Top 5 best duos in NBA history

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Ryan Murphy

May 21st, 2020

One of the biggest lessons we learned from The Last Dance is that it takes more than a single star to win an NBA Championship. Michael Jordan was just 1-9 in the playoffs before the Chicago Bulls acquired Scottie Pippen on a draft night trade in 1987. Together they won six titles and were never pushed to a Game 7 in the NBA Finals.

Grab your best bud as we salute the five most dynamic duos in NBA history.

5. Elgin Baylor and Jerry West (1961-1972)

Younger fans will recognize Jerry West as the inspiration for the NBA’s logo, but the 14-time All-Star is more than just a pasty silhouette. "Mr. Outside" was also a lights-out shooter who averaged 30 points per game or more four times over the course of his Hall of Fame career.

One of the big reasons West had so many open looks was the presence of Lakers teammate Elgin Baylor. Nicknamed "Mr. Inside" the burly Baylor terrorized opponents in the paint with his exceptional strength and hyper athleticism. The Seattle alum averaged a career-high 38.3 points during his second season with West, and was a constant threat to score during their celebrated tenure together.

Baylor and West never won a championship together, but it wasn’t for a lack of effort. The pair reached the NBA Finals six times during their 12 seasons together and remain icons in L.A. and beyond.

4. Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal (1997-2004)

Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal didn’t always get along off the court, but they were like two peas in a pod when the game began. The All-Star teammates led the Lakers to three-straight NBA championships from 2000 to 2002, and nearly added another trophy to the mantle in 2004, before injuries and internal discord destroyed L.A.’s dynasty.

The Lakers’ dynamic duo were at their best in the 2001 playoffs, when they combined to score 59.8 points per contests while reeling off 15 wins in 16 games. Kobe and Shaq’s ruthless efficiency helped secure L.A. 13th championship and cemented their legacy as one of best one-two punches in NBA history.

3. Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1980-89)

What happens when you combine two of the top 10 players in NBA history? In the case of Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the result was nine division titles, eight conference titles, five championships, and two retired numbers.

Magic and Kareem’s inclusion on this list should come as no surprise, but what is surprising is the fact that the Lakers big man was so effective in the twilight of his career. “Cap” was an All-Star in each of his 10 seasons with Magic, and became the oldest NBA Finals MVP in history in 1985, when he won the honor at age 38. His exceptional longevity made the Lakers perennial contenders and gave Magic the perfect target for his patented no-look passes.

2. Bill Russell and Bob Cousy (1957-1963)

You’d be hard pressed to find a pair of players with more complimentary skillsets than Bob Cousy and Bill Russell. The 6-foot-1 Cousy was a phenomenal ballhandler and flashy passer with a knack for finding open teammates on the move, while the 6-foot-9 Russell was a tireless defender who ran the court like a deer and flourished in transition. Together they led the Celtics to seven Eastern Conference Champions and six NBA titles in their seven seasons together in Beantown.

1. Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen (1988-1998)

Let’s be honest: You could pair Michael Jordan with Dickey Simpkins and they’d probably still top our list. Jordan was a 14-time All-Star and 10-time scoring champ who didn’t so much beat opponents, as rip their hearts from their chests and stomp on them at half court.

Jordan’s pathological competitiveness could be hard to handle, but he found a willing accomplice in the soft-spoken Pippen. The Arkansas native was every bit as driven as Jordan, but was content playing second fiddle to the five-time MVP. Pippen didn’t need to score to be effective and, unlike Jordan, didn’t demand the spotlight.

Pippen’s ability to ease MJ’s burden led to six championships in eight years and a place as one of the top 50 players in NBA history.

Honorable mentions: Oscar Robertson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar; Larry Bird and Kevin McHale; John Stockton and Karl Malone; LeBron James and Dwyane Wade; Steph Curry and Klay Thompson