As the saying goes, two heads are better than one.
In sports, it’s nearly impossible for a player to carry their team single-handedly, although many have tried. That’s why having a partner can be so important.
Sometimes these pairs were exactly that—great friends, on and off the field. Other partnerships, while incendiary on the court, could turn ugly off of it. But even with the occasional fireworks, these twosomes propelled their teams into deep playoff runs, memorable seasons, and championship wins.
And that's not to say they didn't occasionally compete against each other—in national competitions, say, or the Olympics. But they put any competitiveness aside when they teamed up in certain events. That’s not always an easy thing for an athlete to do.
Here is a look at the best dynamic duos in sports history:
Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, NBA
Curry and Thompson are the definition of dynamic—the twosome has helped revolutionize the modern NBA with slick 3-point shooting and some wonderfully creative guard play. The “Splash Brothers” led the Warriors to a championship in 2014-15, the single-season record of 73 wins in 2015-16, and they also won a gold medal together at the FIBA Basketball World Cup while playing for the United States national team. The two have the chance to go down as one of the best duos in sports history—Curry has won-back-to-back MVP awards, while Thompson has increased his scoring in each of his first four seasons in the league.
Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal, NBA
The Los Angeles Lakers suffered through some tough years in the early-to-mid 90s, but all that changed in 1996 with just two moves—signing Shaquille O’Neal to a record contract and trading for Kobe Bryant during the NBA Draft. Although the big man and the guard ended up butting heads quite a bit—Shaq–Kobe drama could have filled a soap opera for multiple seasons—the results were nothing but fantastic.
The often-bickering couple brought the Lakers franchise its first championship in 14 years, and for good measure they won three straight NBA titles from 2000-2002. The Lakers were simply the most dominant force in the league with Kobe and Shaq running things—the team won at least 50 games in eight straight seasons. But like all good things, it had to end eventually.
The “Black Mamba” and “Superman” both had outsized egos, eventually compelling O’Neal to join the Miami Heat. After the split, each won a title while replacing their counterpart with a younger model—Shaq with Dwyane Wade in South Beach and Kobe with Pau Gasol in Hollywood. Even though both players had great success after partnership broke up, nothing could match the superstardom that the Lakers attained with Shaq and Kobe—on and off the court.
Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte, Olympics
This aquatic pair has dominated the pool in Olympic competition—as a team and as individuals—winning 23 gold medals over three different Summer Games. Phelps holds the record for most gold medals of all time, while Lochte has helped set world records in the 100-meter individual medley, 200-meter, and 400-meter individual medleys in his career. The swimmers have competed in the freestyle relay Olympic event together multiple times—bringing home the gold in Beijing 2008 and the silver in London 2012.
Phelps has earned the nickname "The Baltimore Bullet" for his feats in the pool—and his 22 total medals give him a strong argument that he's the greatest Olympian in history. Lochte's no slouch either—he’s won 11 total medals in his career—but their best moments have often come together in the relay.
LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, NBA
When LeBron James made his famous “decision” to “take his talents to South Beach,” he knew he was about to form a “super” team with longtime BFF Dwyane Wade. James skipped college and went straight to the pros, so signing with Miami and his best friend was like a university experience for the King. The pair, nicknamed by many as “Batman and Robin”—although there's some argument about which one was which—were the talk of the NBA for the time James was in Miami.
James and Wade were like twins on the court. They seemed to have an extrasensory connection with each other, blindly tossing passes that led to amazing alley-oops, behind-the-back dishes, and furious dunks. They led the team to 27 straight wins in 2012–13 and took home two NBA championships—the first ones of James’s illustrious career.
Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta, Soccer
This twosome has played together for over a decade, starting off with their enrollment in Barcelona's La Masia academy. They've been the model of consistency for club and country, winning over 25 trophies in the process, including La Liga and Champions League titles. Xavi and Iniesta brought back the technical style of soccer—crisp, accurate passes and perfect foundational form when it comes to playing the beautiful game the right way.
Xavi is one of the most precise passers in football—he once had a Champions League run with a 100% pass completion rate—while Iniesta is as good anyone in the world when it comes to dribbling and vision on the pitch. The Fuentealbilla-born Iniesta finished runner up to Lionel Messi for the prestigious FIFA Ballon d'Or in 2010, beating out Xavi in a battle of the three Barca stars.
The midfielders have been extremely accomplished in national play for Spain. They helped the nation win its first World Cup in 2010, as well as Euro 2008. Iniesta scored the only goal in the 2010 World Cup final against the Netherlands and won the man of the match award for the game.
Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison, NFL
Manning and Harrison's quarterback-wideout connection re-wrote the record books during their time with the Indianapolis Colts. The pair connected for 112 touchdowns in 10 years together, and Harrison went eight straight seasons while putting up at least 10 touchdown receptions from Manning. The two helped the Colts make the playoffs in nine of the 10 seasons they overlapped in Indy, and by the end of things, Harrison caught over 950 balls from Manning for 12,756 yards—a feat unmatched by any other QB-WR combo in league history.
Manning hung up his cleats after winning his second Super Bowl, and he holds the records for all-time passing yards and touchdown passes in the NFL. Harrison retired holding the records for most receptions in a season with 143, and the most receiving yards in a season with 1,722—which has since been broken by Calvin Johnson. The duo won one Super Bowl together, and while Manning teamed up other dynamic players in career like Reggie Wayne and Demaryius Thomas, no partnership was as productive as his time with Harrison.
Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, NBA
These two were the original “Batman and Robin” of the NBA.
Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen are arguably the greatest pair of teammates in American sporting history, with a run of success together that is unmatched in the modern era. The two helped lead the Chicago Bulls to six championships together, including double “Three-Peats” from 1991 to 1993 and from 1996 to 1998. Jordan was the face of the league while slamming down dunks from the foul line, while Pippen did his business with his head down and earned respect from players far and wide.
Jordan dominated the league for over a decade, but Pippen was no slouch either—he was named to the NBA's 50th Anniversary All-Time Team and led the Bulls when Jordan spent time playing minor league baseball, finishing in the top 10 in scoring and assists in the NBA during the 1993-94 season. The pair won 72 games with the Bulls during the 1994-95 regular season, setting a record for wins—although it has since been broken by the 2015-16 Golden State Warriors—and both have been elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame.
Steve Young and Jerry Rice, NFL
Jerry Rice had a great run with Joe Montana as his quarterback, but he did even better when Montana’s backup Steve Young took over as the starter for the San Francisco 49ers. Rice has the all-time records for receiving yards and receiving touchdowns in NFL history—and Young is the main reason why. The two connected for 85 touchdowns, over 700 catches, and 10,000 receiving yards, making them one of the most productive QB-WR duos in football history. The pair won Super Bowl XXIX in a blowout against the Chargers, when Young hit Rice with three touchdown passes.
Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier, NHL
“The Great One” and “The Moose” played together for the Edmonton Oilers for nine seasons. In four of those years, the team brought home the Stanley Cup. The titles all came in an impressive five-year span that saw Messier and Gretzky become two of the most exciting offensive players in the NHL. Gretzky’s dynamic skills eventually got him shipped out of town in a trade, but after that Messier won two more Stanley Cup titles—another in Edmonton and one for the New York Rangers.
The two stars reunited years later in New York with the Rangers, and although they didn’t win another cup together, their partnership in the Big Apple only strengthened their career-long bond. Gretzky retired with 40 regular-season NHL records to his name, including the most goals and most points. When Messier hung up his skates, he ranked second on the all-time list for regular-season points, playoff points, and regular season games played.
Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, NBA
The “Showtime”-era Lakers were led by the "Magic-cal" Johnson and Abdul-Jabbar, who brought a fast-paced, exciting, high-scoring, and flashy brand of basketball to the city of Angels. Magic broke the point guard mold—he had the size and athletic skills to start all five positions on the court—and he paired up perfectly with the freakishly talented Abdul-Jabbar during the second half of the big man's career. The pair appeared in the NBA Finals eight times together, winning five championships, and combining to take home four NBA Finals MVP awards.
Usain Bolt and Nesta Carter, Olympics
These two Jamaican stars could give The Flash a run for his money.
The “Lightning Bolt” has been like a real-life superhero on the track—donning a flag-cape while winning gold medals and setting world records—while Carter has proven to be a strong teammate and fierce competitor. The pair helped Jamaica win gold in the Men's 4×100-meter relay at the London 2012 Olympics, setting a new world record in the process.
The national team has produced some wicked fast runners—Bolt, Carter, Yohan Blake, and Asafa Powell are all ranked in the top six for the fastest 100-meter times in history. But while each of those runners has seen action for Jamaica's vaunted 4x100, the island nation is virtually undefeated with Carter and Bolt. They have twice led Jamaica to Olympics gold (Beijing in 2008 and London in 2012) and three World Championships golds (Daegu in 2011, Moscow in 2013, and Beijing in 2015).
Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski, NFL
Brady has had a few dynamic partners during his career—including Randy Moss and Wes Welker—Gronk is hard to beat. The tight end is simply a beast—at 6'6” and 265 pounds, he has an absurd degree of athleticism—and he has made Brady look really good over the years. Brady and Gronk have combined for over 50 touchdowns from 2010 to 2014, and the two helped the New England Patriots win the NFL title in stunning fashion with the go-ahead touchdown against the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX. Gronk is a party animal, but when he steps on the field he is nearly impossible to cover—and that has made him Brady's favorite target.
Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, MLB
Ruth and Gehrig formed the meat of the lineup for the "Murderers’ Row" 1927 New York Yankees, arguably one of the best baseball teams of all time. Both players are in the Hall of Fame for the things they did individually, but in the 10 seasons playing together they were fantastic—leading the Yankees to World Series titles in 1927, 1928, and 1932. The old-school baseball stars hit home runs in the same inning 19 different times while with the Yankees, and combined for over 600 total home runs while playing together.
Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, NBA
Two of the most talented players in the NBA made the Oklahoma City Thunder into must-see basketball. The combo of Durant—a former MVP winner and scoring champion—and Westbrook—a rare player with freakish speed, athleticism, and a bit of an attitude—is nightmarishly effective in every phase of the game. Teams can’t target just one player, or the other one will make them pay. Durant has averaged at least 25 points per game in seven of his first eight years in the league, while Westbrook has turned into a triple-double machine, putting up 18 during the 2015-16 season—the most since Magic Johnson in 1988-89.
Bob and Mike Bryan, Tennis
The identical twins have been as successful in tennis as any pair of athletes in all of sports, winning over 110 doubles titles together along with 16 Grand Slam doubles championships. The brothers have won more matches than any other doubles team in history, and they also brought home the gold medal at the 2012 London Olympics. The Bryans set a record by holding the world number one ranking for doubles for 438 consecutive weeks, and they also reached a milestone from 2005 to 2006 by appearing in seven straight Grand Slam finals.
Joe Montana and Jerry Rice, NFL
This QB-WR combo helped make the San Francisco 49ers into a consistent NFL contender while playing together for eight seasons in the Bay Area—the team won three Super Bowl championships with Montana throwing the pigskin to Rice. The wideout from little-known Mississippi Valley State University has some of the best numbers in the history of football, and he compiled a chunk of that production while playing with Montana. The quarterback and wide receiver connected on over 50 touchdowns during their time together, and Rice had six different seasons for at least 1,000 receiving yards.
Karl Malone and John Stockton, NBA
“The Mailman” and Stockton played together from 1985 to 2003—a record run of 1,142 games that will be hard for anyone to match. They also played together on the gold medal-winning “Dream Team” at the 1992 Olympics, but they never were able to win an NBA title together. Michael Jordan gave the pair some major heartbreak during their careers, including in 1998, when he hit the game-winning jumper to defeat the Jazz in the NBA Finals.
Even without a championship, the partnership of Malone and Stockton gave the Jazz a sustained run of success that the franchise has never been able to duplicate—two 60-win seasons, 13 straight playoff appearances, 13 seasons with at least 50 wins, and back-to-back finals appearances from 1996-98. Stockton finished his career as the all-time leader in assists in the NBA, while Malone finished second in all-time scoring with 36,928 points.
Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux, MLB
The pitching unit of Glavine and Maddux fueled the Atlanta Braves to a run in the 1990s that may be unmatched in modern baseball. In their tenure together from 1993 to 2002, they threw enough heat to propel the Braves to nine division titles in 10 seasons, eight of them consecutively. The Braves went to two World Series during that time, and when they won it all in 1995, it was with Glavine as the MVP and Maddux as the Cy Young winner in the regular season. They combined for 18 All-Star game appearances, six Cy Young awards, and National Baseball Hall of Fame ballots that each earned over 90 percent of the vote.
They did some great work off the field too. Their commercial for Nike is that rarest of things: a funny sports commercial. (Chicks dig the long ball, right?)
Tim Duncan and Tony Parker, NBA
Together, Duncan and Parker put together one of the greatest runs in NBA history. The pair with some worldly flair—Duncan is from the U.S. Virgin Islands and Parker is from France—made the playoffs in 15 straight seasons and won four NBA titles together in 2003, 2005, 2007, and 2014, and combined for four NBA Finals MVP Awards in that span.
Duncan first formed a partnership with David Robinson for the Spurs early in his career, but once “The Admiral” retired, Duncan was promoted to a general's rank and Parker slid in as his second-in-command. They also have longevity on their side—in 2015, the two passed Kevin McHale and Robert Parish for second place on the NBA's all-time wins list for teammates, sitting behind only Karl Malone and John Stockton.
Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris, MLB
“The M&M Boys” became the second coming of the Yankees' "Murderers' Row," powering the team to a World Series win in 1961. Bbut that wasn’t all they did together. Maris and Mantle both chased Babe Ruth’s single-season home record of 60, making for one of the most memorable years in baseball history. Maris eventually broke the record by hitting 61 home runs, while Mantle was right there with him before fading at the end of the year with an injury, finishing with 54 dingers.
Mantle and Maris were the first teammates in baseball history to each have at least 50 home runs in the same season, and their combined total of 115 home runs beat the previous record of 107 by the previous “Murderers’ Row” of Ruth and Lou Gehrig. Mantle and Maris combined for 322 hits and 269 RBIs that year—another record for teammates in the same season.
Mantle was one of the most beloved players in baseball during his career and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1974, and he also made the All-Century team in 1999. While Maris never made it into the hall, many still see him as the “clean” home run champion after players like Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, and Sammy Sosa were accused of using performance-enhancing drugs.