Biggest Rivalries in Basketball By Player – Top 5

biggest rivalries in basketball by player

Basketball isn’t just a simple sport. It’s all about passion, rivalries, challenges, reputation, and much more. The sport is known in history for the biggest rivalries in basketball by players and between teams. Team rivalries have long been a source of heated competitiveness, but what amplifies the intensity and thrill of the sport are the rivalries between individual players. 

The most significant rivalries in NCAA basketball rivalries have elevated the game to new heights. Furthermore, these rivalries forever changed the course of basketball history. Be it from famous on-court matches and NBA rivals week to fiery individual battles.

This article examines some of the most intense and biggest rivalries in basketball by players 2023 that have developed due to the top players‘ extraordinary abilities and fierce competitiveness. In addition to bringing out the best in these players, these intense clashes have also given viewers access to some of the most memorable moments in the game’s historical past. 

Continue reading to find out the biggest rivalries in basketball by player.

Biggest Rivalries in Basketball by Players: Russell Westbrook vs. Kevin Durant

Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant’s rivalry started when they were teammates on the Oklahoma City Thunder. Along with James Harden, the two formed the “Big Three.” In 2012, they led the Thunder to the NBA Finals, where they lost to the Miami Heat.

However, as their distinct goals and playing styles differed, tensions between Westbrook and Durant grew. Westbrook frequently dominated the ball and assumed command of the offense due to his aggressive and persistent attitude. However, Durant, renowned for his scoring ability, aimed to establish himself as the team’s top choice.

The conflict between Westbrook and Durant deepened as the Thunder’s success grew. On-court arguments occasionally occurred, including disagreements over the shot selection and team dynamics. There were rumors of a growing gap between the two players off the court. Rumors suggested that Durant felt overshadowed by Westbrook’s dominant nature.

The turning point occurred when Durant unexpectedly chose to sign with the Golden State Warriors in the summer of 2016. At the time, the Warriors had just defeated the Thunder in a tough seven-game Western Conference Finals series. This decision fueled their rivalry since many saw it as Durant leaving Westbrook and the Thunder behind in search of a quicker route to a title.

Biggest Rivalries in Basketball by Players: Kevin Garnett VS Tim Duncan

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan developed a rivalry that made them two of the NBA’s top power players. The competition between these two players on the court was a sight to behold since they both possessed excellent skills, leadership traits, and a fierce will to win.

The fact that both players were striving for the honor of the league’s greatest power player caused their rivalry. Each had previously won MVP awards, which further fueled the fury. Their clashes were defined by physicality and an uncompromising dedication to their respective teams.

The rivalry’s intensity soared when Garnett’s Minnesota Timberwolves played Duncan’s San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Finals of the 2003 NBA Playoffs. The series demonstrated a clash of playing methods and styles. Duncan’s rigid manner and brilliance defined his approach, while Garnett’s tireless determination and emotional fire were on full show.

Outside of the court, Duncan and Garnett admired one another’s abilities and work ethic. Their rivalry left a lasting impression on basketball history by serving as an example of ferocious competition.

Biggest Rivalries in Basketball by Players: Shaquille O’Neal and Dwight Howard

Basketball fans paid close attention to the rivalry between Shaquille O’Neal and Dwight Howard in the late 2000s, and it created a lot of media buzz. It resulted from comparisons between the two power centers and their quest to become the best big man in the NBA.

Shaq was a seasoned professional and one of the most dominant players in NBA history. The rivalry started taking shape when Shaq moved to the Phoenix Suns in 2008. Dwight Howard was an emerging star for the Orlando Magic. He also made a name for himself at the time by showcasing his remarkable athleticism and shot-blocking skills.

It all began when O’Neal criticized Howard in his remarks. He questioned Howard’s abilities and praised himself in comparison. This gave Howard a spark, and he grabbed the opportunity to compete against the famous Shaq.

Their rivalry peaked when the Magic, which Howard led, faced the Suns and O’Neal in the 2009 NBA Finals. It was a competition between an established superstar and a rising talent. Both the players at that time were aiming for league supremacy. Although the Magic ultimately won in the series, the conflict between O’Neal and Howard was ongoing.

Biggest Rivalries in Basketball by Players: Isiah Thomas and Michael Jordan

Isiah Thomas and Michael Jordan’s rivalry is among the most historic and heated in NBA history. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, two basketball legends who played for the Chicago Bulls and Detroit Pistons faced off against one other.

The clashes between the two often occurred in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Pistons used strong defensive tactics known as the “Jordan Rules.” The only goal was to annoy and lessen Jordan’s influence on the game. Jordan passionately sought to take down the Pistons’ defensive strategies and lead the Bulls to victory. However, this resulted in tense and violent fights on the court.

Personal and professional conflicts intensified the competition away from the court. Jordan thought Thomas and the Pistons had insulted him when they left the court without exchanging handshakes. This occurred after the Bulls defeated them in the 1991 Eastern Conference Finals. This rude gesture fueled the conflict, escalating it and resulting in lifelong hostility.

Biggest Rivalries in Basketball by Players: Magic Johnson and Larry Bird

Of all the biggest rivalries in basketball by the player, it is Magic Johnson and Larry Bird who has the greatest rivalry in NBA history. This rivalry is among the biggest rivalries in college basketball.  It all started in the late 1970s when both players mesmerized the country with their extraordinary skills and intriguing playing styles.

The rivalry dates back to their collegiate years. The first encounter between Johnson’s Michigan State Spartans and Bird’s Indiana State Sycamores occurred in the NCAA Championship game in 1979. The “Game of the Century” contest attracted much attention and served as the starting point for their ongoing rivalry.

Basketball fans all throughout the country were captivated by the game. It generated a rivalry between the two players and aroused fans’ imaginations. When Johnson was selected by the Los Angeles Lakers and Bird by the Boston Celtics in the 1979 NBA draft, their paths once more collided. A captivating competition between two players who were incredibly skilled and represented famous teams with a long history of success was all set to begin.

In the 1980s, when the Lakers and Celtics frequently faced off in the NBA Finals, their rivalry was at its height. The different playing philosophies and personalities of Johnson and Bird increased the sense of intrigue. Bird’s unmatched basketball IQ and precision shooting contrasted with Johnson’s dazzling, fast-paced charisma.

The NBA reached new heights of popularity thanks to their intense on-court competitions. The reason is that jaw-dropping plays and clutch performances characterized them. Their enmity evolved into a more considerable competition between the Celtics and Lakers. This is because, at that time, both teams were striving for supremacy.


Like most other sports, basketball is also fueled by the on-field rivalries of the players. While some players may have crossed the line occasionally, most keep it professional and promote the game because of it. Our favorites are Shaquille O’Neal and Dwight Howard, mainly because of the players’ characters and the intensity they brought onto the field.

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The heated rivalry between Magic Johnson and Larry Bird is one of the most prominent player rivalries in NBA history.

The Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics have the NBA’s most heated rivalry.

The biggest rival of the Lakers is the Celtics.

Yes, Curry and Lebron are rivals, and their rivalry has been going on for the better part of the last decade.

Micheal Jordan’s stats are better than Stephen Curry, but obviously, there is more to the sport than numbers. Both players have contributed to the game in own way.