Dynamic duos in the NBA began with Jerry West, The Logo, and Elgin Baylor, the first high flying power forward the game had ever seen. The Lakers have had a tendency throughout their long illustrious history as an organization to pair superstar talents together in order to win an NBA crown. But that is another story for another day.
Elgin Baylor and Jerry West were essentially the LeBron James and the Michael Jordan during the twilight of the NBA. Baylor burst on to the NBA scene in 1958 and had rookie averages of 24.9 points, 15 rebounds and 4.1 assists a game. Baylor was a mega-star the minute he walked onto an NBA hardwood. He had career highs of 38.3 points and 19.8 rebounds, which are truly legendary numbers. Baylor finished his career with numbers only the mythical Wilt Chamberlain could also claim. Baylor averaged 27.4 points, 13.5 rebounds, and 4.1 assists per game.
The Logo, was the symbol of the league. He was Jordan before there even was a Dr. J, Julius Irving, from which Jordan emulated. Jerry West was the first to claim the nickname, "Mr. Clutch." West had a solid year in his rookie campaign, but exploded the following season with 30.8 points, 7.9 rebounds and 5.4 assists. When you put those numbers into context, and you imagine if there were a YouTube, Twitter or SportsCenter around during his career, reaction to his production alone would have exploded the social network stratosphere. West had career high averages of 31.2 points, and 9.7 assists. He finished his career with 24.8 points, 5.3 rebounds and 6.1 assists per game.
However, Baylor and West never captured a championship as a duo. Baylor retired 9 games into the Lakers' first championship season since they moved to Los Angeles. West captured one championship, but one must consider that the Lakers made it to the NBA Finals seven out of nine years from 1962 to 1969. Bill Russell captured 11 titles in 13 seasons, beating the Lakers in all seven of their matchups. Russell haunted the Lakers, and he passed on his Celtic spirit on to Larry Legend, and to "The Truth" who spent years tormenting the original team from the City of Angels.
Could Baylor and West be the greatest duo of all-time?
Their numbers would put them in the discussion simply because of the monstrous amount of output and obvious domination of their era. However, in a generation where we metric to measure success are rings, and hardware, and since they never won the golden ball, I presume that they may be excluded the conversation due to the lack of jewelry they have to adorn to the party.
Some say Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen own the title of the greatest combo, or duo to ever play the game.
But, I will have to pay homage to the great, wise, Skip Bayless (with respect for Stephen A. Smith) of ESPN and agree with him on notion that Air Jordan and Pippen are disqualified from the discussion all together on the basis that Jordan was the greatest solo-act of all-time.
Personally, I think Hakeem "The Dream" Olajuwon was the greatest "solo-act" the game has ever seen. It was all on display when he won the title in 1994 and made Patrick Ewing look diminutive in the paint. He did win back to back titles, but at the 1995 trade deadline, the Rockets did trade for one of the 50 Greatest Players of All-Time , "The Glide" , Clyde Drexler.
Jordan and Pippen created one of t1he greatest legacies of all time by winning 6 out of 8 titles, and it could have been even 9 or 10 if MJ did not retire to play baseball. If not for the 1999 lockout he could have vied for the championship in 1999 and in 2000.
But the argument is quite simple. Jordan made Pippen. It was Jordan's work ethic, his tenacity, his killer instinct, his thirst for victory that shaped the young Scottie Pippen and he helped mold number 33 into number 23's image. Scottie was the first to emulate Jordan. He was the first that began the trend that all young ball players did, "Be Like Mike".
Pippen was great because Jordan showed him the way. Imagine if LeBron had Scottie's career path. Jordan would have turned him into the scariest player the game has ever seen.
Which brings us to, drumroll please....the greatest duo the NBA has ever seen: Kobe Bryant, and Shaquille O'Neal.
The Kobe Bryant and Shaquille scenario is different than any other in NBA history.
No one followed anyone anywhere. Kobe was drafted on June 26th 1996 by the Charlotte Hornets who traded for Vlade Divac from the Lakers for their 13th selection in the NBA Draft. When free agency began in 1996, the Lakers landed the biggest star in the NBA other than Jordan, Shaquille O'Neal form the Orlando Magic.
Kobe was picked by the Lakers before the acquired O'Neal in free agency. They both grew together at the same time and rate as Laker players. Shaquille was the senior, but Kobe had his own expectations to live up to, become the next Michael Jordan and annihilate his opponents on a nightly basis.
Kobe and Shaq were the most dominant combo the game has ever seen. They took over the league together for eight strait seasons and were not able to win a title in their first season together, even though Shaquille O'Neal carried the load.
The Lakers lost to the eventual Finals representatives from the western conference in the Utah Jazz ('97, '98) and the San Antonio Spurs in 1999. But remember. In 1997, Kobe's rookie year and Shaquille's first with Los Angeles, Kobe was the one to step up the plate and try to win games all by himself. Kobe airmailed two key shots late in one game, but as Babe Ruth once said, "You swing big and you miss big". At 18 years young, Kobe was trying to get Los Angeles to the Finals and play against the defending champion Bulls, led by Michael Jordan.
In 1997, 1998 and 1999, the Lakers lost to the eventual western conference champion. By definition alone, the Lakers instantly became title contenders for the first time since Magic Johnson retired from the NBA after the HIV virus in 1991. The Lakers averaged 58.5 wins in the Lakers first two seasons, so it was apparent from the get go that this combination of youth and sheer physical dominance would result in a myriad of titles.
It was not until the summer of 1999 when the Lakers brass made the seemingly obvious move of signing six time champion coach Phil Jackson in an effort to capture some of the same "Zen" magic that won six titles in Chicago.
The Lakers now had the most dominant center in the game in Shaquille O'Neal, the brightest young talent in the NBA in Kobe Bryant, and the general that would put it all together, the Zen Master, Phil Jackson.
Jackson instituted the triangle offense, which made Jordan and the Bulls so successful in the '90s. However, for the triangle to succeed they would need a great low post player, like a Shaquille O'Neal. However, it must be noted that Jordan was arguably the second best post player IN the NBA during his era, besides Hakeem Olajuwon, or Kevin McHale.
Now Jackson had his young version of Jordan, and the most dominant big man in the game. The Lakers could have won eight championships if Kobe and Shaq were able to keep it together off the court.
The dispute between the two stars in Los Angeles boiled down to one simple thing, each one wanted the spotlight. If Shaquille never had Kobe. He would have been the undisputed best player of his generation, which he arguably was. Kobe, 17 years in the league, is still the best player of his generation.
Kobe wanted the team to be his. He came out of high school thinking he belonged, and a year later he was promptly named as the starter of the 1998 NBA All-Star game at Madison Square Garden, squaring off with Jordan as the heir apparent to the thrown.
O'Neal had already been a star before Kobe came into the league, but Kobe was first to have a press conference donning the purple and gold of Los Angeles.
There had been a power struggle since the beginning, and after the 2004 NBA Finals where the hobbled leg of Karl Malone was not able to keep up with the Pistons' frontcourt, the Lakers folded in five games.
Shaquille O'Neal made it clear that the Lakers needed to choose between he and the young superstar, and the Lakers made the correct choice. The Lakers ended up winning two more titles, and are in contention for a third, if Dwight can get his act together. The late Jerry Buss made the right call. Kobe became an icon and is arguably the best player to lace on a pair of basketball shoes. Kobe is a top 3 player of all time, O'Neal usually lands in most people's top ten. I, however, have him higher. I rank O'Neal behind Jordan, Kobe, Russell, Magic, and Bird. That is sixth all time. I would take Shaquille O'Neal over Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar simply because if they ever matched up in their primes, O'Neal would physically dominate either one.
That is why the argument is so simple. The greatest duo of all time must be Shaq and Kobe. If O'Neal was dedicated to maintaining his physical health the way Kobe or Steve Nash are, he easily would have been the greatest player of all time. So you pair him with Kobe, there just cannot be another duo that had more upside or more talent in the history of the NBA.
No matter who is brought up, none can compare to the dominance of combination Shaq and Kobe.
If only they stayed together and resolved their alpha male differences, the duo could have attained more than eight championships in their respected careers.