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10 Greatest NBA Duos That Never Won An NBA Championship Together

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10 Greatest NBA Duos That Never Won An NBA Championship Together

Most teams need at least two players to lead them all the way, a dynamic duo if you will. We have seen iconic duos in the past five decades lead teams to their place in history as a dynasty. Modern-day champions like LeBron James and Steph Curry needed help. They couldn’t win the title all on their own.

This league has been full of superstars. When it comes to winning, two is better than one, so an added partner has helped teams like the Warriors and Heat win multiple titles. However, some duos fought tooth and nail and never came up victorious. These duos have a place in history but are not on the title list. These were the 10 best duos to never win a championship.


10. Hakeem Olajuwon And Ralph Sampson

Hakeem Olajuwon And Ralph Sampson

Team: Houston Rockets, 3 Seasons (1984-1987), 50-Win (1), 3 NBA Playoffs 

The Best Playoffs Records: NBA Finals (1986) 

The Rockets had lost reigning MVP, Moses Malone, to the 76ers and the team won just 14 games. This helped the team luck out by winning the lottery in 1983 and 1984 to win the rights to the No. 1 overall pick in consecutive seasons. This led to NCAA Player of the Year Ralph Sampson and Hakeem Olajuwon, who was nearly traded to Portland for Clyde Drexler and the No. 3 pick that became Michael Jordan. However, the Rockets kept both and they became the Twin Towers, which struck fear into the rest of the league.

After a first-round loss to Utah, the duo leaped the following year by combining for 42.4 points, 22.6 rebounds, and 5.0 blocks per game. Their success found the playoffs where they made a trip to the Conference Finals where they stopped the Showtime Lakers, which featured Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar at the peak of their success. In the series, the Twin Towers combined for 51.4 points, 20.0 rebounds, and 6.6 blocks.

In the NBA Finals, the Celtics upended the team. Then, the potential decade-long reign crumbled when Sampson suffered a season-ending knee injury the following year and he was traded to Golden State. The “what if” scenario is a frequent conversation given that Sampson was only 27, while Olajuwon was 25.


9. Chris Paul And Blake Griffin

Blake Griffin Reflects On Being Traded From The LA Clippers: “I Understand For Sure… The Only Thing Is We Kind Of Wish They’d Gone About It A Different Way.”

Team: Los Angeles Clippers, 6 Seasons (2011-17), 50-Win (5), 6 NBA Playoffs, All-NBA Teams (4 - 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015)

The Best Playoffs Records: Western Conference Semifinals (2012, 2014, 2015)

From 2011 to 2017, historians will see frequent fliers like Golden State, OKC, San Antonio, and Houston in the Conference Finals. The team you won’t see was the Los Angeles Clippers despite being a regular contender in the standings. The combination of Chris Paul and Blake Griffin rose the Clippers from laughing stock to a contender; however, the team could never quite get the team through a deep playoff run despite having two players make All-NBA together four straight years.

The creation of Lob City was a worldwide success. Fans loved watching the Paul to Griffin combination that led to ferocious dunks. From 2013 to 2015, the Clippers won at least 56 games and looked like a title contender. Behind LeBron James and Kevin Durant, Paul was potentially the third-best player in the league. That was justified by his third-place finish in the MVP voting in 2014 behind both Durant and LeBron. Somehow, the team couldn’t get to the Conference Finals.

In 2013, the Clippers held a 2-0 lead on the Grizzlies but dropped four in a row. The following year, the Clippers led the Thunder by seven with 50 seconds left in a 2-2 series tie. The win would give the Clippers home court in Game 6, but two turnovers by Paul led to the Thunder winning the game before a season-ending Game 6 loss. In 2015, the Clippers saved their best choking moment. The team held a 3-1 lead on the Rockets in the semifinals, but who can forget Game 6 where the Rockets outscored the Clippers 49-19 in the final 13 minutes and the team blew a 17-point lead.


8. Steve Nash And Amar’e Stoudemire

Steve Nash And Amar’e Stoudemire

Team: Phoenix Suns, 6 Seasons (2004–10), 50-Win Season (3), 60-Win Season (2), 5 NBA Playoffs, All-NBA Teams (4 - 2005, 2007, 2008, 2010)

The Best Playoffs Records: Western Conference Finals (2005, 2006, 2010)

Remember Mike D’Antoni’s “seven seconds or less” offense. Despite never making the NBA Finals, the offense by the Suns was the foundation of the Pace and Space era. Led by two-time MVP Steve Nash, the Suns were one of the best teams in the league from 2005 to 2010. Nash was hands down the Batman of the show, but he had one heckuva Robin by his side with Stoudemire.

Both MVP years, the Suns made the Conference Finals. In 2005, the team finished off winning 62 games, while Stoudemire averaged numbers that looked like Hakeem Olajuwon (26.0 PPG, 8.9 RPG, 1.6 BPG). With that said, the Suns were decimated when Joe Johnson sustained a season-ending injury in the second round. In the Conference Finals, Stoudemire averaged 37.0 points and 9.8 rebounds, but Tim Duncan and the Spurs had the last laugh.

The following year, Stoudemire was lost to season-ending knee surgery, but Nash found a way to win his second straight MVP after leading Phoenix to 54 wins. Had Stoudemire been healthy, the Suns might have won the two games needed over Dallas to make the NBA Finals. In 2007, the duo both landed on the All-NBA First Team, but fell victim to the Spurs once again, which featured the famous Stoudemire-Boris Diaw benches-clearing brawl.


7. Patrick Ewing And John Starks

Patrick Ewing And John Starks

Team: New York Knicks, 8 Seasons (1990–98), 50-Win Season (5), 60-Win Season (1), 8 NBA Playoffs

The Best Playoffs Records: NBA Finals (1994)

Patrick Ewing is the lead victim of Michael Jordan’s reign in the 90s. During this time, Ewing never won an MVP, watching his rivals like Jordan, Charles Barkley, and David Robinson surpass him. The two times that Ewing made the NBA Finals, Jordan was not in the league. For these reasons, it’s easy to forget that Ewing is a Hall of Famer. That was a huge reason the Knicks were one of the best teams in the NBA at that time.

The combination of Ewing and Starks led the Knicks to over 50 wins four times, as well as a trip to the Conference Finals two times and their NBA Finals appearance in 1994. Despite Starks never receiving All-NBA status, he was considered a top guard in the league.

The Knicks had other opportunities in the postseason too. In 1992, the Bulls defeated the Knicks seven-game. The following year, the two teams played a rematch, where the Knicks blew a 2-0 series lead to lose in six games. Altogether, it is the most recent successful reign for New York, who continues to wait on their next trip to the Finals.


6. Clyde Drexler And Terry Porter

Clyde Drexler And Terry Porter

Team: Portland Trail Blazers, 9 Seasons (1985-1994), 50-Win Season (5), 60-Win Season (1), 9 NBA Playoffs

The Best Playoffs Records: NBA Finals (1990, 1992)

The combination of Drexler and Porter is the best duo in Portland history, even better than the current makeshift duo of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. While both Lillard and McCollum both will live on the stat board for their work individually, the two own just one trip to the Conference Finals and no appearances in the NBA Finals. During the 90s, the combination of Drexler and Porter nearly took down Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in the NBA Finals.

Drexler, the all-time leading scorer in Portland, and Porter, the all-time leader in assists, secured nine straight trips to the playoffs. The team made the Conference Finals three consecutive years, as well as the NBA Finals twice. In 1990, the team was taken down by Isiah Thomas and the “Bad Boys” Detroit Pistons. Two years later, the team was defeated by Jordan and the Bulls for their second straight title.

Portland had Chicago on the brink in 1992. The team was tied 2-2 in the series. In Game 5, Drexler scored 30 points, but the team fell victim to a great MJ performance where he scored 46 points to lead the Bulls to a 119-106 win. Then, in Game 6, both Drexler and Porter combined for 46 points, but Jordan and Scottie Pippen combined for 59 points to win the clincher 97-93.


5. Gary Payton And Shawn Kemp

Gary Payton And Shawn Kemp

Team: Seattle SuperSonics, 7 Seasons (1990–97), 50-Win (5), 60-Win (2), 7 NBA Playoffs, All-NBA Teams (3 - 1994, 1995, 1996)

The Best Playoffs Records: NBA Finals (1996)

While Portland made the NBA Finals in 1990 and 1992, there is an argument that the Seattle SuperSonics were the better overall team. A huge part of that was the combination of Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp. There are a variety of factors that kept the distinguished title off Seattle, which featured Kemp’s drug history, as well as the questionable officiating in Game 7 of the 1993 Conference Finals.

Had head coach George Karl allowed Payton, the winner of Defensive Player of the Year, to guard Jordan in the 1996 NBA Finals earlier, maybe the team would have had a chance, but that is also up for debate? Still, from 1993-1997, the team enjoyed a dominant stretch. The 1993 Conference Finals are a highly talked about the topic given what happened. The Suns won by 13 points thanks to shooting 64 free throws. Some believe in the conspiracy that the league wanted to see Jordan take on MVP Charles Barkley in the NBA Finals.

After that, Seattle won 63 games but became the first-ever No. 1 seed to lose to an eighth seed. Two years later, Seattle won a league-best 64 games, while Kemp bested former Finals MVP Hakeem Olajuwon in the playoffs. To get to the NBA Finals, Payton held John Stockton to 9.9 points and 7.6 assists in the series before losing to Jordan. Both Payton and Kemp were All-NBA for three straight years but were unable to cash in on all the glory.


4. Shaquille O’Neal And Penny Hardaway

Shaq O'Neal Says Penny Hardaway Is Mix Of Kobe Bryant, LeBron James And Dwyane Wade

Team: Orlando Magic, 3 Seasons (1993–96), 50-Win (2), 60-Win (1), 3 NBA Playoffs, All-NBA Teams (2 - 1995, 1996)

The Best Playoffs Records: NBA Finals (1995)

If you could pair Magic Johnson and Wilt Chamberlain together, would you? The Orlando Magic employed their version for three seasons that gave their team their best run in franchise history. In the mid-90s, Shaquille O’Neal and Penny Hardaway featured a towering presence at seven feet and 6-foot-9. The two took a rebuilding Orlando team and made them a title-contending franchise.

At 22-years old, Shaq was a dominant figure, averaging 29.3 points, 11.4 rebounds, and 2.4 blocks, while Hardaway joined him on the All-NBA team with 20.9 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 7.2 assists. The team made the playoffs together but made their real leap the following year by making the NBA Finals. Orlando won 57 games and Jordan’s Bulls on the way to the Finals before falling to Hakeem Olajuwon and the Houston Rockets.

Despite losing to the Rockets, the Magic won 60 games the following year and marched their way to the Conference Finals, going 7-1 against the Pistons and Hawks. However, the Bulls got their revenge with the 72-win team dominating the Magic in a four-game sweep. Because of the sweep, nobody remembers that Shaq and Penny averaged 52.5 points, 14.6 rebounds, and 8.3 assists. After that, Shaq joined the Lakers and it left Orlando wondering the biggest “what if.”


3. Kevin Durant And Russell Westbrook

052714-NBA-Thunder-Durant-and-Westbrook-PI-CH.vadapt.980.high.91

Team: Oklahoma City Thunder, 8 Seasons (2008–16), 50-Win (5), 60-Win (1), 6 NBA Playoffs, All-NBA Teams (6 - 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016)

The Best Playoffs Records: NBA Finals (2012)

The young duo nearly pushed the Lakers to a seventh game in the 2010 playoffs but made up for it by making a huge leap the following year. Durant won the scoring title for the second year in a row, while both Durant and Westbrook made the All-NBA team, which featured a streak of six consecutive years. At just 22 years old, the duo led OKC to the Conference Finals before they were defeated in five games by the Dallas Mavericks.

The following year, the team swept the defending champions and outlasted Kobe’s Lakers. After four straight victories over the Spurs, the Thunder, just a handful of years after their move from Seattle to Oklahoma, made the NBA Finals. The Thunder stole Game 1 against the LeBron James-led Heat but were taken down in five games altogether. The loss led to the exit of James Harden, but the duo was able to get back to the Conference Finals two more times.

Durant won the MVP in 2014 and was just two games away from making the NBA Finals before losing to the eventual champion Spurs. The following year, the Thunder dealt with knee problems with Durant. The final year in 2016, the Thunder held a 3-1 series lead over a Warriors team that had won 73 games in the regular season. The team choked the lead, which saw Durant bolt for Golden State where he won two Finals MVPs with the superteam.


2. Jerry West And Elgin Baylor

Jerry West & Elgin Baylor

Team: Los Angeles Lakers, 11 Seasons (1960–71), 50-Win (4), 11 NBA Playoffs, All-NBA Teams (9 - 1962, 1963, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1970)

The Best Playoffs Records: NBA Finals (1962, 1963, 1965, 1966, 1968, 1969, 1970)

12 pairs of teammates have made All-NBA First Team in the same season. Six of those duos have done it once, while two have done it twice. Shaq and Kobe were named three times, as well as Kareem and Magic. Outside of them, the second-best run was Bob Cousy and Bill Sharman from 1956 to 1959. Then, at the top, you have Elgin Baylor and Jerry West, who were named to the first team six consecutive years from 1962 to 1967.

Despite owning two of the best five players for nearly half a decade, the duo never got over the hump. Over nine years, the Lakers went 0-7 in seven trips to the NBA Finals. Four of these series went to seven games, which included three consecutive Game 7 losses to the Boston Celtics by a combined seven points.

In 1962, the Lakers lost Game 7 110-107. Then, the team lost 95-93 in Game 6 in 1966 and 108-106 in 1969. No other duo has come as close as Baylor and West and not won a ring. At the time, the peak of teams was the Lakers and Celtics. Later on, once the league began to grow with more skilled players and teams, only one duo could surpass this combo.


1. Karl Malone And John Stockton

Karl Malone And John Stockton

Team: Utah Jazz, 18 Seasons (1985–03), 50-Win (11), 60-Win (3), 18 NBA Playoffs, All-NBA Teams (9 - 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996)

The Best Playoffs Records: NBA Finals (1997, 1998)

When looking back on history, the Jazz possessed two of the top-30 players to ever play the game. When it comes to longevity, no team was fortunate to have such success for such a long period. The Jazz implemented the duo of Malone and Stockton for 18 years. That included making the playoffs 18 of the 18 seasons they played. The Jazz won 50 games or more 11 times, as well as nine of ten years from 1988 to 1998. Despite all this, all we normally look at are their two trips to the NBA Finals.

We will get to the NBA Finals losses in a moment. If you look deep at this duo, their success is a true dynasty; however, their losses are a true travesty. From 1986 to 1996, the Jazz lost in the first round five times, including the time in 1989 where they were swept by the No. 7 seed Warriors. Then, in 1995, the 60-win Jazz team blew a 2-1 series lead to the No. 6 seed Rockets.

In the Finals, they were victims of Michael Jordan and the Bulls two times, including the 1997 season where Malone won MVP over MJ. One could argue that Malone and Stockton were superior to Jordan and Pippen. Malone finished his career second all-time in scoring, while Stockton is the all-time leader in assists. However, their legacy is tainted for never winning a championship, losing to other great duos on this list in the playoffs. Given all of this, the duo of Malone and Stockton produced the most disappointing partnership in league history when you look at championship status. 

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