The NBA is the strongest basketball league in the world, and in its history, many fantastic players have separated themselves from the rest of the league. Over time, great rivalries were formed between talented individual players. Since the founding of the league, a certain era in the history of the NBA has been marked by certain players who have nurtured great rivalries with other players.
What are the greatest rivalries in NBA history? Some rivalries lasted exclusively during matches, while others lasted off the court. Some of the players were great friends, and then they ruined relationships and became great enemies both on and off the court. Truly, it is your own opinion that decides what the greatest NBA rivalries in NBA history are.
On this occasion, we decided to remember the top 10 biggest rivalries among NBA players that changed the history of the NBA. Rivalries formed for various reasons, including NBA legends such as Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Lebron James.
1. Michael Jordan vs Isiah Tomas
The rivalry between Michael Jordan and Isiah Thomas is one of the most well known rivalries in the History of the NBA. This is the rivalry that marked the period between the mid-eighties and the nineties of the last century. It is a rivalry between maybe the best basketball player in the history of the NBA, Michael Jordan, and Piston Isiah Thomas. We all remember the legendary generation of Chicago Bulls led by Jordan along with Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman during the 1990s and coached by the famous Phil Jackson, the team that won 6 NBA titles. Before they began their dominance in the strongest league in the world, the Chicago Bulls had big problems with the Detroit Pistons, who defeated them three times in the playoff series between 1988 and 1990. The leader of this team was the aforementioned Isiah Thomas. Thomas showed intolerance towards Jordan back during Jordan’s 1985 debut season when he even boycotted him in an all-star game. When the 1991 Pistons were finally defeated by Chicago in the Eastern Conference finals the entire team led by Thomas left the game before the last sound of the siren and refused to congratulate the opponent for their victory. The below video shows Jordans thoughts on the matter almost 30 years later.
2. Michael Jordan vs Joe Dumars
Another player who caused big problems for the Chicago Bulls and a big reason why they lost to the Pistons in the playoffs for several years was Joe Dumars. The Pistons were well aware of the talent that Jordan possessed, if they stopped him, the chances of winning the duels with the Bulls were much higher. Unlike the previously mentioned rivalry, the duels between Jordan and Dumars were a real rivalry without any evil blood. In fact, Jordan was frustrated because in the late eighties, Chicago did not manage to beat Detroit, which played a fantastic defense focused on preserving the best player in Chicago, Michael Jordan, and Joe Dumars was responsible for all that. Jordan admitted that the duels against the mentioned player were really difficult, but their rivalry did not exceed the limits of good taste, which was not the case in the situation with Isiah Thomas.
3. Bill Russell vs Wilt Chamberlain
After the two mentioned rivalries that the legendary Michael Jordan had during the eighties and nineties of the past, we are moving to the sixties, which marked probably the biggest rivalry between the two centers in NBA league history. It’s a rivalry between Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain. Their rivalry was marked by the sensational fact that they played against each other over 140 times. This many matches have not taken place in any other NBA rivalry. Russell fared much better in this rivalry as he played in the era of the reign of the great Boston Celtics whom he played for, and in his career, he won eleven NBA titles while Chamberlain only managed to win a title twice. Chamberlain is certainly known for holding the record for the highest number of points scored in a single game, which is an incredible 100 points. The rivalry of the mentioned basketball players was probably the first great rivalry in the NBA, which attracted huge attention from NBA fans and the media.
4. Walter Frazier vs Earl Monroe
Another rivalry that marked the 1960s and 1970s was the rivalry between Walter Frazier and Earl Malone. Frazier was known as a very extroverted and charismatic character who was not overly potent in attack and did not have too much talent, but still had a fantastic sense of play that made up for it all. Monroe, known by the nicknames The Pearl and Black Jesus, provided his best games at the Baltimore Bullets. While playing for this team, a great rivalry was built with Frazier. The rivalry lasted in the middle of the last century until one day the mentioned players became teammates in New York, and in time also became great friends. It was said that the two of them would need two balls each to be able to function together in the team, but that was not the case at all. Frazier and Monroe became really great friends, and together they led New York to their last NBA title back in 1973.
5. Magic Johnson vs Larry Bird
One should not waste words on who Magic Johnson and Larry Bird were. We can certainly place the two of them in the ten best players of all-time in the NBA. The two marked the rivalry between the two great generations, the LA Lakers and the Boston Celtics. The two basketball players together won a combined total of 8 NBA championships and were declared MVP of the league six times. The rivalry between the two began back in college as they played against each other in the 1979 NCAA Finals. During their NBA careers, they had the opportunity to meet three times in the NBA League Finals. Their rivalry really marked the eighties of the last century. The media tried to portray them as two basketball players with completely different views on life, considering that of course Bird and Johnson had much different paths to the NBA, but crossed paths nevertheless. It was certainly a huge mistake because the mentioned two legendary basketball players always showed immense respect for each other both on and off the court, and together they were the creators of the famous Dream Team from 1992.
6. Kobe Bryant vs Shaquille O Neal
Certainly, the story of the greatest rivalries cannot pass without the legendary Kobe Bryant. On this occasion, we look back at the rivalry that arose from the originally huge friendship. It’s about Kobe’s rivalry with one of the best centers in NBA history Shaquille o Neal. It is well known that these two guys together won three consecutive NBA league titles in tandem between 2000 and 2002. However, not everything was ideal in the relations between the mentioned players. The differences in the character of the mentioned two basketball players were huge and they came to light over time. It all escalated after the Lakers’ 2004 defeat to the Detroit Pistons after which Shaq left Los Angeles and moved to Miami with whom he also became an NBA league champion thus showing everyone that he could reach the trophy without Kobe. Later, Kobe also reached another title with the Lakers, and on that occasion, he noted that the only difference compared to previous titles was that there was no Shaq.
7. Shaquille O Neal vs Dwight Howard
Shaq had another great rivalry during his career. It was happening at the end of his career, and his big rival was Dwight “Superman” Howard who was at the peak of his career at a time when O Neal was close to ending his NBA career. The rivalry continued off the field when Shaq finished. It was evident even as his career continued to cultivate intolerance towards Howard. Shaq has been known for years as someone who analyzes NBA games on television, and the famous show Shaqtin a Fool is well known. O Neal has made huge criticisms of Howard’s game on the post. He felt that Howard was not showing adequate play against his height and the strength he possessed. He was very disappointed when Howard moved to the Lakers, believing that the move was wrong for the Los Angeles club, and it seems that he was completely right, considering that Howard really didn’t give the Lakers much. This is one of the rare rivalries that was transferred from the field to outside it and will continue after the end of the career of one of the players who participated in that rivalry.
8. Kevin Garnett vs Tim Duncan
Another rivalry among high-ranking players marked the end of the 1990s and the beginning of the 2000s. These are two legendary basketball players from the Minnesota Timberwolves and San Antonio Spurs, Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan. They were completely different players, both in the way they played and in their temperament. Duncan was always calm while Garnett was known as a fierce guy during games. The famous match from the 1999 playoffs is well known, when Garnett insulted Duncan’s mother, without whom he was left with only 14 years. The rivalry was, of course, expressed primarily because the mentioned two basketball players played in the center position and led really fierce duels. They had a chance to play over 50 times against each other, and much more successful was Duncan who won the playoffs twice with his San Antonio against Garnet’s Timberwolves.
9. Lebron James vs Kevin Durant
The mentioned two basketball players are certainly one of the best players of today, and during their still current careers, they built a great rivalry. It started while LeBron was playing for Miami and Durant for Oklahoma. It continued when the two basketball players moved to Cleveland and Golden State. The two are different types of players. Durant is characterized by great speed and incredible ability to score a basket from all possible positions. LeBron has a great IQ, perhaps the best in the entire NBA league at the moment, and he also has fantastic physical predispositions. Although he turns 37 this year, he is still dominant. Durant had major injury problems, but in the coming seasons should be one of the Brooklyn Nets ’top players in their quest for the NBA ring. Durant and James had a chance to compete three times in the NBA final. Durant was twice better, while the only victory was taken by James while he was still a member of Miami. Durant has always disputed the claim that LeBron James is the best basketball player of today, believing that he has been unfairly neglected.
10. Russell Westbrook vs Patrick Beverley
Finally, let’s say a word about the rivalry that has well crossed the boundaries of healthy taste. Mostly in previous cases, we talked about players who almost certainly marked a certain era in the history of the NBA League, and they were mostly game legends. Patrick Beverley is certainly not someone who will be remembered in the history of the NBA league for some notable playing achievements, but rather for the rather dirty behavior he showed this year when he pushed Chris Paul from behind in the playoffs against the Phoenix Suns. This rivalry dates back to 2013 when Beverley also made one extremely rude gesture. Westbrook requested a time-out and Beverley jumped on him in an attempt to take the ball away from him. The then Oklahoma player injured his knee during the landing, which deprived him of a place in the playoffs. A similar situation was repeated a year later. These two players really don’t like each other and whenever they play against each other there are huge tensions and provocations on both sides.