“NBA rivalries are dying”. I have heard this so often lately, that sometimes I am almost brainwashed into thinking the phenomenon, made most popular by Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell, is on its way out. But then I thought again. These are men, and at that, competitive men with nothing to do but train hard and play ball. This leads me back to my original conclusion that NBA rivalries aren’t going anywhere, I don’t care which one of the homies you’re following on Twitter. Everyone RELAX.

In the NBA, there have always been two types of rivalries: one that is built out of respect and stiff competition, and the other “Kobe vs. Shaq” type. You all know what I’m talking about: the “I am not playing if he’s playing!” diva-driven ‘tudes that several players (cough-KOBE-cough) are so well known for, and that give pro athletes a bad rap for being “hostile” or “high-maintenance”. The majority of pro-ball players are simply playing a game they love, and trying to keep their noses clean.

Admittedly, I don’t know quite as much about other NBA teams as I do my very own Rockets; however, I’ve been around long enough to notice a good one-on-one rivalry when I see one. Thoughts of my sister and I jumping on the couch in our 1994 XXXXL Rockets World Champions shirts and undies incite memories of some of the best of the best rivalries that ever were in the world of basketball. With that said, let’s take a peek at some of the NBA’s greatest matchups.

Round 1: Bill Russell [Celtics] vs. Wilt Chamberlain [Warriors, Sixers, Lakers]:

Arguably the most famous rivalry in NBA history. Story goes Russell had been doin’ his thing for many years before Wilt’s arrival. There was a lot of speculation at the time that Wilt would end Russell’s reign over the league; but au contraire, Wilt actually pushed Russell to his greatest potential.  It has even been said that Chamberlain and Russell are the greatest centers of all time (now y’all know my money’s on Hakeem, though). These two played 142 games against each other over a span of 10 years. Stats show that Chamberlain outplayed Russell the majority of the time; however, in the 10-year span, Russell won nine championships, compared to Wilt’s one. I would call this particular match-up a respectful one, which will go down in history as for sure one of the best rivalries of our time.

 Round 2: Ben Wallace [Pistons] vs. “The Ball Player Formerly Known as Ron Artest” [Pacers]

This needed to go into the pot simply because it created one of the best brawls of all time. It even had a nickname, “Malice at the Palace”. Wallace pretty much started the whole thing, pushing Ron-Ron in the chest in response to a foul committed by Artest. Cut to a Diet Coke to the face, the fans started rushing the court, prompting a huge fight, and a slew of suspensions and fines ensued. Even legal charges were brought against a few players and fans alike. Nothing beats a good fight, which is why this matchup made the cut.

 Round 3: Isiah Thomas [Pistons] vs Larry Bird [Celtics]:

Friendly sportsmanship would not be the term to describe these two lovebirds. This rivalry was mainly due to the 5 playoff series between the two basketball starts in the late 80s. The “Bad Boys” were out to teach the Celtics a lesson, and to add insult to injury, Thomas insinuated that if Bird had been black, he would not have won nearly as many accolades. Them’s fightin’ words, wouldn’t you agree? In the end, it looks like Larry’s got the last laugh; Bird, Pacers President in 2003, fired Thomas from the head coaching job at Indiana. Boom.

Round 4: Isiah Thomas [Pistons] vs Michael Jordan [Bulls]:

Isiah decided to make enemies all around the league during his stint as a Piston, even going up against the king himself, MJ. Year after year, the Bulls and Pistons were pitted against each other during playoffs in very physical, heated series. And so, the rivalry between these two giants was born. It was rumored that during the Eastern Conference All-Star game, Thomas had persuaded his teammates not to pass the ball to Jordan, who at the time was making his very first All-Star appearance. Fun idea, but I seriously doubt this could have been followed through with, since among his teammates were the likes of Bird, Malone, and Dr. J. But alas, the rumor spread and this matchup was definitely on for the long-haul.  Jordan shot back, saying that he wouldn’t play on the Dream Team if Thomas were among his teammates.  #HOP!

Round 5: Magic Johnson [Lakers] vs Larry Bird [Celtics]:

This rivalry has got to go up there with the Russell and Chamberlain matchup. Magic and Larry first battled during their college careers, when Johnson’s Spartans beat Bird’s Sycamores in the 1979 National Championship.  Don’t fret; Magic and Larry are friendly rivals. They have respect for one another, as the both of them are credited with bringing popularity and fame back to the NBA after it had dwindled for some time.  So even though Magic most likely still chuckles about Larry’s amazing Indiana team pic [seen here] the two remain friends.

Round 6: Shaquille O’Neal [Magic, Lakers] vs Kobe Bryant [Lakers]:

This is where it gets ugly….no pun intended (see what I did there?) Here’s how it went down: golden boy pairs with golden boy, they take a few spins joy riding together, and then one golden boy gets pissed off that the other golden boy is grabbing his spotlight. Kobe pulled yet another #HOP moment, giving the Lakers his best Naomi Campbell impression: “Either he goes or I go!”  [Sighs…] Diva got his way, and Kobe spent the next several years unsuccessfully trying to prove that he could win the championship without Shaq until very recently. You think Shaq just rolled over? Think again. Shaq famously took to the mic at an NYC nightclub and rapped about his favorite former counterpart:  “Kobe, tell me how my – – – -tastes.” Sheer poetry, I tell you.

Round 7: Hakeem Olajuwon [Rockets] vs David Robinson [Spurs]:

Think back to Clutch City days and you’ll remember this matchup for sure. Our Rockets defeated the Spurs in the 1995 conference finals, and this, of course, included MVP David Robinson. With his signature, “Dream Shake”, Hakeem outplayed Robinson and ended the series in 6 games, going on to clutch the 1995 World Championship, their second in a row. Robinson was later interviewed by LIFE Magazine. The question was posed as to how a team is supposed to solve a player like Olajuwon. To which Robinson admitted, “Hakeem? You don’t solve Hakeem.” Ain’t it the truth.

Photos via

Categories: Houston Rockets

One Response so far.

  1. Entertaining from start to finish. I even learned a bit more that I expected… and i wasn’t expecting to learn much on this topic. Cheers!

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