It is not possible to win consistently in the NBA with just one superstar and a mediocre supporting cast. If you have two superstars, though, then your chances get a whole lot better.
Throughout the NBA’s history, fans have watched countless dominant duos lead their teams to victory. Which duos have been the very best? Let’s rank the top eight pairs of teammates in history while taking into account game-by-game impact, longevity and total accolades, both regular season and postseason.
To clarify, each player is only eligible for one duo. If a player makes the list on one spot, he cannot appear on the list in another spot.
1. G Michael Jordan & F Scottie Pippen (Chicago Bulls)
- Combined accomplishments while teammates (10 seasons): 6 championships, 6 Finals MVPs, 5 MVPs, 15 All-NBA Teams, 1 Defensive Player of the Year, 17 All-Defensive Teams, 15 All-Star Teams.
Jordan and Pippen should be the No. 1 choice in everyone’s book. During their 10 years together, Jordan spent almost the entire time as the unquestioned best player in the NBA. Pippen didn’t develop into a true star until his third season, but from that point on, he established himself as arguably the best small forward in the NBA for their final eight years together.
Offense usually gets the glory in basketball, and Jordan and Pippen offered plenty of that. Jordan is the greatest scorer of all time, and Pippen could score as well as make plays for others. These two separated themselves with their amazing quickness, intelligence and tenacity on the defensive end.
The dedication of both MJ and Pippen to provide superstar play on both ends of the court throughout their Bulls tenures is the key reason Chicago won six NBA championships in the 1990s.
2. G Magic Johnson & C Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Los Angeles Lakers)
- Combined accomplishments while teammates (10 seasons): 5 championships, 4 Finals MVPs, 4 MVPs, 14 All-NBA Teams, 3 All-Defensive Teams, 19 All-Star teams.
Magic and Kareem always had great teammates around them on their championship-winning teams. But don’t get it confused — these two guys were the two best players on the Lakers for virtually their entire 10 seasons together.
Magic changed the game as a 6’9” point guard with quickness and strength to go with elite passing vision and accuracy. He spearheaded an unstoppable fast-paced offense. Kareem operated more in a half-court setting, using his sky hook and other post moves to dominate the paint.
Johnson and Abdul-Jabbar would have had a chance at taking over the No. 1 spot on this list if their primes matched up a little bit better. The Lakers drafted Magic in 1979 to join a 32-year-old Kareem, who was at the tail end of his prime. Now, Kareem ended up having a fantastic back half of his career with Magic as his teammate, but he wasn’t quite the physically overwhelming beast he was as a younger player.
3. F Karl Malone & G John Stockton (Utah Jazz)
- Combined accomplishments while teammates (18 seasons): 2 MVPs, 25 All-NBA Teams, 9 All-Defensive Teams, 24 All-Star Teams.
Looking at just the regular season, Malone and Stockton are the best duo in NBA history. They won 906 regular season games together, which is by far the most by two teammates. Their jaw-dropping accolades above are reflective of their unprecedented levels of skill and durability. Year in and year out, Stockton made plays for everyone as a point guard and played strong, pesky defense. Malone used a unique combination of strength, quickness and skill to dominate opposing power forwards.
The Jazz were always a good team, and sometimes a great one, with Malone and Stockton leading the charge. However, they never came through consistently in key moments to win an NBA championship. If they had two or three titles to their name, they might rank No. 1 on this list. But alas, that is not the case.
4. C Shaquille O’Neal & G Kobe Bryant (Los Angeles Lakers)
- Combined accomplishments while teammates (8 seasons): 3 championships, 3 Finals MVPs, 1 MVP, 14 All-NBA Teams, 8 All-Defensive Teams, 13 All-Star Teams.
What could have happened if Shaq and Kobe actually enjoyed each other as teammates and wanted to keep playing together? That’s always one of my favorite hypothetical situations. Shaq was the most dominant force in the NBA at the turn of the current millennium, and Bryant was the league’s best perimeter player in the early 2000’s, but their business relationship was cut short in 2004 when Shaq demanded a trade and joined the Miami Heat.
Shaq and Kobe still packed in a lot of accomplishments during their eight years together. They ran the league between 2000 to 2002 during their three-peat and basically did everything on offense for the Lakers.
5. C Bill Russell & G Sam Jones (Boston Celtics)
- Combined accomplishments while teammates (12 seasons): 10 championships, 5 MVPs, 14 All-NBA Teams, 1 All-Defensive Team, 17 All-Star teams.
Russell is an all-time great who anchored the Celtics to 11 total NBA championships in his 13 NBA seasons. He had several Hall of Fame teammates during his tenure in Boston, including Sam Jones, Bob Cousy, Bill Sharman, Tom Heinsohn, K.C. Jones, Frank Ramsey and John Havlicek.
In my opinion, Jones was Russell’s best teammate. He spent more time and won more championships with Russell compared to anyone else. He was also a great player in his own right, making five All-Star teams during his career.
There are two factors that keep this duo lower on the list. One is the fact that the Celtics of the late 1950s and the 1960s were always extremely deep and not simply reliant on two players. Second, the NBA had between eight and 14 teams and no free agency during the Celtics’ run, which makes their championships a bit less impressive.
6. F/C Tim Duncan & G Tony Parker (San Antonio Spurs)
- Combined accomplishments while teammates (15 seasons): 4 championships, 4 Finals MVPs, 2 MVPs, 15 All-NBA Teams, 11 All-Defensive Teams, 18 All-Star teams.
Duncan is the greatest power forward in NBA history, but is his best teammate Parker, Ginobili or David Robinson? Robinson only overlapped with Duncan for six seasons, and Ginobili was extremely impactful but his sacrifices for the sake of the team often deprived him of individual accolades. Therefore, Parker is the choice.
Duncan and Parker played together for 15 years and were both clear All-Star caliber players for several of those years in the middle of their time together.
Like Magic and Kareem at No. 2 on this list, the respective prime years of Duncan (1999-2005) and Parker (2008-2013) didn’t quite match up well enough for them to get the most out of being paired together. That said, they still made a great duo and formed the basis for Spurs teams that were annually among the NBA’s best squads.
7. F Larry Bird & F Kevin McHale (Boston Celtics)
- Combined accomplishments while teammates (12 seasons): 3 championships, 2 Finals MVPs, 3 MVPs, 10 All-NBA Teams, 9 All-Defensive Teams, 18 All-Star Teams.
Bird and McHale are somewhat similar to Duncan and Parker in that there was a clear all-time great (Bird/Duncan) carrying the duo for many years, while the other peaked as a top-15 player in the league for a few years. In addition, both the Celtics of the 1980s and the Spurs of the 2000s and 2010s also had lots of great role players for support.
Ultimately, if you look at the accomplishments for Bird and McHale, they are similar to those of Duncan and Parker, but not quite as impressive.
8. F LeBron James & G Dwyane Wade (Miami Heat)
- Combined accomplishments while teammates (4 seasons): 2 championships, 2 Finals MVPs, 2 MVPs, 7 All-NBA Teams, 4 All-Defensive Teams, 8 All-Star Teams.
The No. 8 spot was a tough one to decide. The dominance of the Golden State Warriors in the 2010s made choosing Stephen Curry and one of his teammates an option. The Detroit Pistons of the late 1980s could have gotten on the list with Isiah Thomas and one of his star teammates.
I think James and Wade is the right call, though. The two slashing wings joined forces in 2010 with both players very close to their superstar peaks. James ended up reaching his apex as a member of the Heat, leading the team to back-to-back championships as the clear best player in the NBA. Wade had ongoing knee issues that sent him on a gradual decline starting in about 2011, but he remained an elite player who provided immense value to both the 2012 and 2013 championship teams.