The second episode of ESPN’s Last Dance documentary on the 1998 Chicago Bulls focused on Scottie Pippen, the Bulls’ forward who is considered by many as the best sidekick in the history of the NBA.
Pippen’s arrival in Chicago transformed the Bulls from mere playoff contenders that depended solely on Michael Jordan’s one-man show to a dynasty in the 1990s that won six NBA championship.
Many players had success playing as sidekicks to bigger stars. Some of these players were superstars themselves who had to give way to a bigger star or a better player.
Let’s take a look at the best sidekicks in the history of the NBA:
10. John Stockton
“Stockton to Malone” is one of the most famous phrases in the history of the NBA. The NBA’s all-time assists leader will always be mentioned in the same breath as the NBA’s second-leading scorer because John Stockton and Karl Malone were one of the best duos to ever play in the NBA.
Stockton was a career 51.8% field goal shooter and 38.4% three-point shooter. He could’ve easily scored 20 points per game if he wanted to. But he was a pass-first point guard who preferred to make scoring opportunities for his teammates, Malone especially.
The Utah Jazz never won an NBA title with these two but they made the playoffs in every season they played together. They also led the Jazz to back to back NBA Finals appearances during 1997 and 1998 seasons, losing to the Chicago Bulls 4-2 in each series.
9. David Robinson
Before he became Robin to Tim Duncan’s Batman, David Robinson was the Admiral of the San Antonio Spurs. He was San Antonio’s first overall pick in 1987 and was the team’s franchise player until the Big Fundamental came along. Robinson won the 1995 MVP award but without enough support, he couldn’t lead the Spurs to the land of promise.
Then Duncan came along in 1997 and together they became the reincarnation of the 1980s Houston Rockets twin towers. But success came their way when Robinson agreed to play sidekick to Duncan during the latter’s second season. The Spurs won their first-ever NBA title in 1999 and a second one in 2003.
He was a two-time Olympic gold medalist and a member of the 1992 Dream Team. Robinson was a 10-time NBA All-Star and a 10-time All-NBA selection. The Admiral is the only player from the Navy to make it to the NBA and is considered the best center in the history of the league.
8. Pau Gasol
Pau Gasol is one of the most successful players in Europe. He joined the NBA as a member of the Memphis Grizzlies and was the first foreign-born player to win Rookie of the Year honors. Gasol would go on to become the team’s franchise player but after seven seasons, he was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers.
In Los Angeles, he joined Kobe Bryant who was carrying the team on his own after Shaquille O’Neal left. Gasol would yield his superstar status and play sidekick to Bryant and immediately, the Lakers took off and Bryant had the second dominant run of his career.
The Lakers would make three straight trips to the NBA Finals. After losing to the Boston Celtics in 2008, they won back to back NBA titles in 2009 and 2010. During the 2010 NBA Finals, Gasol averaged 18.6 points, 11.6 rebounds, 3.7 assists, and 2.6 blocks per game. Bryant was named Finals MVP but Gasol deserved it more than the Black Mamba did.
7. Joe Dumars
Isaiah Thomas was one of the best point guards in the history of the game but he didn’t win an NBA title until Joe Dumars came along. Thomas was the court general for the Detroit Pistons and Joe Dumars was his backcourt partner. Together they formed one of the best backcourts in the early 90s and were the driving force behind the Bad Boys.
Dumars was one of the best defensive guards during his era but he was a good guy among the Bad Boys. Joe Cool was assigned to defend the best player on the other team and that included Michael Jordan. He was also a very good outside shooter who could shot very well from three-point distance.
The Bad Boys won back to back NBA titles in 1989 and 1990. Dumars averaged 27.3 points, 1.8 rebounds, and 6.0 assists per game during the 1989 Finals and was named Finals MVP. The following season, Thomas won Finals MVP but Dumars averaged 20.3 points per game during the championship series.
6. Kevin McHale
The man with a thousand moves is one of the best post-up players in the history of the game. Kevin McHale was part of the Boston Celtics team that rivaled the Showtime Los Angeles Lakers in the 1980s. He was the sidekick to Larry Bird as the team won three NBA titles in five NBA Finals appearances.
McHale started as a reserve for the Celtics and he won Sixth Man of the Year honors in 1984 and 1985. But he emerged and earned a starting five position and teamed up with Bird and Robert Parish to form one of the best frontcourt trios ever in the NBA. McHale was a double-double threat who tortured opponents with his unstoppable post-up game.
While Bird took care of the perimeter, McHale owned the shaded lane. Together, they carried the Celtics’ winning tradition in the 80s. McHale averaged 25.8 points per game to lead Boston in the 1986 NBA Final but Bird won the Finals MVP for his better all-around effort.
5. Tony Parker
Tony Parker was the Spurs’ first-round pick during the 2001 NBA Draft after catching the eye of head coach Gregg Popovich. Parker immediately proved his worth and became one of the top point guards in the NBA. However, with Tim Duncan in San Antonio, Parker had to play Robin to the Big Fundamental.
Parker was the fuel for the San Antonio Spurs’ offense. The French point guard orchestrated for Tim Duncan during the Spurs dynasty run. He helped Duncan reach five NBA Finals and together they won four. The spotlight shone on Parker in 2007 when he won Finals MVP.
While Parker achieved All-Star status in the NBA, he never upstaged Duncan and was contented to playing sidekick to one of the best power forwards to ever play the game. Their last title came in 2014 when Duncan was in the twilight of his career. He was a six-time All-Star and a four-time member of the All-NBA team.
4. Kareem Abdul Jabbar
The league’s all-time leading scorer was a dominant force who led the Milwaukee Bucks to the NBA title in 1971 and won Finals MVP during that triumph. He was traded to the Lakers after five seasons and he became the main man in Los Angeles.
But when the Lakers acquired Magic Johnson in 1979, Abdul-Jabbar slowly turned over the leadership role to the younger Johnson. Magic established “Showtime”, the 80s era in Los Angeles where they won five NBA titles in a decade including back to back in 1987 and 1988.
Abdul-Jabbar remained as the Lakers’ top inside presence. With his unguardable skyhook, Jabbar played well into his later years. He even won the Finals MVP in 1985, winning the award at the age of 38 years and 54 days old, the oldest in the history of the NBA Finals. He played a total of 20 NBA seasons and finished his career as the league’s top scorer.
3. Dwyane Wade
Dwyane Wade was the first superstar in Miami and is the greatest player in the history of the Heat franchise. Together with Shaquille O’Neal, Wade led the Heat to their first-ever NBA title in 2006 where they defeated the Dallas Mavericks in six games. But things changed in 2010 when LeBron James took his talents to South Beach.
Wade yielded his position as the team’s top player to James who was the best player in the NBA at that time. Chris Bosh also joined the Heat to form a Big Three that helped Miami win back to back NBA titles in 2012 and 2013. James won back to back Finals MVP during those wins and Wade gladly let his good friend take the spotlight.
When James returned to Cleveland, Wade assumed the leadership role once again and Miami became Wade County again. He left to play for his hometown Chicago Bulls but he would return to Miami to finish his career where his legend began.
2. Kobe Bryant
Kobe Bryant was the sidekick that finally made Shaquille O’Neal a champion. O’Neal’s original Robin was Penny Hardaway but after the latter got hurt, his career was never the same again. Orlando made the NBA Finals in 1995 but things went downhill without Hardaway O’Neal left for Los Angeles and after the Lakers traded for Bryant, a dynamic duo was born.
Kobe wasn’t the Black Mamba yet when he arrived in Hollywood. He had to play second fiddle to Shaq who was the most dominant force in the NBA during that era. The two would help Los Angeles win three straight NBA titles from 2000 to 2002. Bryant would average 23.8 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 4.7 assists per game while being the Lakers’ second-best player.
Unfortunately, their partnership didn’t last. A feud led to O’Neal moving to the Miami Heat and Kobe would become the man in Los Angeles. Bryant would lead the Lakers to three straight Finals appearances from 2008-10 and help the team win back to back NBA titles in 2009-10.
1. Scottie Pippen
Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player of all-time. But even Michael Jordan could not win an NBA title by himself. The Chicago Bulls were mere playoff contenders with MJ running a one-man show in the Windy City. But when Scottie Pippen arrived, things changed and the Bulls became a dynasty.
Pippen wasn’t just the second-leading scorer in Chicago. He was the team’s best defender and facilitator. While he never supplanted Jordan, he became an all-star and was arguably a Top 5 player in the league during his prime. But he played behind MJ and gladly accepted being the sidekick to the best player on the planet.
Pippen and Jordan would lead the Bulls to six NBA titles during the 90s. Jordan himself admitted that he didn’t win a single ring without Scottie Pippen. Pippen would build a career for himself after the Bulls’ breakup and he would end up as one of the Top 50 players in the history of the NBA.