry with romance or unrequited love. We don’t often think “basketball” when we seek inspiration for sonnets and elegies.
Rashad McCants thinks differently than the rest of us. The Minnesota Timberwolves’ 2005 first round pick wrote a poem in tribute to his mentor, Kevin Garnett after the veteran power forward was traded to the Boston Celtics in 2007.
The poem is extremely cheesy in its prose but speaks to McCants’ admiration of Garnett’s leadership and guidance during the early years of McCants’ NBA career.
Here’s a quick excerpt:
“He came to me with open arms, like a hawk embracing his young, and he fed me food out his mouth, but I was starving for knowledge."
That type of knowledge can't be fed by hand or voice, but by heart. So when he spoke he touched my soul, and my soul would smack me if I didn't listen. The words he spoke weren't for the ears to hear.”
Clearly, Garnett had a deep influence on McCants, as the young shooting guard was never the same after KG left. He hasn’t played in the NBA since 2009.
12 Jason Williams & Chris Webber
The Sacramento Kings haven’t enjoyed much success throughout franchise history. Perhaps the greatest era of Kings’ basketball came in the late 1990’s-early 2000s, ushered in by the tandem of Chris Webber and Jason Williams. The Kings acquired Webber via trade in May 1998 and drafted Williams just one month later with the seventh overall pick in the 1998 NBA draft.
Webber and Williams appeared together on the cover of Slam! Magazine in March 2000.
“He is a great player to play with,” Webber said in a 1999 interview with ESPN’s Up Close. “He brings a lot of excitement and he is a big part of the success here in Sacramento.”
Williams admitted they shared a lot of similarities outside of basketball, including a love of football, similar fashion choices, and a calm, collected demeanor while away from the court.
11 Zach Randolph & Marc Gasol
Zach Randolph didn’t exactly have the best reputation in the locker before he arrived in Memphis. He often clashed with coaches, and let his hot-headed play get the best of him.
However, Randolph’s game dramatically improved after his 2009 trade to the Memphis Grizzlies. Randolph earned two All-Star appearances as a Grizzly and is the team’s all-time team leader in made field goals.
A big reason for Randolph’s turnaround is his friendship with center Marc Gasol. Gasol helped shed Randolph of his selfish “bad boy” image and focus more on defensive commitment.
On the court, Gasol and Randolph's styles work perfectly together. Gasol can shoot mid-range jumpers and throw down dunks, while Randolph can drain short-range shots and float lay-ups.
“We understand the game the same way and we're both willing passers,” Gasol told CBSSports.com in 2013. “When you care about someone on the floor and you've got their back, it's always going to give them confidence.”
10 Tony Parker & Manu Ginobili
Let’s be clear: The greatest “bromance” in Spurs’ history is between Tim Duncan and head coach Gregg Popovich. However, after Duncan’s 2016 retirement, we need another love affair to focus on.
I present to you: Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.
The two long-time teammates have formed quite a deep bond over their years in San Antonio. They have won four championships together since teaming up in 2002, and have established themselves as legends amongst international players. Along with Duncan, the French-born Parker and the Argentinian-born Ginobili combined for over 541 career victories, setting the record for wins by an NBA threesome.
“It tells a lot about how successful we’ve been, and these 14 seasons we’ve played together,” Ginobili said after setting the record in 2015. “Even with the wins and all that, playing together for so long is very unique. So we appreciate the fact we’ve been together for so long.”
On any other team, Parker and Ginobili might have been serviceable players, but it was their pairing with Duncan on the Spurs that truly propelled them to new heights.
9 Kyle Lowry & DeMar DeRozan
The Toronto Raptors duo is leading the renaissance of basketball in the Great White North. The two were teammates on the 2016 Eastern Conference All-Star team and led the Raptors to the Eastern Conference Finals earlier this year. They also brag about going on 3 a.m. McFlurry runs together, and love to joke around in the locker room. Sometimes this locker room banter comes through on camera.
For instance, DeRozan interrupted one of Lowry’s 2016 post game interviews to tell him he was heading home early. “Really, bro?” Lowry responded. “What time are you going to sleep? I’m gonna FaceTime you!”
DeRozan has also referred to Lowry as the leader and “the heartbeat” of the 2016 Toronto Raptors team.
We felt like we could be special together and take this city to another level,” Lowry added. “We’ve got some great pieces around us.”
8 Steve Nash & Dirk Nowitzki
Steve Nash and Dirk Nowitzki were teammates on the Dallas Mavericks for six seasons and even roomed together on road trips. They maintained a strong friendship even after Nash left to join the Phoenix Suns in 2004.
The Mavericks declined to match the Suns’ mammoth six-year, $63 million contract offer to Nash that offseason, and instead decided to move forward with the younger Nowitzki.
The German star disapproved of the move. “I was disappointed,” he told Memphisport.com in 2015. “That was pretty obvious. But looking back, I’ll always have a smile on my face of the times we had together.”
Nowitzki continued to heap praise on the All-Star forward, adding, “He wanted the big shot…he played through injuries. He was just as tough as it gets and he was my friend.”
7 Blake Griffin & Chris Paul
The Clippers, like the Kings, have been perpetual cellar dwellers in the NBA for much of their history. However, that was before Chris Paul and Blake Griffin teamed up to turn the Clippers into “Lob City.” They’ve almost overshadowed the mighty Lakers in recent seasons, as the purple-and-gold have fallen off the map to some extent.
Paul serves as the point guard and the playmaker who gets the ball to Griffin, the premier big man and bonafide scorer with a propensity for thunderous dunks.
“It put us on the map,” Griffin said of CP3’s arrival in Los Angeles in 2011. “Ever since then we've been to the playoffs and we're making strides to where we want to be.”
Griffin and Paul have even appeared in television commercials together in 2014, showing off their stellar comedic timing and proving they’re just as amicable off the court as they are dominant on the court.
6 Carmelo Anthony & Kristaps Porzingis
The age gap may be wide, but the bond between these two Knicks stars is tight. Kristaps Porzingis has revitalized Carmelo Anthony’s game since his arrival in New York during the summer of 2015. Anthony started dishing the rock out to the young Latvian more than ever, morphing from a “ball hog” of sorts into a dynamic playmaker.
He hasn’t felt threatened by the young center’s rise from relative unknown to budding NBA star.
“I support him 100 percent,” Anthony told YahooSports.com in December of 2015. “When things are going bad, they kick the chair out from underneath you…If I can be there and be that guy who can grab him and say everything is going to be alright, I’m going to do that.”
“I know what we have as teammates,” Anthony continued. “Nobody can come between us despite what anybody says.”
Porzingis echoed similar sentiments to the New York Daily News in 2016. “Obviously I want him to stay here," Porzingis said. "We need him, I need him, and we don’t want to lose him.”
5 Kobe Bryant & Pau Gasol
Much has been said about Kobe’s aloofness in the locker room, and his sometimes contentious relationship with other stars players. We all know how quickly things soured between he and Shaq in the mid-2000s.
However, Bryant’s relationship with Pau Gasol was of a different ilk. The two All-Stars spent six and a half seasons together appeared in three NBA Finals and won two championships.
Yet, trade rumors dogged Gasol during his time in Los Angeles. In 2014, Gasol finally left the team to sign with the Chicago Bulls.
“I understand where he was coming from,” Bryant told ESPN.com of Gasol’s decision.
“He wanted me to stay, obviously,” Gasol added. “I did tell him that I wanted to play, if I could, with him forever.” Gasol admitted that, despite splitting up, he and Kobe remain great friends, and had “incredible times” on the court.
“I'm extremely happy that I was able to share those moments with him and go through all of those things,” he said in 2016.
4 Steve Francis & Cuttino Mobley
Sometimes, a mid-round player needs an All-Star to help elevate his game. Well, that’s exactly what Steve Francis did for Cuttino Mobley during the tandem’s tenure with the Houston Rockets. Francis, a stellar point guard, allowed Mobley to flourish as part of the Houston Rockets’ high-scoring backcourt from 1998-2004.
The two teammates got lucky when they were traded together to the Orlando Magic in a 2005 package for Tracy McGrady.
Unfortunately, the Magic traded Mobley after 23 games, and this time, Francis wasn’t going with him. He was devastated at the prospect of separating from his friend.
"I can't put it into words," Francis told ESPN.com at the time of the trade. "Playing with a guy, living with a guy, just knowing that every day when I wake up that's something I can count on…Him not being here is going to be tough for me. I don't know what I'm going to wake up for."
If that quote doesn’t tug at your heartstrings, I’m not sure what will.
3 Paul Pierce & Kevin Garnett
Winning often solves a lot of problems in a locker room. Championship titles can foster lifelong friendships between players as they bask in the afterglow of victory.
Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett’s friendship is a product of the Boston Celtics’ 2008 NBA championship. It was the team’s first title since 1986.
The relationship remained strong years after the championship. “I think that each year that Paul and I continue to be friends and as teammates, we get closer and closer,” Garnett told NBA.com in 2013. “We still view each other as brothers… We share a lot of personal things with each other.”
The two spent six seasons together between the Celtics and the Brooklyn Nets. Pierce even discussed coaching with Garnett upon his retirement after the 2016-17 season.
“I think it's something that Kevin has even thought about,” Pierce told the Boston Herald in 2014. “Me and him talked about it. I think he would enjoy coaching.”
It wouldn’t surprise anyone to imagine another reunion between these two in the near future.
2 Isiah Thomas & Magic Johnson
Isiah Thomas and Magic Johnson were never NBA teammates, but their friendship still blossomed. The two point guards popularized the notion that rivals could be foes on the court, and friends off of it.
Their friendship hit a snag after Johnson's 1991 HIV diagnosis led Thomas to question Magic's sexuality. Fortunately, the two re-kindled their relationship in 2013, with Johnson tweeting "I had a great private convo with @Iamisiahthomas. Glad we can be friends again."
This year, Magic hailed Thomas as one of the greatest point guards in NBA history, ahead of stars like John Stockton and Stephen Curry. Back when both Thomas and Johnson played, there weren't many players were had friends outside of their teammates. While these two became friends after their playing careers, it's nice to see two stars on the same side nonetheless.
1 LeBron James & Dwyane Wade
LeBron James and Dwyane Wade have perhaps the most overt “bromance” in the entire NBA. The two legends teamed up in South Beach from 2010-2014, delivering two titles and four straight Eastern Conference championships to Heat fans.
LeBron and Wade often slept over at one another's houses when playing in each other’s cities instead of staying with teammates at hotels.
Even after LeBron left Miami to return to Cleveland in 2014, he maintained his tight relationship with Wade. The two were spotted working out together at Wade’s gym in Miami in March 2016. James joined Wade to shoot hoops during the 2016 offseason, an event Wade shared on Instagram.
Wade even admits to using the “L-word” with LeBron.
"Yeah, we say love," he told ESPN.com in May 2016. "There's nothing wrong with men expressing love for each other, if you're secure in your manhood and who you are.”
It’s no surprise, then, that neither player has ruled out a potential reunion in the future.
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