Shaq Vs. Kobe and The 10 Best Rivalries in NBA History
Throughout the NBA's history, there have been quite a handful of heated rivalries.
Whether they be off-the-court issues, in-game fights, prolonged intense competition for supremacy or whatever the cause, the NBA's rivalries are a big part of the game and the game's history.
However, rivalries in the NBA seem to be dying off, perhaps as the league becomes more and more commercial—they still exist but to a lesser degree.
Some rivalries come from utter respect for one another; some rivalries come from complete distaste for one another.
Regardless, rivalries of past and present have been something for both fans and players to look forward to and enjoy.
That said, let's have a look at some of the best player rivalries in NBA history.
10. Ben Wallace Vs. Ron Artest
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This pick comes in at No. 10 mainly because of the notorious Pacers-Pistons brawl, or "The Malice at The Palace" if you will.
Not entirely known as a player rivalry, this pick was made because the fight broke out after Ben Wallace responded to Ron Artest's foul by pushing him in the chest.
One thing led to another and the next thing Artest knew was that a cup of Diet Coke landed on his chest.
Things escalated at this point, with fans getting involved in fights with players resulting in a plethora of suspensions, fines, probations and legal charges for both players and fans.
Some people went as far as to say it was the worst fight they had ever seen, so it had to have a spot on this slideshow.
9. LeBron James Vs. Kobe Bryant
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LeBron James and Kobe Bryant for the past several years have fought over the NBA's best player distinction relentlessly.
However, this fight is not really between the two of them than it is more so between their fans.
LeBron and Kobe do not have a rivalry, per se; it's more the fact that they are such a subject of debate that the media and fans have naturally turned them against each other.
Now that LeBron has joined the Miami Heat, perhaps we will finally see the two of them duke it out in the NBA Finals. What we all were waiting to see last year.
8. Isiah Thomas Vs. Larry Bird
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A rivalry between the Detroit Pistons and the Boston Celtics peaked in the late 80s, which included five playoff series' between the two.
Detroit's image as "Bad Boys" was a style of play they went after to pose a threat to the Celtics' dynasty.
Following a 1987 Eastern Conference Finals loss to the Celtics, Isiah Thomas made a comment insinuating that Larry Bird would not receive as many accolades as he did if he were not white. Dennis Rodman supported Thomas in his comments and the two were largely criticized by the media.
The bitter relationship continues today.
In 2003, Bird was hired by the Indiana Pacers as President of Basketball Operations and he would go on to fire Thomas from the head coaching job at Indiana.
7. Hakeem Olajuwon Vs. Patrick Ewing
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This competitive rivalry began way back when the two of them were in college; Olajuwon's Houston squad against Patrick Ewing's Georgetown Hoyas.
A colossal battle between elite big men throughout college and their careers in the NBA earns the pair a spot on this list.
The rivalry exists today, taking the form of the debate between who is the best Hall of Fame center.
Surely, others accompany them in the debate, but those two are undoubtedly top candidates.
6. Michael Jordan Vs. Bryon Russell
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This player relationship is perhaps most widely known for Michael Jordan's *love tap* against Bryon Russell to score the winning basket in Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals to line Chicago up for the title.
Whenever the Jazz played the Bulls, Russell was the guy to guard Jordan and he took that as both a privilege and a compliment.
Even today, Russell wishes to guard Jordan in a game of 1-on-1 (a reference from Michael Jordan's Hall of Fame inductance speech).
It was said by Jordan that Russell was the guy that made him come out of retirement to play basketball again.
This is a classic battle of offense vs. defense (although Jordan was one of the best defenders as well), and offense always won.
5. Hakeem Olajuwon Vs. David Robinson
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This rivalry between top centers began in 1995 when the 6th seeded Rockets led by Hakeem Olajuwon beat the top seeded Spurs led by MVP David Robinson.
This conference finals matchup was one for the ages.
Olajuwon outplayed Robinson and the Rockets ended up winning the series in six games and going on to win their second consecutive NBA title.
After the series, David Robinson was asked by LIFE Magazine how a team is supposed to solve Olajuwon.
To which he replied "Hakeem? You don't solve Hakeem."
When Olajuwon was traded to the Toronto Raptors in 2001, he recalled his great rivalry with The Admiral. The fierce competition and the memories of the rivalry were not lost, although Hakeem was playing in a different uniform.
4. Michael Jordan Vs. Isiah Thomas
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For years, the Detroit Pistons and the Chicago Bulls took turns eliminating each other from the playoffs in physical and heated series.
For that reason, Michael Jordan and Isiah Thomas struck up a fierce perennial competition and learned to hate each other.
The rivalry was taken further when it was rumored that Thomas told everyone on the Eastern Conference All-Star team not to pass the ball to Michael Jordan, who was appearing in his first All-Star game.
Now this is quite unlikely to be true, as Thomas would have had to convince Bird, Malone, Dr. J and the head coach of his plans and have them all act upon them.
Highly unlikely, but the fact that the rumor exists only adds more to the rivalry.
Further, it had been said that Jordan made it so Thomas couldn't play on the Dream Team. The truth is, Jordan only said that he wouldn't play if Thomas was on the team (meaning the decision was up to management).
3. Shaquille O'Neal Vs. Kobe Bryant
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Ever since the pair won three consecutive NBA titles, there have been times of friendship and times of distaste.
However, it started somewhere along the lines of when the two of them were bringing the Lakers into supremacy—Kobe was beginning to get tired of being a sidekick and so he gave the Lakers and ultimatum: either he goes or I go.
Kobe spent the next several years trying to prove to the world that he can win a championship without O'Neal, but that wasn't accomplished until recently (twice).
Off the court, the rivalry has been escalated by O'Neal's out-lash at Bryant while rapping on stage at a New York night club. This all took place after Kobe's Lakers lost in the NBA Finals and the gist of the rap was that Bryant couldn't win without him.
The rap is most notably recognized by the famous line: "Kobe, tell me how my - - - tastes."
Bryant did not take the comments too seriously—he brushed them off as "distractions."
2. Magic Johnson Vs. Larry Bird
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Arguably No. 1, but I had to give the edge to a different pair.
The rivalry and one-upsmanship between Larry Bird and Magic Johnson began in college when Michigan State faced off against Indiana State in the 1979 National Championship.
Johnson's Spartans came out on top in that game but the two continued their rivalry in the NBA, contributing to the NBA's greatest rivalry between the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers.
More of a friendly rivalry about respect for the other and stiff competition rather than a malicious rivalry, the two Hall of Famers are widely regarded as responsible for saving the NBA and regaining its popularity.
From circling the games in which they were to play each other on their calendars and schedules, to looking up what the other did the night before in the box scores of the newspapers each morning; it seems as though the two of them never missed a beat of what the other was doing.
That's fierce competition, and that, my friends, is a rivalry.
1. Wilt Chamberlain Vs. Bill Russell
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Regarded by some as the greatest rivalry between individual players in NBA history, this battle of the giants is of great proportion.
Bill Russell had been dominating the league for several years before the arrival of Wilt Chamberlain and many thought that the beginning of Chamberlain's career was to be the end of Russell's supremacy.
On the contrary, it has been said that had it not been for the arrival of Chamberlain, Russell would have just been a great player. Chamberlain's presence and competition allowed Russell to become all that he possibly could be.
The competition between the two of them gave each other motivation and turned them into two of the greatest centers of all-time (if not the two greatest centers of all-time).
The two played against each other in 142 contests in their 10 years of their rivalry. Russell's Celtics came out on top in 85 of the contests, while Chamberlain (being on the Warriors, Sixers and Lakers during the time) came out on top in just 57.
In the 142 contests, Chamberlain averaged 28.7 points and 28.7 rebounds per game while Russell averaged 14.5 points and 23.7 rebounds per game.
Statistics may show that Chamberlain outplayed Russell most of the time, but the tale of the tapes is that in that 10-year span Russell won nine championships to Chamberlain's one.
This was a rivalry for the ages, and I don't believe it will ever be surpassed.