The phenomenon of the Big 3 is a rather recent phenomenon. Some go way back to the 70’s, but by in large, we are seeing more Big 3’s today than ever before. A part of the reason for that is because a Big 2 is no longer enough to win a NBA Championship anymore. Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler were good enough to win a Championship with some solid role players around them, David Robinson and Tim Duncan were also good enough to win a Championship with some solid role players around them, but it will increasingly become more and more rare for any team to win a NBA title with solely a Big 1 or a Big 2.
This means that we will start to see more and more Big 3’s than ever before. And it may not be farfetched to say that we may even start to see some Big 4’s in the future. There are some Big 3’s that may come to mind as you look at this list and to your surprise not find them there. The primary reason for this is because their entire corpus of work may not have been great enough for them to include. This is not a list about the best Big 3’s over the course of one year, but their collective work as a team. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule, if they were truly outstanding.
Furthermore, one might be tempted to include a Big 3 on this list, when in actuality it is really more of a Big 2.5. Two superstars and one role player do not make a Big 3. A Big 3 must include 3 stars, not just two of them. For example, a person might be tempted to include Charles Barkley, Kevin Johnson, and Dan Majerle on this list during their Phoenix Suns days. However, Thunder Dan was more along the lines of a glorified role player that could bomb three’s from anywhere than a franchise type of player. How do you know? Put Thunder Dan as the number two or number one guy on any team, and there is no way that the team would even make it to the playoffs. He is a solid role player to have as your third best scorer, however, that does not make him good enough to qualify as a member of the Big 3. Below are the best Big-3 combinations in NBA history.
25 Milwaukee Bucks: Glenn Robinson, Ray Allen, Sam Cassell
They played together for four seasons from 1998-2002 and went as far as the Eastern Conference Finals together before losing to the Philadelphia 76ers. This combo is not the best big 3 of all-time, but each of them are individually very potent scorers. Ray Allen is arguably the best shooter in NBA history, and during his Milwuakee days he didn’t just float on the 3-point line. He was also penetrating the paint, which is really, really scary if you think about it.
24 Portland Trailblazers – Clyde Drexler, Terry Porter, Kevin Duckworth
They played 6 seasons together from 1987-1993 and went to the NBA Finals before running into a certain Michael Jordan in 1991-1992. Had this Portland Trailblazers team played any other team, they would have no doubt won a championship. Drexler was in his prime and was the 2nd best shooting guard behind Jordan. Porter was a veteran point guard and Duckworth was a two-time All Star.
23 Cleveland Cavaliers – Mark Price, Brad Daugherty, Larry Nance
They played 7 seasons together from 1987-1994. Mark Price has become one of the most forgotten and least talked about point guards from the 80’s and 90’s, but he is one of the best shooters to have ever played the game. Brad Daugherty was an All-Star and Larry Nance was one of the original high-flying big men to have ever played the game.
22 New York Knicks – Patrick Ewing, Charles Oakley, John Starks
The New York Knicks were the 90’s version of the Bad Boy Pistons from the ’80’s. They were tough, gritty, and unafraid to use all six of their fouls. Ewing and Oakley were the enforcers inside, while Starks was one of the streakiest 3-point shooters in the NBA. These Knicks could have possibly won multiple championships as well, but they too kept running into Jordan and his Bulls.
21 Sacramento Kings – Chris Webber, Mike Bibby, Peja Stojakovic
There are not many teams that were more fun to watch than this Sacramento Kings team. They had the passing ability of the San Antonio Spurs today and could pretty much do whatever they wanted on the offensive end. It really was a thing of beauty the way they passed the ball. Webber will go down as one of the best passing big men of all-time and Peja will always be remembered as one of the best shooters of all-time. It's too bad that they can never break through and win a title.
20 Golden State Warriors – Tim Hardaway, Mitch Richmond, Chris Mullin
In the 1990-1991 season, Hardaway, Richmond, and Mullin all averaged over 20 points per game. Hardaway averaged 22.9 points per game, Richmond averaged 23.9 points per game, and Mullin averaged 25.7 points per game. The list of three 20-point scorers on a single team is very few and far between. But Run TMC was that dynamic on offense.
19 Detroit Pistons – Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton, Ben Wallace
Billups, Hamilton, and Wallace brought basketball back to Detroit. In the 2003-2004 season, they upset the Los Angeles Lakers and won the NBA Championship. Even though it is very possible that none of the Detroit Big 3 will make the Hall of Fame, they dominated the Eastern Conference in the early 2000’s by making it to the Eastern Conference Finals five consecutive years in a row.
18 Oklahoma City Thunder – Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden
They played three seasons together from 2009-2012 and if it was longer than that they would have won multiple championships in a row by now. Harden was still coming off the bench for the Thunder at the time, but he was clearly not a bench player. Harden was one of the deadliest 6th men that the NBA has ever seen. And KD and Russ may have been a bit young at the time, but they weren’t low on the confidence level.
17 New York Knicks – Walt Frazier, Earl Monroe, Willis Reed
They only played two seasons together from 1972-1974, which is not a long time, but they were still somewhat in their primes. This is why they were able to win a NBA Championship in 1973. Frazier was smooth on and off the court and Willis Reed was the heart of the team. To this day the Knicks have not been able to win another title, which is why this trio are still demi-gods in the city of New York.
16 Detroit Pistons – Isiah Thomas, Joe Dumars, Bill Laimbeer
They played a fantastic nine seasons together from 1985-1994. The original Bad Boys won back-to-back Championships together with their tough style of play. Isiah Thomas is still one of the most talented point guards to have ever played the game and Bill Laimbeer was one of the first stretch four’s to ever play the game. If this trio played today, they would rack up so many technicals that they would be suspended every other game.
15 Houston Rockets – Hakeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler, Charles Barkley
They sadly only played together for 2 seasons from 1996-1998. Unfortunately for Charles, who was chasing a ring, the Houston Rockets won in 1995, which was one year before he joined the team. However, despite being at the end of their careers, Olajuwon, Drexler, and Barkley still had some juice left in the tank. They did not win a title together, but they were certainly one of the best trio’s to ever put on a uniform with the Dream’s defense, Barkley’s rebounding, and Clyde’s penetration.
14 Philadelphia 76ers – Moses Malone, Julius Erving, Andrew Toney
They played together for four seasons from 1982-1986. They won a title together in 1983 with the defense and rebounding of Malone and the high-flying dunks of Dr. J. Interestingly enough, they made it to the Finals in 1982 as well, before falling short to the Los Angeles Lakers. However, Moses Malone was still the MVP of the series despite losing.
13 Phoenix Suns – Steve Nash, Shawn Marion, Amar’e Stoudemire
Played 3.5 seasons together from 2004-2008 and won over 60 games together twice during the regular season. They never made it to the Finals, but they did make the Western Conference Finals twice. Individually, Nash was in his prime and he won two MVP’s and made it to the 1st team All-NBA three times, while Amare made it to the 1st team All-NBA once.
12 Orlando Magic – Shaquille O’Neal, Penny Hardaway, Nick Anderson
Played 3 seasons together from 1993-1996 and won over 60 games in the regular season. Cumulatively, they made 6 All-Star games together. One interesting thing to note is that Penny made the 1st team All-NBA twice, while Shaq only made the 2nd team All-NBA once. Shaq was still in his infant stages at this time, but he was shattering backboards and was a man amongst boys.
11 New Jersey Nets – Jason Kidd, Kenyon Martin, Richard Jefferson
Played 3 seasons together from 2002-2004. They never won a NBA Championship, but they did make it to the NBA Finals two years in a row. During this era, Kidd made it to the 1st team All-Defense and the 2nd team All-Defense twice. Not only that, but he had two-high flying dunkers in Martin and Jefferson, so that Kidd could just throw the ball up in the air from anywhere on the court.
10 Utah Jazz – Karl Malone, John Stockton, Jeff Hornacek
They played together six seasons from 1994-2000. Stockton and Malone still form the deadliest pick and roll combination of all-time. Stockton is still the all-time leader in assists and Malone is still in the top 10 in scoring of all-time. Malone and Stockton look nothing alike on the outside, but on the inside, they might as well have been born from the same womb. They were so interconnected with the way that they played, they were destined to be in each other’s lives.
9 Los Angeles Lakers – Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor, Jerry West
They only played three seasons together from 1968-1971, and sadly, they never won a championship together. They made it to the Finals two out of their three years together, but ultimately fell short. When the Lakers finally did win, Baylor had just retired, so only Chamberlain and the Logo were champions. However this collection of players, if they had formed earlier in Baylor's career, would've been able to win more had they had more time.
8 Boston Celtics – Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen
They played 5 seasons together from 2007-2012 and won over 60 games during the regular season together twice. In their first year together, they were able to win the NBA Championship in 2008 and almost did it again in 2010 before falling short to Kobe and the Lakers. They have 12 All Star games between the three of them during this epic era. They also had the benefit of playing with a talented young point guard, Rajon Rondo.
7 Miami Heat – LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh
They played four seasons together from 2010-2014 and they made it to the Finals all four times. They did not win all four titles, but they did win two consecutive championships together. During this time, LeBron won two MVP’s and was at the apex of his game. The big three went to the All-Star Game 9 times together and probably would’ve made it up to 20 times together had LeBron not gone home.
6 Los Angeles Lakers – Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
They played four seasons together from 2008-2012. Made it to the NBA Finals three consecutive seasons in a row and won 2 out of 3 of them. If Bynum was a bit more healthy and his knees could hold up an entire season, there is no telling how many championships this trio could have won. Kobe was Kobe and Pau was still great on offense and defense, but Bynum’s days were too short lived. Otherwise, this trio would’ve been much higher on this list.
5 Los Angeles Lakers – Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, James Worthy
They played 7 seasons together from 1982-1989. Won 3 rings together and made the NBA Finals 6 times. They also won 78 playoff games together as a collective unit. This was Showtime at its best. They made basketball exciting to watch with Magic’s passes, Worthy’s dunks, and Jabbar’s unique sky hook. It would be difficult to find a big three that is more unique and talented than these guys.
4 Chicago Bulls – Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman
They may have only played three seasons together from 1995-1998, but they are easily one of the most recognizable due to the star power and personalities. They incredibly won 72 games in a single season and they even won 60 plus games in two additional seasons. They won three championships in a row and Jordan was MVP twice. But what may be the most remarkable stat is that all three of them made the 1st team All-NBA for defense in the same year. All three are also in the Hall of Fame and have won a total of 45 playoff games together.
3 Boston Celtics – Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish
They played a lengthy 12 seasons together from 1980-1992. They won 3 championships out of the 5 times they made it to the NBA Finals. They also won a total of 85 playoff games together. Everyone knows that Larry could shoot, but he was also an underrated defender. McHale had some of the best post-up moves in the game. And Parish was a solid center holding down the middle.
2 Boston Celtics – Bill Russell, Bob Cousy, Tom Heinsohn
They played 7 years together from 1956-1963 and won a total of 6 rings together. Additionally, this trio won 52 playoff games all together. The only reason why they are not number one on this elite list is because it was slightly easier to win championships back then. The reason for this is because there were less teams in the league and a lesser amount of talent than there is today. But they should not be punished for playing in the era that they did. They cleaned house for a reason.
1 San Antonio Spurs – Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili
The number one Big-3 of all-time have played 12 seasons together so far from 2002 to the present. They were just nominated as the best franchise in all of sports by ESPN and it is primarily because of Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili. The Big 3 just won their fifth championship this past year and have won a total of 129 playoff games together. That is more than double what Russell, Cousy, and Heinsohn have won. The fact that this trio have stayed together so long is a testament to their character and willingness to sacrifice points and salary. Let’s be honest, we will never see another trio stay this long together and win this long together for a very, very long time.