Some organizations have every intention of advertising their All-Star trio of players as a “Big Three.” However, there isn’t solely one way of building a championship-caliber team that lasts for a few years or more. Some teams have unleashed more than one superstar and others have just built around one star. In this piece, we will take a look at which trios have highlighted the 21st century.
10. 2011-16 Oklahoma City Thunder (Russell Westbrook/Kevin Durant/Serge Ibaka)
Despite being the only team to not win a championship on this list, this young, powerful core made some special things happen for a franchise that moved from Seattle a few years prior. Westbrook and Durant started to form one of the elite one-two punches when both were just 22 years old. It wouldn’t be fair to simply exclude James Harden as he was an integral member of the Oklahoma City team that made the 2012 Finals and was actually favored to win by the Vegas odds-makers. In the 2016 playoffs, it seemed that Durant and company had finally made that push they had been working toward for so long. As we know, this was a team that infamously blew a three-to-one-game lead to the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals. That’s how it all abruptly ended before Durant bolted (to those Warriors).
9. 2008-2011 Dallas Mavericks (Jason Kidd/Jason Terry/Dirk Nowitzki)
Nowitzki’s Mavs were consistently some of the best performing teams when it came to regular season success. In the postseason, however, they kind of got overshadowed by the true stardom of the Western Conference in the Lakers and the Spurs. Let’s also not forget a Phoenix team who the Mavs regretfully lost Steve Nash to. While Nash was winning MVP awards and dishing out spectacular highlight-reel assists, an aging Kidd was just as polished as a floor general, even if his offensive regime wasn’t quite as plentiful. Because of all of these complications, not many people really expected Nowitzki and the Mavs to overcome the playoff monsters that had haunted them for pretty much his whole career. As far as Terry, he was everything from Sixth Man of the Year to mid-range assassin to imposing crunch-time threat.
8. 2014-16 Golden State Warriors (Stephen Curry/Klay Thompson/Draymond Green)
After re-thinking this over and over while coming to this conclusion, I’ll still admit this group probably deserves a higher ranking. However, it’s understandable because it was overtaken by what eventually became one of the greatest trios of all-time. A championship in 2016 would have drastically altered the outlook on this regardless of Durant joining the team or not. What’s most important, however, is that Warriors management did an admirable job of building this foundation through the draft. Curry is a budding superstar and one of the greatest guards and shooters this game has ever seen. Thompson has steadily been one of the league’s best two-way players for a long time. Green never really needed to be one of the three most talented players on the team because he’s always been the heart and soul.
7. 2003-2006 Detroit Pistons (Chauncey Billups/Richard Hamilton/Ben Wallace)
The only team to have reached more consecutive conference finals than the 2003-08 Pistons was the Magic Johnson-led Lakers in the 1980s. That’s a pretty wild accomplishment. The reason I had to cut that time short for this purpose was due to Wallace leaving for Chicago as a free agent in the 2006 offseason. The Pistons managed to make two more conference finals appearances, but it was Big Ben who provided the franchise with the grittiness and identity that made them arch rivals to anyone who stepped in its vicinity. Some would argue the Pistons should have won more than one ring while others believe they were lucky to win one. This trio distinguished itself from other trios in that none of these players were ball-dominant superstars. Nevertheless, they made it work.
6. 2008-11 Los Angeles Lakers (Kobe Bryant/Lamar Odom/Pau Gasol)
The Great Mamba saw his team stumble upon mediocrity for a few years following Shaquille O’Neal’s departure. He was adamant for nearly a whole year that he wanted to be traded from L.A. and there would be no resolution to keep him there. That changed when the Lakers pulled off a blockbuster trade for Pau Gasol during the 2007-08 season. Bryant’s team quickly emerged back in the title chase because he was right in the prime of his career and could handily carry the weight they needed him to. Odom was someone who could play multiple positions and had been Bryant’s right-hand man since arriving in town as part of the trade that sent Shaq to Miami. These 2009 and 2010 championship teams jelled right from the get-go while also employing other strong assets in Andrew Bynum, Ron Artest, and several others.
5. 2000-04 Los Angeles Lakers (Derek Fisher/Kobe Bryant/Shaquille O’Neal)
Since the NBA and ABA merged in 1976, these almighty Lakers were the only team to “three-peat” outside of Michael Jordan’s Bulls, who did it twice in the 1990s. The end of the Michael Jordan era paved way for Kobe and Shaq’s “Batman and Robin” antics. The two were unmistakably both generational, ultra-superstars with a mission to be on top of the NBA. They didn’t always see eye-to-eye, perhaps because both were alpha-dogs who did not want to take a backseat. Shaq was one of the most, if not the most dominant, post players this game has ever seen. O’Neal was the more established player when the two joined forces but Bryant climbed up the ladder after his first couple of seasons. Phil Jackson may have continued the triangle tradition but with a trustworthy role player in Fisher to complete the cycle.
4. 2008-12 Boston Celtics (Ray Allen/Paul Pierce/Kevin Garnett)
People rarely seem to acknowledge that a young Pierce and the Celtics actually made the conference finals in 2002 before flaming out as a first-and-second round team the next few years. The 1990s were more of a transition period for a Boston franchise that was the most winningest team in NBA history and the pressure was rising for it to get back to its winning ways. GM Danny Ainge was able to finesse the Supersonics and Timberwolves into trading the Celtics two well-documented stars in Allen and Garnett. He gave up a boatload of options (including some high draft picks) for Garnett but it’s a trade that probably would have required a wealthier return in today’s NBA. Pierce capped off a league-best 66-win campaign with a Finals MVP award. Garnett was just as valuable as anyone though.
3. 2017-2019 Golden State Warriors (Stephen Curry/Klay Thompson/Kevin Durant)
Durant’s decision to join Golden State in the summer of 2016 received a tremendous amount of public backlash. Barring major injury, there was just no way this team was losing to anyone. Not only did Harden’s Rockets make things interesting in the 2018 Western Conference Finals, but they actually took a commanding three-to-two-game lead before losing Chris Paul for the remainder of the series. Durant and company survived a scare, and instead, their two straight championships went in the history books to be remembered. The Warriors had to battle without key piece Andre Iguodala for much of the series as well and the injury-riddled theme continued the following year; what should have been a “three-peat” marked potentially the end of a dynasty in 2019. The big question: did Curry and Durant underachieve together?
2. 2011-14 Miami Heat (Dwyane Wade/LeBron James/Chris Bosh)
We are just a few days removed from the 10-year anniversary of “The Decision,” a nationally televised program in which King James announced he would be joining Wade and Bosh in South Beach. That may have been one of his most predictable moves as James has been known for unpredictability throughout his legendary career. In James’ letter to return to Cleveland four years later, he said that going back home to win a championship had always been part of his plan. Although people were upset with how he handled it, James couldn’t have made a better choice in hindsight. Imagine what the NBA would be if he and Wade never teamed up. The Wade/LBJ/Bosh stint in Miami meant everything for the league – it shaped the future and also made critics accept that the NBA has always been a business.
1. 2002-16 San Antonio Spurs (Tony Parker/Manu Ginobili/Tim Duncan)
Duncan and David Robinson, otherwise known as “The Twin Towers,” kicked off San Antonio’s era of excellence by winning a title in 1999. A 37-year-old Robinson stuck around for a young Parker and Ginobili as all of them enjoyed another one in 2003. To make a long story short, the Parker/Ginobili/Duncan tandem also won three more rings on top of that. As you can see, this core lasted twice as long as any of the ones mentioned above. However, it’s probably fair to say 2014 Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard added a few extra years to that blazing run. Young or old, The Big Fundamental consistently stayed in tip-top shape and was always there for his teammates. The Spurs have been compared to the Patriots but even Tom Brady couldn’t live up to Duncan and Ginobili’s tenure with one team for an entire career.