The 30 most dynamic duos in sports history
Shaq and Kobe. Serena and Venus Williams. Joe Montana and Jerry Rice. As sports have evolved, teams have begun looking to deploy talented duos who can make a good team great. Today, we’re taking a look back at some of the best sports duos to ever play the game. You’ll be shocked to see where some of the duos — like Shaq and Kobe — rank on this list!
30. Karl Malone and John Stockton
It’s hard to imagine how the Utah Jazz never managed to win an NBA title with Karl Malone and John Stockton teaming up on the same side. Malone was a two-time MVP and 14-time All-Star, and he ended his career having scored the second-most points in NBA history. Stockton, meanwhile, was a 10-time All-Star who holds the NBA records for assists and steals.
With Malone and Stockton at the helm, the Jazz made the playoffs every season the duo took the court. Additionally, the Jazz made their only two trips to the NBA Finals. Had this legendary duo managed to win a ring or two, it would rank much higher on this list.
29. Wayne Gretzky and Jari Kurri
Pair Wayne Gretzky with any above-average NHL player, and you get a legendary duo. Team him up with a Hall of Famer like Jari Kurri, and it’s game over. Gretzky is the all-time NHL leader in goals and assists, and he holds dozens of additional records that likely won’t ever be broken.
Kurri was an impressive player in his own right, earning nine All-Star selections and leading the NHL in scoring in 1986. The sharpshooting duo went on to win four Stanley Cup championships for the Edmonton Oilers. As great as this duo was, it wasn’t even the best duo Gretzky had been a part of in his career. (More on that later.)
28. Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant
When the Golden State Warriors won the NBA championship in 2015, it was hard to imagine the team could get any better. When Kevin Durant joined Stephen Curry and company in 2016, the entire NBA landscape changed. Collectively, Curry and Durant have accumulated three MVP awards, 16 All-Star appearances, and five scoring titles. The duo brought two titles to Golden State while Durant was in town.
While the Curry-Durant pairing certainly wasn’t the most memorable in team history, it was the only to join two MVP-caliber players in Golden State. This duo was legendary, but it won’t be the last time you see Steph Curry on this list.
27. Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling
Every baseball team dreams of acquiring a Cy Young-level pitcher. The early 2000s Arizona Diamondbacks had two of them. With 1999 Cy Young winner Randy Johnson on the roster, the Diamondbacks traded for Curt Schilling in 2000 in the hopes of contending for a World Series. The move paid off, as the dynamic pitching duo led Arizona to a title and shared the World Series MVP award.
Johnson won the Cy Young award five times, including every year from 1999-2002. In two of those years, Schilling finished second in Cy Young voting, meaning the D-backs had the two best pitchers in the National League. Had Johnson and Schilling spent more than three years together in Arizona, they’d likely land much higher on this list.
26. Bob Bryan and Mike Bryan
Identical twins Bob Bryan and Mike Bryan are the most successful tennis doubles duo of all time. The Bryan Brothers have set numerous records, from holding the World No. 1 doubles ranking longer than any other pairing (more than 400 weeks), including a record 139 consecutive weeks with the World No. 1 ranking, to competing in a record seven consecutive men’s doubles Grand Slam finals.
The twins won a gold medal at the 2012 Summer Olympics, and they accumulated a 24-5 record as a team at the Davis Cup. Maybe the brothers could’ve had success at the individual level, but one thing is for sure: The twins’ decision to team up changed the world of doubles tennis forever.
25. Steve Young and Jerry Rice
Any time you have the opportunity to pair the greatest wide receiver of all time with a Pro Bowl-caliber quarterback, you do it. That’s exactly what the San Francisco 49ers did, giving wide receiver Jerry Rice a two-time MVP quarterback in Steve Young. The duo won three Super Bowls, with Young a backup in the first two and starting the third.
With six touchdown passes in the 1995 Super Bowl, Young set a Super Bowl record for most touchdowns. Fittingly, Rice caught the first and final touchdown passes of the game. Had Young started over Joe Montana earlier in Rice’s career, this pair may have made it higher on the list. Nonetheless, Rice and Young were a lethal duo.
24. Kerri Walsh Jennings and Misty May-Treanor
Three-time Olympic gold medalists Kerri Walsh Jennings and Misty May-Treanor are the greatest beach volleyball team in the history of the sport. The American duo is the only team to successfully win back-to-back Olympic gold medals in the sport — and they did it twice.
Jennings and May-Treanor also won the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Championships in 2003, 2005, and 2007. The duo shared the Sportswoman of the Year Award in 2004 and 2006, and they recorded a winning streak of 112 consecutive matches and 19 straight tournaments that lasted from August 2007 to August 2008. There may not ever be a beach volleyball duo that accomplishes what these two have accomplished again.
23. Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison
The Indianapolis Colts’ pairing of quarterback Peyton Manning and receiver Marvin Harrison defined an entire decade. No quarterback-receiver duo was as dominant as this one, with Manning and Harrison combining for an insane 953 completions, 12,766 yards, and 112 touchdowns. All three figures are records that likely won’t be broken any time soon.
But the duo was more than a statistical anomaly. Manning and Harrison led Indianapolis to victory in Super Bowl 41, defeating the Chicago Bears 29-17. Harrison was selected to eight Pro Bowls, led the league in yards twice, and tied for the lead in touchdowns once. Manning won the MVP award five times, earned 14 Pro Bowl selections, set numerous records, and won another Super Bowl with the Denver Broncos.
22. Serena Williams and Venus Williams
With 30 combined Grand Slam singles wins, Serena and Venus Williams are talented enough to make this list as sisters who dominated their competition in singles play. But even disregarding their singles careers, the Williams sisters are legendary figures in the sport of tennis.
Serena Williams and Venus Williams have teamed up to win 14 Grand Slam doubles titles and three Summer Olympics doubles gold medals throughout the course of their respective careers. That, added to their dominance at the individual level, makes the Williams sisters an easy choice for this list. It’s hard to imagine what the sport of tennis would look like without Serena and Venus Williams.
21. Jack Lambert and Jack Ham
The Pittsburgh Steelers’ “Steel Curtain” defense was defined by players like Jack Lambert and Jack Ham. The linebacking duo collectively accumulated 17 Pro Bowl nods and 12 All-Pro selections. With Lambert and Ham as linebackers, the Steelers won four Super Bowls. Pittsburgh’s success in this era is largely attributed to the strength of the team’s defense, all of which started at the linebacker position.
In the 1970s, no team was more loaded at the linebacker position than the Steelers. Ham won Defensive Player of the Year honors in 1975, and Jack Lambert was the Defensive Player of the Year a season later. Both players have been enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and both have been honored with dozens of awards since their retirement.
20. Martina Navratilova and Pam Shriver
Arguably the greatest women’s doubles tennis team in the history of the sport, Martina Navratilova and Pam Shriver teamed up to dominate their competition in a way that hadn’t ever been done before. The duo won 20 Grand Slams, sweeping every major doubles event in 1984.
The duo’s incredible 1984 run included a ridiculous 109 straight victories. In an 11-year span from 1981 to 1992, the Navratilova-Shriver pairing won the WTA Tour Tennis Championships and were named the WTA Tour Doubles Team of the Year eight times straight. Shriver finished her career with 21 doubles titles, good for second of all time. Navratilova set the record with 31.
19. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson
The Golden State Warriors’ “Splash Brothers” duo of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson has, in many ways, revolutionized the way basketball is played in the NBA. Curry and Thompson have teamed to create what is easily the best three-point shooting duo in NBA history, with plenty of time to extend their lead.
Curry is a two-time MVP, and the two have combined to make 11 All-Star appearances. With Curry and Thompson at the helm, Golden State has won three NBA championships. Ever since the Warriors won their first title in 2015, opponents have scrambled to acquire shooting talent that would rival the “Splash Brothers,” but all to no avail.
18. Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale
Perhaps the greatest pitching duo to ever take the field, the Brooklyn Dodgers’ duo of Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale was absolutely dominant. In an incredible five-year run, the duo won a total of 209 games, including an insane 53 shutouts. And as if that wasn’t enough, it gets even better.
Over their torrid five-year stretch, the pitching duo combined to win four Cy Young awards. The pitchers’ dominance played an integral role in helping the Dodgers win three World Series titles in five years. Koufax and Drysdale will be remembered as the greatest pitching duo the sport of baseball has ever seen — at least until a pitching duo somehow manages to win five straight Cy Young awards!
17. Tim Duncan and Tony Parker
Before the arrivals of Tim Duncan and Tony Parker, the San Antonio Spurs were just another NBA team. A few decades later, they’ve established a level of respect and admiration few other sports franchises have been able to develop with fans. With 15 consecutive playoff appearances and four NBA titles together, Duncan and Parker were one of the most dominant duos of the early 2000s.
With their four NBA championships came four collective NBA Finals MVP Awards for the duo and two NBA MVP Awards for Duncan. In 2015, Duncan and Parker passed Kevin McHale and Robert Parish for second place on the NBA’s all-time wins list for teammates, behind only Karl Malone and John Stockton.
16. Larry Bird and Kevin McHale
The Boston Celtics were an absolute powerhouse in the 1980s, and these two players were a huge reason why. In their 12 seasons together, Larry Bird and Kevin McHale led Boston to five NBA Finals appearances and three championships. In a golden era of basketball, this duo of forwards was among the league’s best.
McHale, the Celtics’ defensive enforcer in the paint, made seven All-Star appearances and earned six All-Defense selections. Bird, a 12-time All-Star, won three NBA MVP Awards to pair with two NBA Finals MVP Awards. He’s widely considered one of the 10 greatest basketball players in history.
15. Bryan Trottier and Mike Bossy
The New York Islanders were the best hockey team of the 1980s, thanks in large part to their top line. Bryan Trottier, Mike Bossy, and Clark Gillies became a fearsome force over the years, but it was the pairing of Trottier and Bossy that truly created the magic.
Starting in the 1979-80 season, the Islanders went on a run where they would win four consecutive Stanley Cups. Trottier won the Conn Smythe Trophy in 1980, and Bossy won it two years later. Widely considered one of the greatest scoring duos in NHL history, Bossy finished his career having scored 50+ goals in nine seasons, while Trottier finished his career ranked 14th on the all-time scoring list.
14. Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte
By now, most Americans have become familiar with Michael Phelps. Arguably the greatest Olympian of all time in his own right, Phelps has enjoyed a wildly successful individual Olympic career. But much of his success would not have been possible without assistance from a fellow American swimmer, Ryan Lochte.
Phelps and Lochte worked together to set several world records, including records in the 100, 200, and 400-meter individual medleys. They brought home gold medals in the freestyle relay event in 2008, and they earned silver medals in 2012. Phelps ended his career with a world record 23 gold medals, and Lochte brought home five golds of his own. As of 2019, he remains the second-most decorated male swimmer in Olympic history.
13. Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux
No pitching duo in MLB history had more success over a long period of time than Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux, who propelled the Atlanta Braves to unparalleled success throughout the 1990s. In their tenure from 1993 to 2002, the duo helped Atlanta achieve nine division titles in 10 season — including eight in a row.
The duo’s success reached its peak when in 1995, Glavine and Maddux helped the Braves win the World Series. Glavine won MVP, and Maddux took home the Cy Young award for his regular season performance. Glavine and Maddux combined for 18 All-Star selections, six Cy Young awards, and National Baseball Hall of Fame ballots that each earned more than 90% of the vote.
12. Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr
What’s it like to field the two best players in the league? It’s a question that doesn’t get asked much, because it rarely ever happens. But in the early ’90s, the Penguins’ duo of Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr had a legitimate case to make as the two best players in hockey. One could only imagine where the duo would take Pittsburgh.
As it turns out, pairing hockey’s two top players can yield beneficial results. The Penguins won back-to-back Stanley Cup championships in 1991 and 1992, led of course by Lemieux and Jagr. The duo has collectively scored more than 1,400 career goals and dished out more than 2,100 career assists.
11. Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant
When it comes to Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant, the first thing that comes to mind is always what could’ve been. The two Lakers superstars reportedly butted heads, causing a messy split despite a three-peat in the NBA Finals from 2000-02. After the split, O’Neal won another championship with the Miami Heat. Bryant won two more with the Lakers in 2009 and 2010.
The pairing totaled five NBA Finals MVP Awards, two NBA MVP Awards, and 33 All-Star appearances. Even though both players went on to have productive careers after the split, neither managed to return to the heights they’d reached as teammates. One can only wonder how long the Lakers dynasty could’ve lasted with Shaq and Kobe on the same team.
10. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin
Hockey in the 21st century has come to be defined by “Sid the Kid,” Sidney Crosby. As he was coming up, the Pittsburgh Penguins center was tabbed the best hockey player to grace the ice since Wayne Gretzky. Nearly 15 years later, it’s easy to see why. Teaming up with fellow center Evgeni Malkin has brought three Stanley Cup championships to his Pittsburgh Penguins.
Crosby has won an assortment of awards, including multiple Conn Smythe Trophies. Malkin, meanwhile, won a Conn Smythe of his own in 2009. The center pairing has combined to earn 15 All-Star selections and all sorts of other awards. It’s unusual to see a dominant hockey tandem not play on the same line — Crosby and Malkin both play the center position — but it’s obviously worked for Pittsburgh.
9. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade
When LeBron James made The Decision to take his talents to South Beach alongside Dwyane Wade, it flipped the idea of NBA roster construction on its head and changed the way many players make their free agency decisions. James and Wade, along with Chris Bosh, led the Miami Heat to back-to-back NBA championships.
Collectively, James and Wade have totaled 28 All-Star appearances and four MVP awards. The duo not only managed to win back-to-back titles in Miami, but each of the two also won a title without the other — Wade prior to James’ Heat tenure, and James after he returned to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
8. Joe Montana and Jerry Rice
The Steve Young-Jerry Rice connection was great, but how about pairing the greatest wide receiver of all time with the greatest quarterback of all time not named Tom Brady? With Montana slinging passes to Rice, the San Francisco 49ers won two Super Bowls, the second of which resulted in Montana winning Super Bowl MVP.
Collectively, the legendary quarterback-receiver duo totaled three NFL MVP awards, four Super Bowl MVP awards, 21 Pro Bowl berths, and too many records to count. Montana had also won two more Super Bowls prior to Rice’s arrival, giving him four total championships in his career. Best of all, both players retired as the best player to ever play their respective position.
7. Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski
What do you get when you give the best quarterback of all time the best tight end of all time? Answer: three more Super Bowl rings. The Tom Brady-Rob Gronkowski connection took an already legendary New England Patriots dynasty and transformed it into one of the greatest dynasties in NFL history.
Compared to Brady’s three NFL MVP awards, four Super Bowl MVP awards, and 14 Pro Bowls, “Gronk’s” five Pro Bowl selections feel slim for a player deemed to be the best player at his position in history. But Gronkowski revolutionized the tight end position, setting the single-season record for touchdown catches by a tight end (17). Brady and Gronk have been an unstoppable force.
6. Bill Russell and Bob Cousy
As far as championships are concerned, there isn’t a duo that even comes close to Bill Russell and Bob Cousy. The two Boston Celtics legends went to the finals every season they played together, winning six titles in those seven years. Cousy, the team’s point guard, won MVP for the 1956-57 season, and Russell won the MVP award in four of the following six seasons.
While Cousy retired with six titles to his name, Russell ended his career with 11. The two combined for 25 All-Star appearances and essentially wrote the NBA record books. Had this duo played in a different era, it could rank at the top of this list.
5. Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris
For decades, Babe Ruth’s record of 60 home runs in a season represented the Holy Grail of sports records. But in 1961, Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris became legitimate contenders to chase the record. Mantle, the favorite, fell short with 54. But Maris pulled through with 61. The duo’s 115 home runs in a season remains the most a pair of teammates has ever hit.
Breaking Ruth’s record is one thing, but Mantle and Maris were far more than a single historic season. The pair combined for 27 All-Star appearances, five AL MVP awards, and a slew of records. Maris won three World Series championships, and Mantle won seven — two of those as a teammate of Maris. Mantle and Maris were simply unstoppable, and they’ve become legends in New York Yankees history.
4. Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
The Los Angeles Lakers have boasted many talented duos over the decades, but none have brought a level of success to the franchise quite like the pairing of Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. In fact, the duo brought five NBA championships to the city of Los Angeles, essentially rewriting the record books as they did it.
With nine combined NBA MVP Awards, five NBA Finals MVP Awards, and 28 All-Star appearances, it’s easy to see how dominant the duo became. Abdul-Jabbar is the NBA’s all-time leading scorer, and Johnson is one of the best point guards of all time. Even if they were to play in today’s NBA, the tandem of legendary players is simply unfair.
3. Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier
Arguably the greatest duo in hockey history, the Edmonton Oilers’ pairing of Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier was completely unmatched. Gretzky’s unbelievable scoring talent, paired with Messier’s “win-or-else” style of leadership helped Edmonton win four Stanley Cup titles in five years. Gretzky’s skill and Messier’s grit fueled the fire that became the Oilers dynasty.
Gretzky is Gretzky. He’s the greatest player in NHL history — and arguably the greatest athlete of all time. But Messier was great as well, earning 15 All-Star nods and a Conn Smythe Trophy to go with his six career Stanley Cup titles. With two of the greatest goal-scorers on the same line, Edmonton’s offense gave opposing defenses nightmares.
2. Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen
Every NBA fan knows the story by now. Michael Jordan, arguably the greatest basketball player in history, and his trusty sidekick Scottie Pippen, led the Chicago Bulls to six NBA titles and an undefeated record in the NBA finals. Pippen may not have ever won an NBA MVP Award, but he was the perfect complement to Jordan, whose greatness lives on in the NBA record books.
Jordan won the NBA MVP Award five times, and he was a six-time NBA Finals MVP. Despite multiple years away from the game in the prime of his career — and on multiple occasions — Jordan earned 14 All-Star nods and left a legacy on the game that may not ever be matched. There was no stopping the Jordan-Pippen Bulls.
1. Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig
There’s a reason the New York Yankees of the late 1920s earned the nickname “Murderers’ Row.” It’s because of the fearsome hitters who batted third and fourth in the lineup: Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. The two sluggers had Hall of Fame careers in their own right, but their accomplishments in 10 years as teammates are virtually unparalleled.
With Ruth and Gehrig in the lineup, New York won three World Series Titles. The duo hit home runs in the same inning 19 different times while with the Yankees, and they collectively mashed more than 600 home runs while playing together. Both players have become legendary icons in the sport of baseball, and their legacies have come to define the sport — even more than a century after they took the field for the first time.