Top 10 Duos of NBA Legends Who Ruled the Court Together

Check out the legendary partnerships in NBA history that reshaped the game, from Jordan and Pippen to Bird and McHale

A team cannot win a championship with a single player (though some would argue differently, including Dirk Nowitzki and Hakeem Olajuwon). Numerous individuals have attempted, but nearly all of them have been unsuccessful, and the recent craze for “superteams” just serves to highlight the fact that superstars require other stars to succeed.

When considering past teams that have won titles, nearly all of them have had players on their squad step up at some time throughout the regular season and playoffs. Nevertheless, a few standouts are always present.

There are occasionally more than two players. It’s become somewhat of a modern trend for certain teams to have more than two stars on their roster as they contend for a title. Up until recently, though, a championship-winning team’s main weapon was typically a one-two-punch combination.

The 10 finest duos in NBA history are showcased here:

  • Dave Cowens and John Havlicek (Boston Celtics)

In the early ’70s, the Boston Celtics were rebuilding after Bill Russell’s departure. Dave Cowens, an undersized centre, and shooting guard John Havlicek formed an exciting combination. They went on to win titles, with Cowens earning an MVP in 1973.

The team truly came through in the next year. They advanced to the 1974 NBA Finals, where they faced the Milwaukee Bucks, who were coached by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and included Oscar Robertson, who was in his senior year of eligibility. The show became an immediate classic. It was decided in the seventh and final game. With a game-winning performance of twenty-eight points and fourteen rebounds, Cowens led his team to a decisive victory. The MVP honour for the finals went to Havlicek.

In 1976, they made another trip to the Finals, defeating the Phoenix Suns 4-2 this time. After capturing eight titles, Havlicek retired in 1978. Cowens, however, had two championships when he retired in 1983.

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  • Dwyane Wade and LeBron James (Miami Heat)

LeBron joined Dwyane Wade in Miami in 2010. Their first season was shaky, but they rebounded to win championships. Their journey included memorable Finals against the Dallas Mavericks and the San Antonio Spurs.

Their first season together started badly for the couple, but they soon turned things around. They defeated an ageing Dallas Mavericks team and advanced to the Finals with relative ease. After jumping out to a 2-1 lead, the Heat crumbled and dropped the next three games of the series. James’s performance in this series drew a lot of criticism.

The next year was the Heat’s year of atonement. They advanced to the Finals once more, and they performed flawlessly. In five games, they defeated the inexperienced Oklahoma City Thunder, giving LeBron his first and Wade his second championship.

  • Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars (Detroit Pistons)

Thomas brought exceptional ball-handling skills, and Joe Dumars was a solid backcourt partner. Together, they formed the infamous “Bad Boys” of the Pistons, winning back-to-back championships in 1989 and 1990.

The Boston Celtics defeated the Pistons in 1986 and 1987. Initially in the Round of 16, and subsequently in the Conference Finals. They were fortunate enough to make their NBA debut the following season, but they were defeated in seven games by the Los Angeles Lakers.

Because of their toughness, the Pistons had by now become the league’s villains. However, they thrived on the court and accepted their positions. Before long, they would eventually find that elusive ring. Ultimately, they defeated the Lakers and the Portland Trailblazers in 1989 and 1990 to win back-to-back championships. 

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  • Wilt Chamberlain and Jerry West (Los Angeles Lakers)

Despite managing to win a championship in 1967, Wilt Chamberlain was searching for a new team the next year. Chamberlain and West together were a match made in heaven. Each of them was an individual success. They were both nearly certain All-Stars even though none took home the MVP award for the regular season.

Despite the outstanding performances of West and Chamberlain, the Lakers struggled mightily in the postseason. They made it to the finals in 1969 and 1970, but they were defeated both times. West lost in the championship game seven times in a row as a result of this. Being the only player to receive the award while playing for a losing team, West was voted the MVP of the Finals in 1969.

Jerry West had a tough postseason history until Wilt Chamberlain joined the Lakers. Although they didn’t win the championship immediately, their perseverance paid off in 1972 when they clinched the title.

  • Kevin McHale and Larry Bird (Boston Celtics)

Bird was an all-around great who fulfilled his obligations in every game he participated in. McHale was the post’s master. The kind of paint moves he possessed were unmatched at the time. When they were in full flight, the two of them coupled with Robert Parrish were nearly impossible to handle.

The Celtics made five visits to the finals under their leadership, including four straight from 1984 to 1987. They were the 1980s NBA champions three times. Bird was named MVP three times in a row and three times in the finals, and McHale was named Sixth Man of the Year twice. Kevin McHale and Larry Bird reinvigorated the Celtics in the ’80s. Bird’s versatility and McHale’s post moves made them unstoppable. They secured three NBA titles together. 

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  • Tony Parker and Tim Duncan (San Antonio Spurs)

Drafted by the Spurs in 1997, Tim Duncan had just won San Antonio’s first championship in 1999 with David Robinson. They were eager to keep themselves in the running for the title after doing so. As Robinson approached the end of his playing days, the Spurs searched for a partner for Duncan. They chose Tony Parker, a 6’2″ French guard, this time. Together, they transformed the Spurs into the most reliable team of the twenty-first century.

In every season that they shared the court, the pair advanced to the Playoffs. They made it to the Finals five times and took home four championships. When they did lose, it was to Miami, who upset them by a tiny margin only seconds before they were about to seal the series after six games. In addition, Duncan and Parker were almost a lock to start in the All-Star game, with fifteen and six appearances, respectively, during a time when the point guard position truly took off.

Tim Duncan and Tony Parker’s pairing brought stability to the Spurs. They made the playoffs every season, winning four championships. Their consistency was remarkable.

  • Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal (Los Angeles Lakers)

Possibly the most terrifying team in the league’s history took off at the turn of the millennium. In 1996, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal formed their first team, but Bryant was still a youngster and was still getting used to the NBA. Even though they travelled to the Conference Finals in 1998, they were soundly defeated by Utah, and they both realised that more needed to be done to achieve the ultimate goal.

When the Lakers signed Phill Jackson for the 1999–00 campaign, things started to shift right away. Between 2000 and 2002, the Lakers, driven by the dynamic duo of O’Neal and Bryant, won three straight championships. They were invincible, winning their second championship in 2001 and going 15-1 in the postseason.

In the early 2000s, Kobe and Shaq formed one of the most dominant duos. They won three consecutive championships but later parted ways. Both players achieved individual success as well. 

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  • Bob Cousy and Bill Russell (Boston Celtics)

Bob Cousy and Bill Russell introduced a fast-paced style of play to the ’50s Celtics. Their teamwork resulted in multiple championships, and Russell’s defensive prowess was a game-changer.

The Celtics defeated St. Louis to win their first championship in their history during Russell’s second season in the league. The Hawks defeated the team in their rematch the following season, handing the two teams their only NBA Finals defeat. The pair won five straight championships while leading the Celtics to the finals. At one time, it was all but certain that they would finally take home the championship.

The pair have received numerous more personal honours. Eight times, Cousy led the league in assists and was voted the MVP of the 1957 season. Russell went on to win the prize four more times in the ensuing six years. Despite Cousy’s retirement in 1963, Russell and the Celtics continued to be successful. 

  • Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson (Los Angeles Lakers)

Johnson had an immediate effect after being chosen in 1979. In his first season, the Lakers advanced to the Finals and squared off against the Philadelphia 76ers. Abdul-Jabbar was ruled out of the sixth game with a 3-2 lead, and Johnson started at centre. His final stats were 15 rebounds, 7 assists, and 42 points. As of right now, he is the only rookie to win Finals MVP.

The two played ten seasons together overall and advanced to the finals eight times. In 1980, 1982, 1985, 1987, and 1988, they were champions. Their rivalry with the Boston Celtics, led by Larry Bird and Kevin McHale, was well-known during this time.

Along with Johnson, Kareem took home one of his six MVP titles in 1980. In 1985, he was also named the Finals MVP. Johnson and Abdul-Jabbar shared two of their three MVP honours in 1987 and 1989. He received the 1980, 1982, and 1987 finals MVP awards. Magic concluded with the highest assist-per-game average in NBA history, but Kareem became the all-time leader in points.

Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar made the Lakers a powerhouse. Magic’s rookie season saw him play centre in the Finals, earning him the Finals MVP. They won five championships together. 

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  • Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen (Chicago Bulls)

Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen constituted the best basketball team ever. Jordan stormed the league after being picked in 1984. After a few seasons, the Bulls were searching for a Jordan teammate, and in 1987, they traded with the Seattle SuperSonics to acquire Pippen. Together, they were unstoppable for nearly ten years.

When they faced the eventual champion Detroit Pistons in six games in 1989, they were eliminated from the Conference Finals for the first time. They fell in the Conference Finals the next season, this time taking seven games. This was only the start. When they defeated the Lakers 4-1 the next season to win their first NBA title and Chicago’s, the two finally let go of the monkey on their backs. They achieved their first three-peat by adding two more in the same year. In 1994 and 1995, Jordan took a two-year hiatus from the game. As a result, the Bulls missed out on the Finals at that time.

They had won three straight when he returned, for a total of six out of eight seasons. Jordan retired once more in 1998 after winning MVP honours each time. Many people think they would have won eight titles in as many years if Jordan had continued during those two seasons. While Pippen was a seven-time All-Star, Jordan earned five MVP awards and one Defensive Player of the Year. The iconic duo of Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen led the Chicago Bulls to six NBA titles in the ’90s. Their chemistry and talent made them one of the greatest pairs in basketball history.

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