The best Big Threes in NBA history

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Ryan Murphy

May 10th, 2021

They say that good things come in threes, and that’s especially true in the NBA, where some of the most dominant teams in league history have been powered by high-scoring trios. From Golden State’s "Run TMC" to the "Boston Three Party," basketball's record books and championship ledgers couldn't be written without talented triads.

Grab a friend (or two) and join us as we rank the most talented trios in NBA history.

5. Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parish

NBA team: Boston Celtics
Years together: 12 (1981-1992)
NBA championships: 3

It can’t be overstated just how good Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parish were during their collective prime. The three Hall of Famers powered the Celtics to 60 wins or more five times over a six-year span, and captured five conference titles and three NBA championships from 1981-87.

Bird was the do-it-all star who could light you up for 47 using only his left hand, McHale was the offensive savant with more moves than a can of worms, and Parish was the no-nonsense center who cleaned the glass and kept possessions alive with his exceptional strength and savvy.

In 1986-87, their last truly great season together before the onset of injuries and age, the Celtics' "Big Three" combined to average 71.7 points, 29.7 rebounds, and 12.4 assists per game. We may go another five lifetimes before we see that kind of production from a frontcourt again.

4. Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Kevin Durant

NBA team: Golden State Warriors
Years together: 3 (2017-19)
NBA championships: 2

It seemed impossible at the time, but the Warriors found a way to improve their 73-win team in 2016 by signing Kevin Durant to a splashy two-year, $54.3 million deal. The four-time scoring champ combined forces with two-time MVP Steph Curry and perennial All-Star Klay Thompson to form one of the most dazzling offenses in NBA history.

Together, they led Golden State to back-to-back titles in 2017 and 2018, and likely would have captured a third consecutive championship were it not for a series of devastating injuries in the 2019 NBA Playoffs.

Although Durant’s tenure with the Warriors included plenty of wins, it was also highlighted by run-ins with teammate Draymond Green and a lingering criticism that he had taken the easy way out by joining a ready-made super team. He fled to Brooklyn in the summer of 2019, bringing a swift end to what could have been the league’s most decorated dynasty.

3. Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, and Dennis Rodman

NBA team: Chicago Bulls
Years together: 3 (1996-98)
NBA championships: 3

Jordan, Pippen, and Rodman only played together for three seasons, but if you grew up in Chicago during the 1990s you probably still have wet dreams about their spectacular run.

Jordan was the undisputed alpha of the group, but it would be folly to think he did it all on his own. Pippen was the Bulls’ point forward and best perimeter defender, and Rodman was the dirty work specialist who outhustled and outworked everyone else on the court. Sure, he occasionally kicked cameramen in the crotch and showed up in a wedding dress too, but that was just part of the package.

Just how good were the Bulls when Jordan, Pippen, and Rodman reigned? Chicago set an NBA record by winning 72 games in 1995-96, and only played in a single Game 7 during their three-peat from 1996 to 1998.

2. Magic Johnson, James Worthy, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

NBA team: Los Angeles Lakers
Years together: 7 (1983-89)
NBA championships: 3

With all due respect to the Celtics, no team was more feared in the 1980s than the Lakers. L.A. appeared in the NBA Finals eight times from 1980 to 1989, and was always just a run or two away from turning a tight game into an outright farce.

Magic Johnson gets most of the credit for spearheading L.A.’s Showtime offense, but he received plenty of help from James Worthy, who was a terror on the break, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, whose unswattable skyhook made him one of the toughest checks in the league.

This trio would rank higher on our list were it not for the fact that Abdul-Jabbar was already 35-years-old when Worthy joined the Lakers as a rookie in 1982.

1. Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili

NBA team: San Antonio Spurs
Years together: 14 (2003-2016)
NBA championships: 4

Some things just go together: Salt and pepper, peanut butter and jelly, and Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili. The legendary trio spent 14 seasons together in San Antonio, during which time they made 14 straight trips to the playoffs and won nine division titles, five conference titles, and four NBA championships. Their 575 regular season wins and 126 postseason victories are both NBA records, and are unlikely to be matched in an era when players change teams nearly as often as they change their socks.

This particular grouping was fascinating because of the remarkably different styles each player employed. Duncan was a fundamentally sound pivot who could lull you to sleep with his post moves, Parker was a lightning fast guard who could induce whiplash with his speed, and Ginobili was a completely unorthodox bat-swatting, Euro-stepping wonder who seemed to invent two new moves every time he sauntered onto the hardwood. Their disparate skills complimented each other well, and led to the most successful span in franchise history.