The Top 10 NBA Player Rivalries Of All Time

By: 12.05.12
Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant

In all sports the basic concept is to beat your opposition. You never want to lose a game to anyone, but when your rival beats you there’s a different feel. When your rival beats you, there’s suddenly an everlasting second wind about you. When your rival beats you it feels like the whole world is laughing at you in shame.

Pride won’t let you accept that you’ve just been outdone by the one player you just know you have to beat every time you hit the floor. Failure is not an option in these instances, not even close to one.

The history of the NBA boasts many different player rivalries that stem from many different places. Some have started from childhood roots, some have started in college, and some have come about in the final years of a player’s career. Sometimes players don’t even know each other but they grow to hate each other because of circumstances that are out of their control. It’s just, well, destiny.

The beauty of sports is these battles are in a controlled environment where this behavior is acceptable. Without rivalries sports wouldn’t be as competitive as it is.
Some of the greatest rivalries in the history of sports have come from the NBA. We’ve already been over the best team rivalries. Now we’re going to go through the individual player rivalries.

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This is probably the weirdest rivalry the NBA has to offer. That’s because it started while these two were on the same team. When Shaq came from the Orlando Magic in 1996 fresh off of an Eastern Conference Finals appearance, he was considered one of, if not the, top big man in the world. He carried an Orlando Magic team on his back for four years and had the experience of going to the NBA Finals as well.

There was no question that this was going to be Shaq’s team upon his arrival. His experience in the league as a winner and as a four-time All-Star was more than enough to confirm that. At the time, Cedric Ceballos was probably their best player, and Magic Johnson, fresh off a comeback attempt, wasn’t going to stay on the court. They were bounced out of the first round of the playoffs and obviously needed a new star to carry the load. Shaq was the perfect candidate.

Enter Kobe Bryant. The Lakers traded with Charlotte for the young wing’s draft rights. They sent Vlade Divac to the Hornets for Bryant and his seemingly limitless potential. The acquisition of Bryant annoyed Shaq because he wanted to win a championship now. What was the help of a kid that should still be in school going to do for him?

In the end, the Laker duo proved to be a successful tandem that won three championships together under Phil Jackson. We can’t help but think about what could have been if the two just cooperated with each other and played cohesively throughout their primes. Even throughout their championship stretch, the two stars continuously called each other selfish and criticized their styles of play.

O’Neal was traded to the Miami Heat in 2004. The Lakers wanted to re-sign Bryant and if they were going to do so, O’Neal had to go. Their relationship had became rocky again after coming up short of a championship over the previous two seasons. O’Neal would win another title with Dwyane Wade in Miami before Bryant won another title with the Lakers.

These two still take shots at each other to this day. I know we all remember Shaq’s rap song about Bryant after he lost to the Celtics in the ’07-08 NBA Finals. Bryant fired back after winning back-to-back titles the following two seasons, saying that he had more rings than Shaq.

As childish as these things mays seem, this is the essence of a rivalry.

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