Top 10 Most Intense Player Rivalries in NBA History

Check out the intense player rivalries that shaped the NBA’s history. From Magic vs. Bird to Durant vs. LeBron, these duels defined eras.

Every outstanding NBA player has or has had a formidable opponent at their side. Even though Michael Jordan will always be remembered as one of the best players of all time, his legacy would not be the same if other All-Stars and league legends hadn’t often put him to the test.

In the NBA, Jordan had his fair share of opponents. The former Chicago Bulls star isn’t the first outstanding athlete, though, to have been inspired by a competitor. The top ten rivalries between players to ever play on the floor may be seen by looking back at NBA history.

  • Magic Johnson and Larry Bird

From one legendary Celtic and Laker team to another. Being the faces of the two best teams in the NBA at the time, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird enjoyed a fierce rivalry. The fact that they faced off against each other three times in the NBA Finals was helpful.

Johnson has the head-to-head advantage because his Lakers have defeated Bird’s Celtics two times out of three. Despite their intense competition during play, the two have gotten along well after retiring.

  • Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain

It was a blessing for the fans to see Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell play simultaneously. The former was a serial winner who won 11 championships in his career, but the latter had unreal stats.

The fact that the two were the main players for the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics and frequently faced off in the playoffs helped things. The two were friends off the court, despite their fierce rivalry on it.

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  • Isiah Thomas and Larry Bird

Isiah Thomas and Larry Bird faced one other numerous times during the playoffs, most famously in the 1988 Eastern Conference Finals. But the true animosity between them started off the court and arose after the legendary Pistons player made some divisive remarks.

There used to be a fierce rivalry between Bird and Thomas because Thomas believed that if Bird weren’t white, he would just be another person. Famously, the feud persisted even after they stopped playing. Upon Bird’s hiring as general manager of the Pacers in 2003, he promptly fired head coach Thomas Thomas.

  • LeBron James and Kevin Durant

Though LeBron James has had numerous rivals, his feud with Kevin Durant was the worst. Despite their lack of off-court problems, these two have a fierce rivalry on the court as the two most talented players in the league.

These two have faced off frequently in both the NBA Finals and the playoffs. The Golden State Warriors defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2017 and 2018 NBA Finals, giving Durant a 2-1 series lead over James.

  • Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant

Because they won numerous titles together for the Los Angeles Lakers, these two are maybe the greatest team in NBA history. But by the time O’Neal left Los Angeles, the two were at odds with one another.

Bryant reacted similarly to O’Neal’s public outbursts in the media after he left Los Angeles. A fantastic postseason series was all these two were lacking. Fortunately, they made up and were friends before Bryant’s untimely death in 2020.

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  • Michael Jordan and Isiah Thomas

Throughout his career, one of the most significant rivalries between Michael Jordan and Isiah Thomas was their beef. The Bulls sought to maintain their supremacy in the playoffs, and the Pistons posed the greatest threat. The two teams faced off multiple times.

Even though many people might have only witnessed their rivalry as competitors, Jordan harbored a deep dislike for Thomas off the court. According to reports, the former MVP once insisted that the legendary Dream Team of 1992 not include the Pistons great.

  • Russell Westbrook and Patrick Beverley

NBA star Russell Westbrook is among the league’s best. He is an All-Star and former MVP who will undoubtedly go down as one of the greatest players to have ever played basketball. Given all those achievements, one would think Patrick Beverley’s rival would be more formidable.

Every time these two are on the court, they almost fight for no apparent reason. When Beverley hurt Westbrook during the 2013 playoffs, causing him to rupture his meniscus, the feud between them started. The two had been at each other’s throats ever since that injury.

  • Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan

Considering the numbers involved, this beef is rather peculiar. Tim Duncan is a relatively quiet player, but Kevin Garnett is one of the greatest trash-talkers to have ever played on the court. Though he rarely succeeded, the former Boston Celtic always tried his hardest to get something positive out of his fellow great.

But Duncan would concede that when he played Garnett, he would occasionally prod the bear, and it would work. Being two of the best big players of the 2000s, these two had a fierce rivalry on the court.

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  • Shaquille O’Neal and Dwight Howard

Dwight Howard’s career was just beginning, while Shaquille O’Neal’s was coming to an end. Strangely enough, the two’s feud began when the latter entered a Superman outfit in the 2008 dunk competition. Having previously gone by the moniker, O’Neal felt betrayed.

The former athlete still maintains a rivalry with the Lakers center, making fun of him whenever he gets the chance. Even though one of O’Neal and Howard is currently retired and the other most likely will be shortly after, they have been at odds for about 15 years at this point.

  • Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant

The best pair in the league at one point were Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. But the antagonism between the two started when the latter, having promised his former teammate he would stay, opted to text his way out of town to Golden State in 2016.

Every time these two played, they engaged in fierce back-and-forth on the court; on a few occasions, they even shoved each other and almost got into a brawl. The absence of a postseason matchup between their two teams was the only thing impeding this rivalry.

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