by Paul Knepper
Basketball is a team game, though often performed at the highest level when two players work in concert. The pick-and-roll remains the most productive offensive set and no play is more enthralling than an alley-oop. Rarely has a lone superstar carried a team on his back to an NBA championship. Shaq needed Kobe, Jordan needed Pippen and Isiah needed Dumars.
During past this season LeBron James and Dwyane Wade distinguished themselves as the most dynamic duo in the league, even though they fell just short of a championship. Before they can be considered among the elite duos to ever player the game they have to do it for more than one season.
These are the ten greatest NBA duos ever.
10) Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson (Milwaukee Bucks)
“The Big O” and Lew Alcindor teamed up for the 70-71 season and led the Bucks to a league best 66 wins. They rolled to the NBA Finals, where they defeated a Baltimore Bullets team led by Earl Monroe and Wes Unseld 4-0. The next day Alcindor announced that he’d changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. The two hall of famers played just three more seasons together and never returned to the finals, as Robertson’s skills declined in his mid-30’s.
9) Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars (Detroit Pistons)
Isiah and Dumars teamed up four nine seasons as the starting bakcourt for the Detroit Pistons. Isiah handled the ball and Dumars knocked down jumpers, while locking down the best shooting guards in the league. The “Bad Boys” won back-to-back championships together in 1989 and 1990. Dumars won the 1989 Finals MVP and Isiah took the award in 1990.
8) John Stockton and Karl Malone (Utah Jazz)
Stockton and Malone mastered the pick-and-roll over their 18 seasons together and went to the playoffs in every one of them. The NBA’s all-time assist leader and second all-time leading scorer led the Jazz to the Western Conference Finals five times in seven years, including back-to-back trips to the NBA Finals in 1997 and 1998, but weren’t able to get past Jordan and the Bulls.
7) Tim Duncan and David Robinson (San Antonio Spurs)
Robinson’s injury during the ’96-’97 season was a blessing in disguise for the Spurs. With the first pick in the ’97 draft they landed Tim Duncan, creating the twin towers that would lead the Spurs to the promised land. San Antonio defeated the Knicks in five games in the ’99 Finals and after a three-peat by the Lakers, Duncan and company delivered Robinson a second ring as a retirement gift in 2003. Duncan was named the MVP of both finals.
6) Wilt Chamberlain & Jerry West (Los Angeles Lakers)
West and the Wilt played together in L.A. for just five seasons, though they advanced to the NBA Finals in four of them and defeated the Knicks to get “the logo” his first ring in 1972. That season West and “The Big Dipper” led the Lakers to 69 wins, including 33 consecutive wins, a record which still stands today.
5) Larry Bird & Kevin McHale (Boston Celtics)
Bird and McHale made five trips to the NBA Finals during their 12 seasons together in Boston, winning championships in ’81, ’84 and ’86. Larry Legend ripped teams hearts out with his long range shooting, while McHale dominated inside with a vast array of post moves. Were their careers not derailed by injuries (McHale never fully recovered from playing on a broken foot in the ’87 playoffs and Bird’s back gave out on him), they may have won more rings.
4) Bill Russell and Bob Cousy (Boston Celtics)
Russell and Cousy were the first dominant duo in the league, both innovators who changed the way their positions were played. They won 6 championships in the late ’50’s and early 6o’s before Cousy retired in 1963. They don’t rank higher on this list because they had so much talent around them, especially Russell. In fact, you can argue that Cousy wasn’t even Russell’s greatest wing man. Slick-shooting Sam Jones was by Russell’s side for 10 of his 11 rings and Havlicek joined him for the later years of his career.
3) Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal (Los Angeles Lakers)
Shaq and a young Kobe joined forces to form an indefensible inside-outside punch which carried the Lakers to three consecutive championships from 2000-2002. Shaq won the Finals MVP each time. Ultimately, the only thing that stood in between this dynamic duo and several more rings was their own egos.
2) Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen (Chicago Bulls)
No two players have ever controlled the perimeter on both sides of the court like MJ and Pippen. Together, they led the Bulls to 6 championships, by way of two different three-peats, ’91-’93 and ’96-’98. Had Michael not walked away from the game for nearly two seasons they likely would have won eight in a row.
1) Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Los Angeles Lakers)
They’re two of the top five players to ever to play the game, the flashy point guard, with the no-look passes and the dominant big man with the unstoppable hook-shot. Magic and Kareem won five championships together and appeared in 8 NBA Finals over their ten seasons as teammates. Kareem led the way in the early years, then Magic carried the load as Kareem grew older.
Jerry West and Elgin Baylor (Los Angeles Lakers)
Moses Malone and Julius Erving (Philadelphia 76ers)
Willis Reed and Walt Frazier (New York Knicks)