The five biggest rivalries in NBA history

Larry Bird Magic Johnson
Larry Bird and Magic Johnson were the foundation of a great NBA rivalry. Photo from Bleacher Report.

The NBA homes the biggest rivalries in sports. After all, rivalries are what makes basketball fun to watch, especially during the playoffs.

This is when intensity is at an all-time high and where it matters the most.

Biggest NBA rivalries: Fiercest rivalries in NBA history

Legends such as Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and Michael Jordan have been the spotlight of some of these rivalries.

Let’s take a trip down to memory lane and look at the 5 greatest NBA rivalries ever:

Warriors vs Cavaliers

This rivalry might still be fresh in your memory. When LeBron James returned to Cleveland in 2014, he led the Cavaliers to the Finals until 2018.

Meanwhile, the Stephen Curry-led Warriors were just getting started with their dynasty. These two teams faced four consecutive finals from 2015 up to 2018. While the Warriors won 3 out of 4 their matchups, the 3-1 comeback of the Cavaliers in 2016 will forever be remembered as one of the greatest comebacks in sports history.

Everything changed in 2016 when the already stacked 73-9 Warriors managed to land Kevin Durant in free agency. After this move, they proceeded to win back-to-back championships in 2016 and 2017.


Michael Jordan vs Isiah Thomas

When it comes to NBA player rivalries, Michael Jordan and Isiah Thomas always come to the top of your mind. The beef is still alive and well documented especially with the recent Last Dance Documentary on Netflix.

It all started during the emergence of Jordan in the late 80s. Back then, the Bad Boy Pistons have already won back-to-back championships in 1989 and 1990. During the early days of their rivalry, the physicality of the Bad Boys was too much for Jordan.

Jordan worked on his strength and retaliated by sweeping them in 1991. During the blowout loss, Thomas and others refused to shake hands and exited the arena immediately. This action by Thomas has sparked controversy ever since. MJ vs Isiah and the Pistons vs Bulls are two great NBA rivalries.

Bulls vs Knicks

The rivalry started during the start of the Chicago Bulls dynasty. The two teams faced six times in the playoffs between 1989 and 1995 and the Bulls managed to win 5 out of 6 of their matchups.

What makes this rivalry special is that they go at each other every time as if there’s no tomorrow.

Even though the Knicks always lost, Patrick Ewing and John Starks won’t simply back down. All of their matches were tough and physical. The Bulls always had to grind to get the dub.

Bill Russell vs Wilt Chamberlain

During the 50s and 60s, two players were battling for big man supremacy—Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain.

These two have a legendary resume in the NBA. Russell has a whopping 11 championships who averaged 15 points and 23 rebounds per game. Meanwhile, Wilt was a freak of nature who averaged 30 points and 23 rebounds per game and has two titles under his belt.

As you can see, Russell is the better winner while Wilt is the better player. Nevertheless, these two were considered to be all-time greats who paved the way for big men.

Celtics vs Lakers

These two teams are tied for the most NBA titles with 17 championships apiece. Not just that, but they also have met 12 times in the Finals.

Some notable names during this rivalry are Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Kobe Bryant, and Paul Pierce.

The rivalry started when the Lakers were still based in Minneapolis in 1959. However, the 60s were clearly the Celtics era. The Bill Russell-led Celtics dominated the Lakers as they won every Finals until 1966.

However, the tide changed during the 80s. This was during the Magic vs Bird era. The two teams faced off three times and the Lakers won two championships.

The rivalry surged again in 2008 when the two teams faced off again in the Finals. This time it was Bryant who led the Lakers and Pierce for the Celtics.

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About Jeremy Mallari 44 Articles
Jeremy lives and breathes basketball. He's an avid NBA fan for almost a decade now.

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