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Blog Entry

Best NBA rivalries ever

Posted on: January 21, 2010 12:46 pm
 
With Kobe vs. LeBron Thursday night in Cleveland, it's the perfect time to come up with a list of the top five individual rivalries in NBA history.

Michael Jordan makes the list, but only barely; he never had an individual rival or anyone close to his equal.

Kobe and LeBron make it, even though they haven't (yet) competed head-to-head for a championship. But as (arguably) the two best individual performers in the game -- albeit at different stages of their careers -- this is as good as it gets in modern times. (And not because of the puppet commercials.)

So with the following rough criteria -- competing for championships, relative difference in skill level, and the competitiveness of their teams -- here are my top five individual rivalries in NBA history:

1) Wilt Chamberlain vs. Bill Russell: This is a no brainer. The two dominant players of their generation competed for the Eastern Conference title six times and the NBA title twice. Russell forever lords over Chamberlain in the debate over who (other than Jordan) was the best player ever, due to his 11 championships compared to Chamberlain's two.

2) Larry Bird vs. Magic Johnson: Their rivalry began in college with the seminal NCAA title game between Indiana State and Michigan State in 1979, which made the NCAA Tournament what it is today. It continued throughout their NBA careers with the Celtics and Lakers lifting the NBA to national prominence with three NBA Finals matchups in the '80s. Lakers vs. Celtics is all you need to say to conjure memories than span generations.

3) Bird vs. Julius Erving: Before we had Bird vs. Magic on the NBA stage, we had Bird vs. Dr. J. Their teams met in the Eastern Conference Finals in four of the first six years of the '80s, splitting the four meetings to determine who would go on to face the Lakers in the Finals (with the exception of 1981, when the Celtics faced the Rockets). Who among us (in 35-and-up demographic) didn't get his first video game experience on that grainy but thrilling "One on One" video game featuring Bird and Dr. J?

4) Kobe vs. LeBron: I put them here because of A) What is, and B) What might still be. LeBron is just entering his prime, when presumably he will begin stockpiling championships. Unlike Jordan at a similar stage of his career, LeBron has a formidable, immortal rival in Bryant who is still standing in the way. Kobe continues to play at a high level and has a chance to keep LeBron's championship trophy case barren for a couple of more years. (And they have the puppet marketing machine going for them, too.)

5) Jordan vs. Isiah Thomas: As inhabitants of the same conference, Mike and Zeke never squared off with a championship on the line. But Jordan's epic battles against Isiah's Bad Boy Pistons -- taking his lumps in the '89 and '90 Eastern Conference Finals before finally breaking through in '91 -- marked the emergence of one of the all-time greats. By supplanting Isiah and the Pistons, Jordan dispensed with the last true individual rival he would face en route to six NBA titles in eight years. Their rivalry also transcended the court; it was personal. Isiah's alleged "freezeout" of Jordan in the 1985 All-Star Game, Jordan's alleged efforts to sabotage Thomas' failed bid to be included on the 1992 Dream Team, and the visceral hatred that exists to this day between Jordan's long-time agent, David Falk, and Thomas makes this a must in my top five.






Comments

Since: Mar 22, 2008
Posted on: January 21, 2010 10:51 pm
 

Best NBA rivalries ever

[Insert Clippers first rounder] vs. his own knees



Since: Oct 11, 2006
Posted on: January 21, 2010 10:14 pm
 

Best NBA rivalries ever

Shaq vs. Ewing: I remember Shaq proving he was a real center in these matchups. Seemed like there was some bad blood there, too, back when the Knicks were a bunch of bruisers with Oakley, Mason and Ewing.

Dennis Rodman vs. Frank Brickowski: You had to be a Sonics fan. These were hilarious. Brick was a little homophobic and Rodman used to toggle his balls jostling for rebounds. And Brick was just good enough for it not to be a complete joke. They had epic exchanges in the local papers.

Reggie Miller vs. lots of people: the Knicks and the Pistons used to always bring out Reggie's clutchness, and they always used to beat the hell out of him.





Since: Sep 11, 2007
Posted on: January 21, 2010 6:21 pm
 

Best NBA rivalries ever

Shawn Kemp vs. Old Country Buffet



Since: Jan 16, 2007
Posted on: January 21, 2010 4:14 pm
 

Best NBA rivalries ever

"Shawn kemp v. Birth control"

Not a rivalry if only one side 'wins'.



Since: Mar 21, 2009
Posted on: January 21, 2010 3:41 pm
 

Best NBA rivalries ever

Shawn Kemp vs. birth control



Since: Mar 29, 2007
Posted on: January 21, 2010 3:29 pm
 

Best NBA rivalries ever

Lebron has had much better battles with Carmelo, Dwyane Wade and Paul Pierce then he has had with Kobe.



Since: Mar 23, 2009
Posted on: January 21, 2010 3:02 pm
 

Best NBA rivalries ever

Wilt vs Russel was definitely the best rivalry ever, but I guess Berger is not old enough to have seen it person and must have determined that on hearsay. His follow up comment "Russell forever lords over Chamberlain in the debate over who (other than Jordan) was the best player ever" is complete nonsense. As a transplanted New Englander and long time Celtics fan, I did see most of that rivalry. Those 11 championships were total team efforts and not due to Russel's skill as an individual player. As individual players, even a die-hard Celtics fan like me has to begrudgingly admit Wilt was far superior to Russel.





Since: Aug 20, 2006
Posted on: January 21, 2010 2:50 pm
 

Best NBA rivalries ever

Shaq vs Duncan is better than LeBron vs Kobe because it's actually happened in the playoffs on numerous occassions.  And almost every year of the past 15 seasons or so one or the other of these guys, if not both, have been playing in a Conference Finals series. 

The only thing is that Pop likes playing Duncan at PF while some other big body plays C, so he and Shaq don't actually go head-to-head that much.  But it's a joy to watch because Duncan is so good at using his underrated strength to stop Shaq's power game and Shaq is so good at using his underrated quickness to stop Duncan's versatility.



Since: Jan 10, 2008
Posted on: January 21, 2010 2:50 pm
 

Best NBA rivalries ever

rasheed wallace vs all nba refs



Since: Sep 11, 2006
Posted on: January 21, 2010 2:50 pm
 

Best NBA rivalries ever

One on One was quite thrilling.


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