NBA's 10 best championship duos: How high do Curry and Durant rank?

Sporting News

  • NBA's 10 best championship duos: How high do Curry and Durant rank?

    Congratulations to Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant in leading the Warriors to the franchise's second NBA championship in three seasons.

    What they did together in the five-game NBA Finals victory over the Cavaliers allowed the team to cap a near-perfect playoff run in 2017. It also put Curry and Durant in elite company with the other great title-winning 1-2 punches in NBA history.

    BENDER: How would Warriors fare against NBA's greatest teams?

    But where does the Warriors' pair rank among the top championship duos that came before them? Here's Sporting News' updated top 10 list.

  • 1
    Tim Duncan and David Robinson, Spurs (1999, 2003)

    Robinson, the first overall pick in 1987, helped San Antonio turn into a consistent winner. His misfortune with injury allowed the team to draft Duncan in the same spot a decade later. It didn't take long for one of game's greatest centers and best all-time power forwards to become twin tower anchors for the Spurs at very different stages of their careers. They carried Gregg Popovich's early teams with their combined scoring and rebounding.

    Some might say Robinson and Tony Parker should be the Spurs' combination on this list. But that discounts the bigger picture — how the crossover of two elite big men set up the Spurs' championship standard of their unconventional dynasty.

  • 2
    Julius Erving and Moses Malone, 76ers (1983)

    Dr. J and the Chairman of the Boards formed a magical combo for Philadelphia for one special season. Malone led the team in scoring, rebounding and blocks in a monster third MVP season. He also was named Finals MVP in the Sixers' four-game sweep of the Lakers.

    Erving, at age 32, flashed much of his old ABA dominance with the Nets to notch his one and only NBA title. The backcourt of Maurice Cheeks and Andrew Toney were also key to the 76ers' success. They were just blessed to have two of the best front-line players of all time at the same time.

  • 3
    Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson, Bucks (1971)

    Before there was Kareem and Magic, there was Lew Alcindor and The Big O. As his formerly named self, Abdul-Jabbar enjoyed the first of two MVP seasons for Milwaukee, averaging 31.7 points and 16.0 rebounds as he built his legacy as the best center in NBA history.

    Robertson, 32, supported him plenty as an older point guard, averaging 19.4 points and 8.2 assists in his first season of four final seasons not with the Cincinnati Royals. It was an outside-inside combination that was hard to stop from a 66-16 regular season through 4-0 finals sweep of the Baltimore Bullets. 

    After winning the championship, Abdul-Jabbar, who turned 24 at the end of his second season, officially changed his full name to match his conversion to Islam.

  • 4
    LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, Heat (2012, 2013)

    "The Decision" to take his talents to South Beach allowed James to play with Wade for four seasons. The middle two brought the championships, including a 66-16 record on the way to a repeat. 

    James worked on his eighth straight season of leading the NBA in VORP (value over replacement player), while Wade needed help to add to his previous King-less ring. They were 1-2 for Miami in both points and assists while also playing terrific defense. They came through in a tough pair of NBA Finals battles with the Thunder and Spurs with James leading as series MVP twice.

    For all the heat James got for wanting to play with Wade and Chris Bosh, the level of individual results that added up to ultimate team success lived up to expectations in Miami.

  • 5
    Bob Cousy and Bill Russell, Celtics (1957, 1959-1963)

    Boston was coasting along as an improving but still only above average new NBA team, led by Cousy's play at point guard. But to match his magical passing in the transition game, it was clear they needed a dominant defensive big man. Enter Russell, fresh from back-to-back titles with the University of San Francisco, to be that guy as a rookie.

    The rest is dynasty, as Red Auerbach would coach the Celtics to an incredible nine titles in 10 seasons. Before Cousy had to hang it up as a 35-year-old, he stuck around for six of those championships. Russell would go on to win two more as Auerbach's sideline successor.

  • 6
    Larry Bird and Kevin McHale, Celtics (1981, 1984, 1986)

    When Bird was on his three-year NBA MVP run through 1986, he was the best player in the entire league, better than Final Four and NBA Finals rival Magic Johnson. While Larry Legend stuffed the stat sheet with prolific scoring, passing and rebounding, McHale developed into his dominant frontcourt presence.

    He was a rookie during their first title together, but every bit of McHale's inside play was needed to take down the Rockets twice and Johnson's Lakers once. Not only did Bird and McHale complement each other's games perfectly, but their unique personalities also meshed to form arguably the greatest forward duo of all time.

  • 7
    Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant, Warriors (2017)

    Curry and Golden State were able to win a title after his MVP breakthrough, but were heartbroken after blowing a 3-1 lead to the Cavaliers last year in their attempt to repeat. It was a clear they needed a frontcourt upgrade over Harrison Barnes to ensure not giving up another championship. They went above and beyond with Durant, the worthy straight-up adversary for LeBron James they had been missing.

    Durant built on his strong finals play when his Thunder played James' Heat in defeat, and took it to another level as a fearless scoring machine. Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson already were a handful on both ends of the floor. With Durant healthy and ready for more devastating play, it doesn't even feel like a surprise that he triggered the first 15-0 playoff run in NBA history.

  • 8
    Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal, Lakers (2000-2002)

    Kobe and Shaq may have been the best of "frenemies," but for three glorious seasons under Phil Jackson, they formed the NBA's unstoppable inside-outside force. O'Neal had a lot of fun on the Hollywood hardwood as everyone hacked and failed during his prime. Bryant complemented that physical nastiness inside with his fierce competitiveness and clutch shot-making from everywhere. 

    It was a much different look for Jackson than the triangle in Chicago with O'Neal as the literal center piece, but it produced a similar three-repeat.

  • 9
    Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson, Lakers (1980, 1982, 1985, 1987, 1988)

    Abdul-Jabbar was fortunate to play with two all-time terrific passers, as his time with Oscar Robertson in Milwaukee was trumped by glorious later-career triumph with Johnson. Between Johnson's ultimate point forward ability to play any position and Abdul-Jabbar throwing down his patented sky hook, the Lakers became must-watch, "Showtime" entertainment under coach Pat Riley.

    Being a top co-option on a loaded team lengthened Kareem's career. He was the guy early in the run, and by the time he was done, there was a smooth transition for the Lakers to become Magic's team.

  • 10
    Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen (1991-1993, 1996-1998)

    Jordan, even with what LeBron James is doing now, has most still in his corner as the best NBA player ever. But it took having another all-time great at small forward to start turning his stellar play into championships. While Jordan was the fearless shooter, Pippen did much of the dirty work and was always there to come through when Jordan couldn't.

    In addition to their solid offensive play, Jordan and Pippen were also two of the league's most dominant defenders during the Bulls' run. Given the number of titles together and a perfect series record in the NBA Finals, it will be a while before anyone can topple this most dynamic duo.