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The Best NBA Duos of All Time

It is a common argument about who the best duo in NBA history is. So we thought we should make an article about it. Instead of this being an argument about who the best duo is, it will be more of an overview of a few generally regarded as the top tier. For those of you who do not know what a duo is, here is a quick explanation: An NBA duo is a partnership of two people playing on a team together. They are usually the two best players on their team or have something that separates them from their teammates. Here is the list of the 11 duos we have decided to go over. These duos all have one thing in common: They were able to dominate NBA games with their fantastic chemistry and cooperation.

 

  • Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen
  • Karl Malone and John Stockton
  • Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson
  • Larry Bird and Kevin McHale
  • LeBron James and Dwayne Wade
  • Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp
  • Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal
  • Bill Russell and Bob Cousy
  • Julius Erving and Moses Malone
  • Tim Duncan and Tony Parker
  • Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson

 

First up, we have a duo who many believe to be the greatest of all time. Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen. They played ten seasons together with the Chicago Bulls. Michael Jordan is who many consider to be the greatest basketball player of all time, and you can certainly see why he is considered the greatest. He dominated games like no one ever had or has since. He looked as if he could win games by himself, but Scottie Pippen was a key piece of this team. Jordan couldn’t win championships on his own. (He’s won 6, all of which Pippen was alongside him for.) Scottie Pippen is criminally underrated simply because he played with the man who is generally regarded as the GOAT. All in all, winning six championships together is absolutely nothing to sneeze at, and Jordan and Pippen certainly deserve to be considered as one of, if not the greatest duo in all of NBA history.

 

Next up we have the pairing of John Stockton and Karl Malone who played 18 seasons together with the Jazz. While not as successful as Jordan and Pippen having won a total of zero championships, their longevity and chemistry is what makes them such a powerful partnership. I cannot stress enough just how long they played together. They won 906 games playing together. Only three individual players won more. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, (You’ll see him later.) Tim Duncan, (You’ll see him later.) and Robert Parish. (You won’t see him later because he played alongside Larry Bird and Kevin McHale, who make for a far better pairing.) Anyway, back to Stockton and Malone. One other thing I like about them is that not only are they fantastic players on their own, but when together they become greater than the sum of their parts. A very compatible duo, Stockton and Malone were. One was tall, one short. (For an NBA player that is.) One always wanted to pass, one to shoot. One was insanely unflappable, one was shaky in clutch situations. Overall, an often overlooked, underrated duo.

 

Our next duo features two Lakers from the eighties, Magic Johnson and Kareem-Abdul Jabbar. They played a total of ten seasons together from 1980 to 1989. Let’s start with Kareem. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar held the record for points scored, games played, field goals made, shots blocked, defensive rebounds, and more at the time of his retirement. However, since then some of those records have been taken by more recent players. Most famously, LeBron took the all-time points record in 2023. I’d argue that other than LeBron, who some consider to be the best NBA player of all time, Kareem was better over a longer period of time than anyone else in NBA history. Now for Magic: Magic Johnson is in contention for being the greatest point guard in NBA history. Certainly John Stockton and Oscar Robertson are in the running and recently Stephen Curry has made a big push for the title of best point guard by winning more and more championships. But Magic won five championships with Kareem, so along with his passing skill, he has certified himself as an NBA legend. Overall, this duo stands among the best in history.

 

While Magic and Kareem’s “Showtime” Lakers ruled for most of the 80s, their main rivals, the Celtics, had a powerful duo of their own. Larry Bird and Kevin McHale were often the only people stopping them. The Celtics have long been considered one of the most successful teams in the NBA and Larry Bird is in contention for their greatest player ever. Kevin McHale was never quite as well known, but he had incredible talent, making his partnership with Bird all the more impressive. Occasionally Bird and McHale aren’t seen as perfect of a duo because they played alongside Robert Parish, another all time talent, so he would need to be left out for the “duo” to work.

 

Some consider LeBron James to be the greatest NBA player of all time, so putting him alongside generational talent was sure to get him a place on this list. He played on the Cavaliers with Kyrie Irving and more recently on the Lakers with Anthony Davis, but the undeniable best duo he has ever been a part of, were his years with the Miami Heat playing with Dwayne Wade. Wade is one of the most influential players in the history of the NBA. He played like a magician 

on the court. But like — do I even need to tell you about LeBron James? You all know he’s amazing. He can play any position in the game, and still be one of the best in the league. On top of that, his longevity being matched only by Kareem, asserts him towards the top of the NBA.

 

Some people may consider Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp a dynamic duo because they have played so many games together and they dominated the courtin nearly every one of them. This pairing is often overlooked because they played at the same time as Jordan and Pippen and were often trampled by them, but every time they walked on the court for the Seattle SuperSonics they impressed fans with their all star caliber talent. Payton and Kemp are easily the greatest players to ever wear the SuperSonics jersey, and while they never won a championship together (due to the fact they were up against Jordan in his prime) this duo will go down as one of the greats.

 

After the wild success of the “Showtime” Lakers, people thought it would be a while before their next dynasty. They didn’t have to wait long. Shaquille O’Neal had been wowing crowds for his first few years on the Magic. However, he and Penny Hardaway just couldn’t win a championship, so he went to Los Angeles to play for the Lakers. Kobe Bryant joined him and Shaq finally was able to win his championship. Shaquille O’Neal was one of the NBA’s most dominant big men, winning finals MVP awards despite barely being able to shoot from beyond five feet. Kobe Bryant however has long been considered one of the best shot-makers, meaning he can create his own shot, while still being an impeccable shooter. All in all, these two being paired up basically wasn’t even fair to the rest of the NBA.

 

Overall, one duo on this list has won significantly more championships than any other. Bill Russell and Bob Cousy were just so dominant in their era, other teams couldn’t even compete. More so than any other duo on this list, the pre Larry Bird Celtics thoroughly dominated anyone in their path. Much like Jordan and Pippen, one of these guys is more of a sidekick to the main hero which brings Russell and Cousy down a bit, but they still were a remarkable pairing. (Unlike a duo like Kareem and Magic, who always felt like equals.) Bill Russell was just so impossible to play against. The only valid critique these two have, is that they played in easily the weakest era of the NBA, but like, come on. The one statistic that sums up Russell is that he has more championship rings than fingers.

 

In the 1970s, the Philadelphia 76ers were largely dominated by the two stars Julius Erving and Moses Malone. Julius Erving, also known as Dr. J, is easily the more well known of the two. He could take over a game in a way only a few have matched since. Moses Malone on the other hand, may be someone you’ve never even heard of. He is underrated to an insane level. These two mastered the art of scoring and passing, and both being on the same team supersized their skills on the court.

 

The San Antonio Spurs had been on the weaker end of NBA franchises for years, that is until Tim Ducncan and Tony Parker joined. Tony Parker, much like the Pippen and Cousy before him, was mainly just the sidekick to the megastar that was Tim Duncan. Tim Duncan has been a part of an insane 15 times. That means, one hundred acclaimed sports minds picked Duncan over other top ten NBA talent 15 times. He had incredible longevity in addition to being the cream of the crop, for many years. Overall, they easily deserved the multiple championships to their name.

 

When creating this article, we originally thought none of the duos would still be playing today, with all of them retiring years ago. But one of the current pairings was just too talented to ignore. In fact, they are one of the very few to have a specific nickname for the duo themselves. So, finally we have the Splash Brothers: Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. These two, unlike many of the previous duos, have one special thing that separates them from the rest. They have mastered the art of shooting more than nearly anyone else in the history of basketball. In fact, it could easily be argued that Curry is the greatest shooter in NBA history. These two are certainly reviving the classic duo, but modernizing in their own way.

 

(This article is loosely based off of a chapter from Shea Serrano’s book, “Basketball (and Other Things)”, which I would highly recommend. It is also the source for most of our information.)

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