Biggest NBA Rivalries of All Time: 2023 Edition

19 Nov 2023

The biggest NBA rivalries were ferocious during its peak in the 80's and 90's. Although it's simmered down a bit, there's still a lot of heat when these teams hit the courts. Like the LeBron vs. Jordan GOAT debate, the rivalry between these teams can get heated. Let's take a look at the biggest NBA rivalries of all time.

6. Golden State Warriors vs. Cleveland Cavaliers

The Warriors-Cavaliers rivalry has only become one of the biggest NBA rivalries in recent times. Tanking the 2002-03 season changed Cleveland's fortunes around as they were able to draft LeBron James as a result.

Cleveland and Golden State met in four consecutive NBA Finals appearances during the 2010s, with the Warriors winning three of those four series. Featuring Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, their success helped them to become one of the most popular teams in the NBA.
Spicing up the rivalry was LeBron James helping to end a 52-year title drought for Cleveland in the 2016 NBA Finals series. The Cavs overcame Golden State's 3-1 lead following their regular season 73-9 all-time best record.

Draymond Green also loved playing the villain during the rivalry and is hated by Cleveland fans. It remains one of the biggest NBA rivalries although has simmered since LeBron left, and Golden State swept Cleveland in the 2018 NBA Finals.

5. LA Lakers vs. San Antonio Spurs

The Lakers and Spurs was considered at one stage to be the biggest NBA rivalry. LA is the only team that has a winning overall record against the San Antonio.
Both teams dominated the Western Conference during the 2000's. The Spurs won four NBA championships between 1999-2007 and the Lakers won five of their own between 2000-2010.

Some of the biggest superstars fuelled one of the biggest NBA rivalries of all time including Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal and Robert Horry. Horry spent six years with the Lakers and won three titles, then joining the Spurs in 2003 and winning another two more.

4. New York Knicks vs. Miami Heat

At one stage Miami Heat and the New York Knicks were the biggest NBA rivals. The rivalry peaked in the late 90's when both the Knicks and Heat met in the playoffs for four years straight.

Games between these rivals were full of aggression, intense defensive struggles and lots of fouls. The matchup between Patrick Ewing vs. Alonzo Mourning made it one of the best NBA rivalries with the pair playing 45 times against eachother.

Thr rivalry went next level when legendary coach Pat Riley left New York for Miami in 1995, telling the Knicks front office that he was leaving by way of fax. Riley went on to coach the Heat to an NBA Championship in 2006.

3. Chicago Bulls vs. New York Knicks

The Chicago Bulls and New York Knicks is second on the list of biggest NBA rivalries of all time. The rivalry was ferocious during the 90’s between the biggest cities in the East and West.

Filled with spectacular dunks, trash talk and immense physicality, the rivalry always threatened to spill over. Michael Jordan and Patrick Ewing, friends off the court, were involved in a heated exchange and had to be pulled apart during a Eastern Conference Finals series. Unfortunately for Ewing he is one of the best players who never won an NBA championship.

New York's John Starks was one of only a few players who could make an impact on limiting Jordan’s game. It's Scottie Pippen's slam dunk on Ewing and subsequent taunt on Spike Lee which brought the rivalry to boiling point.

2. Detroit Pistons vs. Chicago Bulls

The Pistons-Bulls rivalry began as one of the biggest NBA rivalries in the late 80's. Both cities are separated by only 280 miles and are the largest metro areas in the Midwest.

Detroit's "Bad Boys" era invented the 'Jordan Rules', a strategy used to limit the impact Michael Jordan had on games. By limiting his clutch shots and playing execessively physical on him Detroit knocked Chicago out of the playoffs in three straight seasons winning back-to-back championships.

Phil Jackson's "Triangle Offense" changed things however and the Bulls dominated the rivalry winning six titles during the 90's.

One of the most intense indivdual rivalries of all-time was created in the Pistons-Bulls rivalry. Michael Jordan and Isiah Thomas have always had a hatred for one another. Jordan believes Thomas was behind the infamous 'Freezeout' of Jordan at the 1985 NBA All-Star Game.
Thomas, a Chicago native and one of the greatest single franchise NBA players of all time, had to watch as Jordan transformed his hometown Bulls into one of the greatest teams of all time.

1. LA Lakers vs. Boston Celtics

Boston Celtics and LA Lakers are the biggest rivals in NBA history. They're the two oldest teams in the league and by far are the most successful two teams of all time, the Lakers matching Celtics 17 NBA titles in 2020.

The rivalry exploded throughout the 80's in a decade where it was either the Celtics or the Lakers in the NBA Finals. The Larry Bird and Magic Johnson rivalry is among the greatest duals in NBA history.

Not only was Boston vs. Los Angeles an East Coast-West Coast battle. There were strong racial divides between the two cities. Larry Bird was nicknamed the “Great White Hope” and the Lakers African-American stars of Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy. It all set the platform for the biggest NBA rivalry of all time.

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