The best things in life come in threes. The Latin expression “omne trium perfectum” literally translates to “everything is perfect.” That’s because most popular stories and myths usually come in three’s—told in three acts, or three parts—and you can find trios all over history and popular culture: from the Christian doctrine of the Holy Trinity to The Three Amigos. Yet in contemporary times, the theory of the three has become most conspicuous in the NBA, where the Big Three has become shorthand for dominance.
The genesis of the Big Three moniker in basketball isn’t really that important, though we don’t really remember its usage in the NBA until Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen all ended up on the Boston Celtics in the summer of 2007. Ubuntu followed, as did two trips to the NBA Finals and a championship in 2008. But, if you’re asking hoop heads today who the best Big Three’s are in NBA history, The Truth, The Big Ticket and Jesus might not even crack the top 5. That’s because Big Three’s have dominated NBA history long before Celtics GM Danny Ainge made the super team a part of the day to day NBA lexicon.
So, who are the greatest Big Three’s in NBA history? We’re going to use a—you guessed it—three-pronged approach to the process to settle on our top trios: titles (apologies to Chuck), wins and individual excellence among the three players involved.
A few things to note before we start: one, we’re not going to look at any threesomes before the contemporary game, which started with the advent of the three-point shot in the 1979-80 season. That means Bill Russell and [insert any two among Sam Jones, Bob Cousy, Tom Heinsohn and John Havlicek] aren’t on the list even though Russell won 11 titles in 13 seasons (the last two as player-coach). Bill is the G.O.A.T…for boomers of a particular persuasion, and always will be, but the game during that era was too different for a proper comparison. Two, Kobe Bryant and Shaq aren’t a Big Three. Basic arithmetic explains why. Three, we really wanted to put Isiah Thomas, Joe Dumars and Dennis Rodman/Bill Laimbeer on this list because they’re criminally overlooked—three Finals appearances in a row and two wins—every time one of these lists get made. But, they just just missed out to LeBron’s Heat squad, the followup to the Celtics’ Big Three.