The second episode of the ESPN docuseries, “The Last Stand,” focused on Chicago Bulls forward Scottie Pippen. Pippen played the role of Robin to Michael Jordan’s Batman to near-perfection, giving the Bulls six titles in the 90s.
Those who grew up watching Saturday morning cartoons in the 70s and 80s know Batman and Robin, DC Comics’ Dynamic Duo who were members of the superhero group, the Super Friends.
Wherever Batman went, Robin followed without question, and the two of them (along with the Super Friends) would beat the bad guys and save the day.
Just as Jordan and Pippen were the Batman and Robin of the Bulls, every successful team in the NBA has had a Batman and Robin. These dynamic duos were good bets to carry their teams to the Finals and quite possibly end up with a championship in hand.
Identifying the leader of a particular team is normally not that difficult. That would be Batman. Inasmuch as playing the role of Robin is not as glamorous, his role in the partnership is absolutely necessary for their team to succeed.
So who are the best Robins in NBA history and where does Pippen stand?
Robinson’s biggest impact was helping mentor and incorporate Tim Duncan into the Spurs culture.
Tim Duncan was the main catalyst for both finals they won together. David Robinson was the second-best player in the first finals with 16.6 points, 11.8 rebounds and 3.0 blocks per game.
In the second finals, he averaged 10.8 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.8 blocks against the New Jersey Nets.
David Robinson and Tim Duncan were an excellent duo. The Twin Towers.
Robinson willingly gave up his Batman role to Tim Duncan after the latter’s rookie season. The humility that the Admiral exhibited gave the Spurs its first two titles and cemented his legacy as a champion.
10. John Stockton
Batman: Karl Malone
NBA Finals Appearances: 2
Stockton’s stats as Robin: (1985-2003) 13.5 points, 2.8 rebounds, 10.8 assists, 2.2 steals
The NBA’s all-time leader in assists and steals will forever be linked to Karl Malone, who is considered by many as the second greatest power forward of all time. Stockon is the other half of the Jazz’s version of Dynamic Duo that terrorized opponents for more than a decade with their unstoppable pick-and-roll play.
“Stockton to Malone” could be heard in every game whenever they played as Stockton beautifully delivered pinpoint passes to the Mailman.
Though they never won a championship, their partnership culminated in two straight trips to the NBA Finals in 1997 and 1998. They fell to the Bulls 4-2 in each series, but nearly took them to a seventh and deciding game in the rematch before Jordan led his team to a comeback.
Though he doesn’t score as much as other all-time greats, Stockton could easily average 20 points if he had the same mentality as today’s point guards.
But that’s not Stockton. He chose to give Malone the spotlight by feeding him the ball as often as possible and it resulted in the Jazz becoming one of the most successful franchises of the 90s.
9. Pau Gasol
Batman: Kobe Bryant
NBA Finals Appearances: 3
Gasol’s stats as Robin: (2008-2014) 17.7 points, 9.9 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.4 blocks
As soon as Pau Gasol arrived in L.A., the Lakers went to the Finals three straight years. Though he had been the leader of the Memphis Grizzlies for much of his career, Gasol surrendered being Batman the moment he became a Laker.
That’s what anyone would have done with Kobe Bryant on a team, and the 7-foot forward played his role as Robin to a tee.
Gasol won his first championship in 2009 by letting Bryant take the lead. In the 2010 Finals, he averaged 18.6 points, 11.6 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 2.6 blocks per game. He was so good that many believe he should have won Finals MVP.
In later years when Gasol became the subject of trade rumors, Bryant fully supported the All-Star big man.
Bryant had Gasol’s back during their time as the Lakers’ dynamic duo. Their success resulted in two titles in three years for Tinseltown and many great memories for Lakers fans.
8. Tony Parker
Batman: Tim Duncan
NBA Finals Appearances: 5
Parker’s stats as Robin: (2002-2018) 16.3 points, 2.8 rebounds, 5.8 assists
In his 17 seasons with the San Antonio Spurs, Parker knew that he wasn’t going to supplant Duncan, the team’s franchise player. But that wasn’t a problem for the 28th overall pick in the 2001 draft.
Parker had the talent to be a special player from the get-go and it was coach Gregg Popovich who brought out the best in the French point guard. The spotlight finally shone on him in 2007 when he won Finals MVP as the Spurs captured their fourth title, Parker’s third.
Nevertheless, Parker never truly usurped the throne from Duncan, who was generous enough to share the leadership role with the All-Star guard. It’s the same thing that Robinson did for Duncan as he shared the spotlight with Parker and Manu Ginobili.
It was still Duncan’s team regardless. They won another title in 2014 as the Spurs continued to succeed even during the duo’s twilight years.
Parker was an All-Rookie team member in 2001-02, a six-time All-Star and a four-time All-NBA selection when he retired from professional basketball at the end of the 2018-19 season.
7. Joe Dumars
Batman: Isiah Thomas
NBA Finals Appearances: 3
Dumars’ stats as Robin: (1987-1994) 19.0 points, 2.4 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 1.0 steals
Joe Dumars manned the backcourt for the Detroit Pistons alongside Isiah Thomas, one of the greatest point guards ever. As great as Thomas was, however, he needed Dumars to excel at his secondary role and take on the dirty work.
Dumars was the good guy among the “Bad Boys,” but he was a tough-as-nails guard who didn’t back down from any assignment. That assignment came in the form of defending Michael Jordan whenever they faced the Chicago Bulls.
The Pistons prevented the Bulls from advancing to the Finals three straight seasons mostly because of the work Dumars did. While Thomas fueled the Pistons’ attack, the McNeese State University product was the oil that kept them running.
In the 1989 NBA Finals, the Lakers had no answer for Dumars, who won Finals MVP honors with averages of 27.3 points, 1.8 rebounds and 6.0 assists per game.
The following year, he once again elevated his game in the Finals with a 20.6 points-per-game average while giving the spotlight back to Thomas, who won Finals MVP this time around.
6. Kevin McHale
Batman: Larry Bird
NBA Finals Appearances: 5
McHale’s stats as Robin: (1984-1992) 20.9 points, 8.2 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.7 blocks, 56.6 percent FGs
The Boston Celtics of the 80s were led by Larry Bird, but Kevin McHale deserved plenty of credit, too.
For the first three years of his career, Parish played Robin to Bird until McHale eventually became the Celtics’ second-best player. He was the team’s most valuable reserve at the beginning, earning Sixth Man of the Year honors twice.
Because of how good he had become, McHale became a full-time starter in the 1985-86 season.
He became the Celtics’ leading scorer in the 1986 Finals, scoring 25.8 points a night to Bird’s 24.0 points per game average. If not for Bird’s all-around brilliance in that series versus the Houston Rockets, McHale would have won Finals MVP.
Together, Bird and McHale were an unstoppable duo for many years as opposing teams had no answer for either of them. While Bird took care of the perimeter, McHale held the fort in the paint.
5. Stephen Curry
Batman: Kevin Durant
NBA Finals Appearances: 3
Curry’s stats as Robin: (2016-2019) 26.3 points, 4.9 rebounds, 6.0 assists, 1.6 steals, 42.4 percent 3-point FGs
Stephen Curry was a two-time MVP by the time Kevin Durant arrived in the Bay Area in the summer of 2016. The Golden State Warriors had just been humiliated by the Cleveland Cavaliers, who won the title that June while becoming the first team to come back from a 3-1 deficit to take home the Larry O’Brien trophy.
Curry graciously allowed Durant to become the team’s best player to avoid meltdowns like these in the future.
The result? Back-to-back championships from 2016-17 to 2017-18. Durant won Finals MVP both times when Curry took a backseat to him.
Though it wasn’t necessarily planned for Durant to take over, injuries to Curry from 2017-18 to 2018-19 meant that the future Hall of Fame point guard had to watch as his equally celebrated teammate led the Warriors in his absence.
Opponents feared Curry, who could launch a 3-pointer from almost anywhere on the court. Despite Durant’s emergence, it was Curry who could create space for his teammates by his mere presence on the court.
Though Curry outscored Durant 26.3 to 25.8 in the three years they played together, Durant was arguably the barometer that determined the Warriors’ fate.
It’s hard to argue with three straight trips to the championship round with Durant in the driver’s seat. If Durant hadn’t sustained a season-ending injury in the 2019 Finals, it’s likely that the Warriors would have won three straight titles.
4. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Batman: Magic Johnson
NBA Finals Appearances: 8
Abdul Jabbar’s stats as Robin: (1982-89) 18.8 points, 6.6 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.6 blocks
The 1980s Lakers had a unique Batman and Robin situation. The decade began with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the team’s Batman and Magic was the Robin to the former MVP.
As Jabbar aged, it was clear that Johnson had slowly but surely become the Lakers’ leader. By the 1982-83 season, the Michigan State University alum earned All-NBA First Team honors, a testament to his status as the king of L.A.
It was inevitable that Jabbar would have to give up his leadership to the talented point guard.
After questions about his fit as a slow, methodical center to the Showtime Lakers, Jabbar proved that he still had the touch as he dominated the Celtics in the 1985 Finals en route to the Lakers winning their third championship of the decade.
Jabbar was named the Finals MVP and the oldest player to win the award at 38 years and 54 days old.
The Lakers became the first back-to-back champions in 1988 (their fifth title) as Jabbar continued to defy Father Time even though his best years were already behind him.
3. Dwyane Wade
Batman: LeBron James
NBA Finals Appearances: 4
Wade’s stats as Robin: (2010-2014) 22.2 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 1.6 steals, 51.3 percent FGs
When LeBron James and Chris Bosh joined Dwyane Wade in Miami in 2010, it was only a matter of time before a hierarchy had to be established. After the Heat failed to win the 2011 title, Wade decided it was time to let James become Batman.
Wade gave the keys to the team to his good friend and the Heat became unstoppable as a result, returning to the Finals three straight years and winning two of them.
As James nabbed two MVPs in 2012 and 2013, Wade quietly went about his business, providing ample support to one of the league’s greatest players.
As a testament to how good the Heat were with James leading the way and Wade as second-in-command, the Heat ran off a string of victories never before seen since the Lakers of the 70s. Miami won 27 straight games, cementing their legacy as one of the greatest teams in league history.
With Wade’s decision to take a lesser role validated by the championships and Finals appearances, it was time to return the so-called keys to the kingdom back where it belonged.
James returned to Cleveland in the summer of 2014 and the Heat became Wade County once more.
2. Kobe Bryant
Batman: Shaquille O’Neal
NBA Finals Appearances: 4
Bryant’s stats as Robin: (1997-2004) 23.8 points, 5.5 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 1.6 steals
Shaquille O’Neal was at the height of his powers when he patrolled the paint for the Lakers for eight seasons. Little did he know at the beginning of his career in L.A. that a young shooting guard who went straight to the NBA from high school would become his top sidekick.
Bryant didn’t begin his ascent as a star until his second season in the league when he became an All-Star. He slowly worked his way to become the top shooting guard in the game.
Still, the Lakers were O’Neal’s team and Bryant had to fall in line, something that he resented at the time. Though he had no choice, Bryant thrived in the role.
As opposing teams had difficulty guarding O’Neal down low, they also found it impossible to stop Bryant from the perimeter. The Lakers’ 1-2 punch carried the team to three straight titles from 2000 to 2002.
Establishing himself as a force to be reckoned with, the Lower Merion High School alum led the Lakers in scoring two straight seasons—2002-03 to 2003-04. But the Lakers missed the 2003 Finals in the process.
They became Western Conference champs once more the following year. However, they lost in the Finals to the determined Pistons.
O’Neal went to Miami in the 2004 offseason and Bryant quickly took over the leadership reins.
Robin finally became Batman.
1. Scottie Pippen
Batman: Michael Jordan
NBA Finals Appearances: 6
Pippen’s stats as Robin: (1988-93; 1995-98) 18.4 points, 6.8 rebounds, 5.7 assists, 2.1 steals
Perhaps the greatest Batman and Robin tandem in league annals is Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen.
As a rookie in 1987-88, Pippen was an inconsistent performer, but he showed flashes of what he could do on the court. Back then, it was Charles Oakley who played second banana to Jordan.
It wasn’t until the University of Central Arkansas product blossomed into the second star behind Jordan in the 1988-89 season that the Bulls became a threat to win the championship.
Pippen was beautiful to watch as a performer. He knew his place in the Bulls offense as the primary facilitator and the player who took on the best wing player from the other team. He did both of these while also being required to score close to the 20-point mark for the team to succeed.
It’s no wonder Jordan couldn’t win a championship until Pippen became a star. There was no stopping this duo as they won three straight championships two times, ruling the 90s with an iron fist not seen since the Boston Celtics of the 60s.
Pippen became Batman for more than a season (1993-94 through much of the 1994-95 season) when Jordan retired to play baseball. But His Airness eventually returned to take his proper place in the league.
This partnership was at the core of the Bulls’ success. One of the NBA’s greatest dynasties became possible because Pippen was humble enough to recognize that he should let Jordan lead while he followed.
With six rings on his fingers, Pippen can’t argue with the result.
Scottie Pippen was able to do everything on the basketball court, but his best attribute was his defense. He made the game easier for Micheal Jordan by taking the toughest defensive assignment on any given night, allowing Micheal to give more energy on the offensive side of the floor.
Scottie Pippen will forever be known as the greatest Robin ever and the best teammate of all time.