The Greatest Player Rivalries in NBA History


Kobe Bryant vs. LeBron James

Kobe Bryant and LeBron James had some competitive matches, but their true rivalry was actually through the fans. In the late 2000’s there was a constant argument between NBA fans everywhere about who was the greatest player in the NBA, LeBron James or Kobe Bryant. We almost had an answer to this argument in the 2009 NBA Finals but LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers (66-16) failed to meet Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers (65-17) in the NBA Finals. Every NBA fan, including myself, will always wish this matchup happened.


Michael Jordan vs. Isiah Thomas

In the early part of Michael Jordan’s career the Chicago Bulls and Detroit Pistons often met in the NBA playoffs where Michael Jordan and the Bulls were usually eliminated in intense and tough matches. Because of this Michael Jordan and Isiah Thomas grew a rivalry that seemed full of hate. The hate Michael Jordan had for Isiah Thomas can be seen when Jordan was asked to play on the dream team. Michael Jordan made the team decide between him or Isiah Thomas, and they of course picked Jordan.


Kobe Bryant vs. Shaquille O’Neal

Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal were an amazing combination. They won three straight NBA championships together and it seemed like they were destined to win a couple more. But Shaquille O’Neal left after the 2004 season and Kobe Bryant was ok with O’Neal’s decision because Bryant needed to prove that he could win an NBA Championship without O’Neal. After years of Shaquille O’Neal saying Kobe Bryant couldn’t do it without him Kobe Bryant finally proved that he did not need Shaquille O’Neal after winning back to back Championships in 2009 and 2010.


Magic Johnson vs. Larry Bird

Magic Johnson and Larry Bird had a continuing rivalry that started in college where Johnson’s Spartans defeated Bird’s Sycamores in the National Championship game. But their rivalry certainly didn’t stop there as they competed against each other in three different NBA Finals. Magic Johnson won two of their NBA Finals battles including the 1987 Finals which had one of the most iconic shots in NBA History, “Magic Johnson’s junior skyhook”. Although Johnson won the majority of their Championship battles this rivalry truly was amazing and it’s what gave the Lakers vs Celtics rivalry a new meaning.


Wilt Chamberlain vs. Bill Russell

Bill Russell and the Boston Celtics had been dominating the league for a few seasons before the amazing young talent Wilt Chamberlain entered the NBA. In 142 career games against each other Bill Russell won 85 games (59.9%) and averaged 14.5 PPG and 23.7 RPG while Wilt Chamberlain won 57 games (40.1%) and averaged 28.7 PPG and 28.7 RPG. In their 10 year span of ruthless competition Bill Russell won 9 NBA Championships compared to Wilt Chamberlain’s 1 NBA Championship. Wilt Chamberlain may have averaged much better statistics but Bill Russell always bested him when it mattered the most. This rivalry defined the early history of the NBA and in my opinion is the greatest rivalry in NBA history due to it’s longevity and sheer competition.

About Emanuel Godina

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