Peanut butter and jelly, Jack and Coke, Yin and Yang; without one, you can’t have the other. It’s really no different in the world of sports, as there have been plenty of examples of a star player that was made even better because of the efforts of his teammates. Sure, a superstar can carry a team, but name me a team that has won anything of substance with just one person.
The best part about sports is that the two best players don’t even have to be best friends. As we saw with Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant, when the good times end, they end fast. It’s the collective effort on and off the field, court or ice that can really set a pair of stars apart from the rest of the pack, and that is when they can realize success. The following duos have shown that time and time again, teams win championships. Ask anybody on this list and chances are they will say that it was their number two that made them better, not the other way around.
10. Peyton Manning/Marvin Harrison — Indianapolis Colts
If you were ranking NFL duos from a statistical perspective, the duo of Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison was unstoppable during the 158 games they suited up together. Over the span of a decade, the duo connected on 953 passes for 12,766 yards and 112 touchdowns. That stat line was good enough to land them as the all-time leaders for completions, yards, and touchdowns by an NFL QB/WR combination. Each of them will be enshrined in Canton at the Hall of Fame when it is all said and done, as Harrison finished his career with eight Pro Bowl selections, 1,102 receptions for 14,580 yards, and 128 touchdowns. Meanwhile, Peyton’s current stat line includes 13 Pro Bowls, nearly 65,000 passing yards, and he is second all-time in career touchdown passes with 491.
9. Greg Maddux/Tom Glavine — Atlanta Braves
If championships are won because of pitching, it should be no surprise as to why the Atlanta braves were so successful from 1993-2002. In 10 seasons as teammates, Maddux and Glavine combined for a 347-160 record and an ERA of just 2.87, and five Cy Young Awards. Based purely off of their collective records, the Braves were nearly 20 games above .500 every year the two were on the mound. Not only were they responsible for nine division titles, but they changed the way the game was played from a pitcher’s point of view. Maddux and Glavine were so cerebral in their approach that they could literally tell their fielders what was going to happen the very next pitch. In January 2014, each was elected to the Hall of Fame with more than 90% of the vote.
8. Jack Lambert/Jack Ham — Pittsburgh Steelers
As one of the NFL’s toughest linebackers to ever play the game, Jack Lambert exemplified how the game of football should have been played. With Jack Ham playing right alongside of him in the 1970s, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ “Steel Curtain” defense broke records and bones as it led the organization to four Super Bowls in six years. Unfortunately, the NFL didn’t record tackles until 1980, but there is little doubt that the pair led the league every year they were together. With Ham’s ability to stuff the run and Lambert’s keen sense of dropping back to stop the passing game, they literally shut offenses down. Not only that, but the two were some of the most durable to have ever played the game, as Ham played every game in eight out of his twelve seasons and Lambert missed just six games in his first 10 years in the league.
7. Bill Russell/Bob Cousy — Boston Celtics
Let’s face it, the Boston Celtics organization has enough Hall of Famers to field its own All-NBA team. However, no two players were as successful as the combination of Bill Russell and Bob Cousy from 1956-63. Russell was a defensive genius and shot blocker, while Cousy was the offensive mastermind of the team, as the duo led Red Auerbach’s Celtics to six NBA Championships in seven seasons. Together, Russell and Cousy fed off each other’s energy, as Cousy went on to become a 13-time All-Star and averaged 18.4 points per game. Meanwhile, Russell ended up with 11 NBA Championships, five MVP Awards, and averaged an incredible 22.5 rebounds per game.
6. Mike Bossy/Bryan Trottier — New York Islanders
If you’re looking for an old fashioned hockey bromance, you’ve found it. Not only were these two unstoppable on the ice, but off the ice they were the best of friends. Bossy, Trottier, and Clark Gillies were a fearsome combination throughout the late 1970s and early 1980s, as Trottier and Bossy’s communication led the way. The Islanders won their division the first two years the pair were together, but were unable to have any real postseason success. During the 1979-80 season, the team was finally able to break through and win the first of four consecutive Stanley Cups as Trottier won the Conn Smythe Trophy in 1980 and Bossy followed suit in 1982. The duo is widely considered the greatest one-two combination in NHL scoring history, as Bossy had nine seasons of 50+ goals and Trottier finished his career 14th on the all-time scoring list.
5. Michael Jordan/Scottie Pippen — Chicago Bulls
We all know Jordan to be one of the greatest players of all time. But would he have been able to be as good without a strong wingman? The question has been the topic of much debate, as Scottie Pippen provided the perfect support role to MJ. Together, they led the Chicago Bulls to six NBA championships and became the face of the Bulls’ dynasty in the 1990s. The duo’s on-court play was something that captivated NBA fans around the country, but it was off the court where the two really flourished. Pippen and Jordan often played one-on-one games after hours to hone each other’s skills, resulting in Pippen being named to 10 NBA All-Defensive teams and Jordan leading the league in scoring for a decade.
4. Joe Montana/Jerry Rice — San Francisco 49ers
If you were going by statistics, this wouldn’t be the greatest WR/QB duo in NFL history, but if you are measuring by results you couldn’t possibly have anybody else atop your NFL list. From 1985-1992, Rice and Montana were responsible for five NFC West titles, two Super Bowls, and Jerry Rice accumulated six 1,000-yard receiving seasons. During their two Super Bowl victories, the pair connected on 18 receptions, resulting in 363 yards and four touchdowns. Despite their achievements together, there were actually only four seasons in which the two played at least nine games together, making the period of time that they spent playing together even more impressive.
3. Wayne Gretzky/Mark Messier — Edmonton Oilers
Hockey in the 1980s meant one thing to many fans; the rise of the Edmonton Oiler dynasty. A huge part of that success was due to the work of Mark Messier and Wayne Gretzky, who rarely took the ice apart from each other. The couple led the team in scoring nearly every season from 1980-88, along with help from Jari Kurri. The pair’s first Stanley Cup came in 1984, as Messier notched 100 points and Gretzky recorded over 200. The duo repeated the following season and then again in 1987 and 1988, bringing their total cups to four. Gretzky and Messier are both in the top three in Oiler history for scoring, along with Kurri, and there has even been talk of the two coaching together. Gretzky was bound for greatness with his natural ability alone, but without him, there is a good chance that Messier would have never realized his full potential.
2. Magic Johnson/Kareem Abdul-Jabbar — Los Angeles Lakers
Obviously, you can’t have a top 10 list of the best duos in sports without mentioning the foundation of the Lakers’ dynasty throughout the 1980s. The first year Magic and Kareem were together the Lakers won 60 games en route to an NBA title, as Magic became the first rookie ever to be named NBA Finals MVP. Combined, the twosome accounted for nine NBA MVP Awards, 21 All-Star Game selections, five championships, and 56,094 points. For those of you keeping track at home, that’s over 4,500 more than the combination of Jordan and Pippen.
1. Lou Gehrig/Babe Ruth — New York Yankees
It should be no surprise that Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth are atop the list of the greatest sports duos in history. Teammates from 1926-1932, the duo led the New York Yankees to four pennants and three World Series championships. Ruth and Gehrig continually feasted on opposing pitching and led the league in almost every offensive category throughout their tenure, including each being in the top three in home runs, RBIs, runs scored, and slugging percentage for the bulk of their time together. The numbers each of them produced as teammates are something you would only see in video games today. Consider this; in 1927, Ruth hit 60 home runs and Gehrig belted 47. The next person on the list? Tony Lazzeri (also a NY Yankee) with 18. Despite all of this being done on a diet of hot dogs and beer for the Babe, chances are there will never be another duo like that of Gehrig and Ruth.