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NBA: Ranking the league's all-time top individual rivalries

Berry Tramel ranks the top five NBA rivalries between individuals.
by Berry Tramel Published: June 24, 2012

4. Michael Jordan vs. Isiah Thomas

For three straight years, Thomas' Bad Boy Pistons knocked Jordan's Bulls out of the Eastern Conference playoffs – semifinals in 1988, finals in '89 and '90. Finally, in '91, Chicago swept Detroit in the East finals, with Jordan averaging 29.8 points a game, and launched a dynasty. Better yet, for rivalry purposes, these two guys didn't get along. Jordan finally has admitted he blackballed Thomas from the 1992 Olympic Dream Team.

5. Hakeem Olajuwon vs. Karl Malone

They rarely matched up defensively, since Olajuwon was a classic center and Malone a pure power forward, but the superstars collided in the paint often during the ‘90s, when Houston and Utah were the West's best teams. Olajuwon's Rockets won in the '94 West finals and '95 first round, en route to NBA championships. Malone's Jazz won in the '97 West finals and '98 first round, only to lose the NBA Finals to the Jordan Bulls. In those 21 playoff games, Olajuwon averaged 27.6 points and 9.7 rebounds, Malone 26.4 and 12.4.