Sometimes NBA teams are lucky enough not only to have a Batman, but a Robin as well. Usually what accompanies the greatest players is another great player pushing them in practices and during games. Great players make other players great.
Very rarely can anyone win a championship in the NBA by being a solo act. Just look at the careers of Dominique Wilkins in Atlanta, Patrick Ewing in New York, Tracy McGrady in Orlando, Kevin Love in Minnesota, and Carmelo Anthony in New York. There is a reason why superstars without another superstar are often perceived of as stat stuffers and black holes. These guys have great numbers, but can’t even make the playoffs, and if they do, rarely experience any success.
The only possible exception might be Dirk Nowitzki, who was playing with an aging Jason Kidd and a raw Tyson Chandler who won Defensive Player of the Year after he left Dallas. More often than not, it takes two to tango, and some would even say three. Big Threes are a great luxury to have in the NBA, but sometimes a Big Two is enough.
This is a list of the best duos the NBA has ever seen. Sometimes they worked well together and at other times, their egos arose from their prima donna ways. However, the best teams in NBA history have had at least a tandem of potent threats on offense and defense. They are complimentary pieces that challenge one another to play better and excel together. Of course, it takes more than just talent to help them succeed, there has to be a level of chemistry and camaraderie on and off the court as well. And if they’re able to come together they can form one of the deadliest combos in the league.
25 Wilt Chamberlain and Hal Greer (’64-’68)
Early on in Wilt Chamblerlain’s career, his numbers were obnoxious. Yes, he played in a different era, but were there any other players during his time that were even close to putting up the same kind of numbers? Yet, even Wilt could not win a ring by himself. Enter Hal Greer. Greer was a consistent 20 points per game scorer that could relieve Chamberlain from having to score 40 points per game.
24 Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming (’04-’09)
A 6’8” small forward with rockets in his shoes and a 7’6” center that could touch the rim without jumping, were the deadly duo that the Houston Rockets had for five years together. T-Mac was an outstanding offensive threat and Yao was equally good on offense and defense. The two never won a ring together, but if both of them were healthy, there is no telling what they could have done together.
23 Charles Barkley and Kevin Johnson (’92-’96)
Kevin Johnson may go down as one of the most underrated point guards in NBA history. He could shoot, he could pass, and he had an incredible amount of athleticism that enabled him to finish above the rim. Barkley had just left Philadelphia and was hungry to start afresh in Phoenix with the Suns. It was there that he won his first MVP award in Phoenix and led the Suns to the Finals before falling short to the Chicago Bulls.
22 Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook (’08- Present)
KD and Russ haven’t won a ring yet, but it is only a matter of time. When these two athletic freaks were first paired together, they were still a bit green, but now that they have experienced hardship and losses and have maturated into solid veterans. If it weren’t for some untimely injuries, it is quite possible that this tandem would have a ring by now. KD has led the league in scoring multiple times already and Russ has become one of the most explosive point guards in NBA history.
21 Shaquille O’Neal and Penny Hardaway (’93-’96)
The two hardest positions to master in the NBA are the point guard and center positions. Point guards are the quarterbacks of the NBA and centers are the anchors that hold the fort down. One of the best point guard and center combos in NBA history were Shaq and Penny. However, they were so great, that their own egos got in the way, which inevitably led to their separation.
20 Shawn Kemp and Gary Payton (’90-’97)
The Reign Man and the Glove were one of the most exciting duos to watch in the NBA during the ‘90’s. Kemp was Blake Griffin with a jump shot and Gary Payton was one of the best perimeter defenders in the league. The duo were not able to beat Jordan and the Pippen in the Finals, something many others would find difficult as well.
19 Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon (’95-’98)
After many close, but unsuccessful attempts to win a championship with the Portland Trailblazers, Clyde Drexler joined forces with his former teammate in college – Hakeem Olajuwon - and moved to Houston. At the time, Olajuwon had just come off his first championship, but after Drexler arrived he was able to his second ring. Had the two played together earlier in their careers, they could have become a dynasty, but they sure were great for the short time they played together.
18 Oscar Robertson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (’70-’74)
The Milwaukee Bucks still haven’t been able to revive the team that they had in the ‘70’s. After striking gold with a big man that would become the leading scorer in NBA history, the Bucks also acquired Oscar Robertson who was a walking triple double. The duo won one championship together sweeping the Baltimore Bullets in the NBA Finals. If they could've played together longer, they might have become a dynasty themselves.
17 Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett (’07-’13)
Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett were veterans without a ring until they finally joined forces together. Pierce and Garnett were a lethal combination on offense and defense. Together, they brought toughness and grit to the Eastern Conference. Their willingness to sacrifice their own numbers and egos was the reason why they won a championship together during their very first year. They continued together this year in Brooklyn, but with much less success.
16 Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol (’07-’14)
Kobe finally won his first championship without Shaq when Pau Gasol joined the Los Angeles Lakers. Greg Poppovich called the trade for Pau Gasol a heist and that is exactly what it was. Although, Gasol is no longer on the Lakers, when he first arrived seven years ago, he was a potent offensive and defensive threat. And with Kobe driven like never before to win his first championship as a Batman and not a Robin, the duo won two championships together.
15 Julius Erving and Moses Malone (’82-’86)
Dr. J brought sass and flow to basketball. He was Michael Jordan before Michael Jordan. His jumper was suspect, but he could finish on the break better than anyone in the league with his high-flying dunks. Moses Malone was a totally different player from Dr. J. Malone was a walking double-double that swallowed up rebounds and loved to bang in the paint. A great combo, they won one title together.
14 Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars (’85-’94)
Isiah Thomas may go down as the second greatest point guard behind Magic Johnson as Isiah had no holes in his game. His handles were strong, his jump shot was smooth, and most importantly, he was tough. Joe Dumars was the perfect compliment to Thomas because he could spread the floor with his outside shooting and he was also a tough perimeter defender. The duo were a part of the Bad Boy Pistons that won two titles.
13 Magic Johnson and James Worthy (’82-’91)
It is almost unfair for the Lakers to get the 1st pick in the draft after drafting someone like Magic Johnson, but the Lakers were able to get the 1st pick in the ’82 draft and they selected Big Game James. James Worthy could run the floor like a gazelle and most importantly, he could finish at the rim, which was very important for a pass first point guard. As a duo, they were able to go and win 3 championships for the city of LA.
12 LeBron James and Dwyane Wade (’10-’14)
LeBron James joined forces with Dwyane Wade in South Beach to form their own mini-dynasty. The duo made the Finals four consecutive times. Although, they only won two out of their four Finals appearances, they demonstrated just how formidable they were by even making it to the Finals four times in a row. The dynasty fell apart when LeBron decided to leave for Cleveland, and it’s a good thing that he did, because the Eastern Conference is a bit more leveled out now.
11 John Havlicek and Dave Cowens (’70-’78)
John Havlicek played for the Boston Celtics his entire career, as did Dave Cowens if you don’t count the one-year he came back after his two-year retirement with the Bucks. In many ways, these two dynamic players helped pave the way for the Bird, McHale, and Parish dynasty. Havlicek and Cowens won two rings together, but Havlicek actually won eight total.
10 Tim Duncan and Tony Parker (’02-Present)
It seems like Duncan and Parker have been together forever. The scary part is that most people don’t realize that Parker is still only 31-years-old. When Parker and Duncan joined forces, Parker was only 18-years-old. And now that Duncan has revitalized his career and his knees, the two are coming fresh off another championship. They may not have much time left together, but they have been dominate for an entire decade.
9 Karl Malone and John Stockton (’85-’03)
You cannot think of Karl Malone apart from John Stockton and you cannot think of John Stockton apart from Karl Malone. Malone and Stockton are two peas in a pod. Stockton is number one for all-time assists in NBA history. In fact, more than half of Stockton’s assists were to Malone alone. The duo never won a championship together, but they were consistently great each and every season. If they weren't around in the same era of another famous duo, they might have had more to offer championships wise.
8 Tim Duncan and David Robinson (’97-’03)
The Twin Towers may go down as the best interior defenders in NBA history. At the time, Duncan was just hitting his prime and Robinson was on his decline. However, Robinson was still a shot blocking machine and intimidating presence in the middle. The two regularly held opponents to 70-80 points per game. They won two rings together and it was largely because the Admiral was willing to pass the torch to a young Tim Duncan.
7 Jerry West and Wilt Chamberlain (’68-’73)
The Logo and Wilt joined forces later on in Wilt’s career, but West was at the pinnacle of his prime. With Wilt holding down the middle, West was the most dominant guard in his era. The two of them only won one title together, but they helped bring a lot of excitement to Los Angeles, paving the way for something called Showtime. West went on to become GM for the Lakers and acquired their most recent superstar, Kobe Bryant.
6 Larry Bird and Kevin McHale (’80-’92)
Larry Legend and Kevin McHale formed their own dynasty in the ‘80’s. The Celtics were the best team in the East for quite some time because of these two. Neither were particularly athletic, but both players were incredibly fundamental. Bird could shoot from anywhere on the floor and McHale had some of the best post moves in NBA history. Both went on to become successful executives as well.
5 Walt Frazier and Willis Reed (’67-’74)
This duo led the New York Knicks to their only two titles in 1970 and 1973. Forty years later, they are still basking in the glory of winning those two titles, since the Knicks have been deprived of another championship ever since. Frazier was smooth on the court and off the court and Reed was a MVP and two-time Finals MVP. It's safe to say that New York hasn't had a duo like the one in a while.
4 Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal (’96-’04)
Shaq has frequently said that he and Kobe formed the best one-two punch the NBA has ever seen. Unlike many of the tandems on this list who did not play together in their primes, Kobe and Shaq were just beginning the pinnacle of their primes when they played together. It is no coincidence that they won three NBA Championships in a row together. It's unfortunate that they couldn't work together longer as they may have been able to win another three Championships.
3 Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (’79-’89)
The only point guard and center combination better than Shaq and Penny were Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. At 6’9” Magic could see over all of his defenders. Additionally, Kareem stood at 7’3” and had a skyhook that was unblockable. With Magic’s flare and Kareem’s post-up moves, they brought showtime to the city of Los Angeles and the NBA. During their decade together, they were able to tally 5 NBA Championships.
2 Bill Russell and Bob Cousy (’56-’63)
Russell has won more rings than anyone in NBA history. He may not have been the same type of force on offense that many of the other players on this list were, but he was certainly the best defensive player on this list. Cousy was a dynamic point guard that could shoot and distribute the ball. There were no 3-point lines back then, but if there was, Cousy could have easily averaged 10 more points per game.
1 Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen (’87-’93, ’95-‘98)
The best duo of all-time played together at two different times. Both Jordan and Pippen were the best perimeter defenders and offensive threats that the NBA has ever seen. The tandem won six NBA Championships and could have won eight in a row had Jordan not gone on his two-year stint with the minor leagues. You'd be hard pressed to find another duo that has been more successful.