One-on-One Rivals

Baseball, basketball, and football each have tremendous team rivalries.  However, in each sport games are made up of a series of one-on-one battles that determine the outcomes.  This page is devoted to the best individual match-ups in these team sports, broken down by decade.  These aren't necessarily the rivalries with the most bad blood, title implications, or national attention.  Instead, I'm documenting the head-to-head confrontations that pitted the sport's all-time greats against their natural counterpart.  In baseball this is easy enough: the best pitcher vs the best hitter, so long as they play in the same league/division.  In basketball it is slightly more difficult because they have to play the same position so that they actually guard each other.  In football it is harder still, with so many different positions, shorter careers, and the need for players to be in the same division to guarantee they play each other every season.  We start below with Major League Baseball, followed by the NBA and NFL.



Major League Baseball
Baseball is fundamentally a one-on-one sport: batter vs pitcher.  When picking the best match-ups by decade I started by looking at OPS+ for hitters and ERA+ for pitchers.  The "+" on both of those stats adjusts for the league average and ballpark, making it easier to compare numbers across eras.  WAR is a better reference point for a player's overall value, however I'm only looking at what is going on at the plate and on the mound.  The next important factors were making sure that a) they were in the same league so that they played each other - and, later, the same division so that they played often - and b) the peak years of both players overlap for a substantial amount of time.  I then used common sense, award voting, and the sexiness of power-vs-power (home runs and strikeouts) when making my final selections.  All stats are taken from Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet.org.  Note: unless otherwise noted, to qualify for the decade leaderboard in OPS+ a player needed to play 1000 games, and for ERA+ pitchers had to start at least 200 games.

2010s
To be determined.  Which NL hitter will be the main rival to Clayton Kershaw?  Will an AL pitcher be able to take on Miguel Cabrera or Mike Trout?  Right now, the leading contenders are Buster Posey vs Kershaw and Trout vs Felix Hernandez.

2000s
Barry Bonds (LH) vs Randy Johnson (LH)

1988-1989, 1998-2004, 2007
Peak Years: 1998-2004
Bonds' 2000s OPS+: 221 (1st in MLB*)
* in 986 games instead of 1000
Johnson's 2000s ERA+: 152 (1st in NL)

Bonds and Johnson were already all-time greats heading into the decade, and they were both well into their thirties, but they put together a stretch that has never been seen before in baseball after Johnson returned to the National League. In a six year span, Johnson won four-straight Cy Young awards while Bonds won four-straight MVPs. They were the epitome of power vs power. And with them playing in the same division (save for 1998 when Johnson was traded to Houston) they saw a good amount of each other.

All-Time Head-to-Head
G PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
19
62
49
15
3
0
3
12
11
6
.306
.452
.551
1.003
0
0
2
2
0
1998-2004 Peak Years
17
56
43
12
2
0
3
11
11
4
.279
.446
.535
.981
0
0
2
2
0

Barry Bonds, SFG
Randy Johnson, HOU/ARI
AGE HR RBI BA OPS+ MVP

AGE W-L SO ERA ERA+ CY
33
37
122
.303
178
8th
1998
34
10-1
116
1.28
322
11 gms
34
34
83
.262
156
102 gms
1999
35
17-9
364
2.48
184
CY
35
49
106
.306
188
2nd
2000
36
19-7
347
2.64
181
CY
36
73
137
.328
259
MVP
2001
37
21-6
372
2.49
188
CY
37
46
110
.370
268
MVP
2002
38
24-5
334
2.32
195
CY
38
45
90
.341
231
MVP
2003
39
6-8
125
4.26
110
18 gms
39
45
101
.362
263
MVP
2004
40
16-14
290
2.60
176
2nd

55
125
.324
221
162 game average
19-8
325
2.57
179


1990s
Barry Bonds (LH) vs Greg Maddux (RH)

1986-2007
Peak Years: 1992-2000
Bonds' 1990s OPS+: 179 (1st in MLB)
Maddux's 1990s ERA+: 162 (1st in MLB)
For more than twenty years these two squared off in the National League.  Maddux finished third in the Cy Young in 1989 and Bonds won his first MVP in 1990, but the two of them didn't peak at the same time until 1992, which was Bonds' last year with the Pirates and Maddux's last year with the Cubs.  They moved on to the Giants and Braves, respectively, where they were consistently great through 1998.  1999 was a down year for both (relatively) but 2000 served as one last season with both players near the height of their games.  Bonds would go on to win four more MVPs while Maddux never again reached an elite level.

All-Time Head-to-Head
G PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
49
154
130
34
3
1
8
18
23
16
.262
.370
.485
.855
0
1
8
0
3
1992-2000 Peak Years
22
70
58
17
2
0
4
11
12
6
.293
.414
.534
.949
0
0
4
0
1
2002 NLDS Game 3 - Braves won the game 10-2 (Maddux the winning pitcher), Giants won the series 3-2
1
3
2
1
0
0
1
1
1
0
.500
.667
2.000
2.667
0
0
1
0
0

Barry Bonds, PIT/SFG
Greg Maddux, CHC/ATL
AGE HR RBI BA OPS+ MVP

AGE W-L SO ERA ERA+ CY
27
34
103
.311
204
MVP
1992
26
20-11
199
2.18
166
CY
28
46
123
.336
206
MVP
1993
27
20-10
197
2.36
170
CY
29
37
81
.312
183
4th
1994
28
16-6
156
1.56
271
CY
30
33
104
.294
170
12th
1995
29
19-2
181
1.63
260
CY
31
42
129
.308
188
5th
1996
30
15-11
172
2.72
162
5th
32
40
101
.291
170
5th
1997
31
19-4
177
2.20
189
2nd
33
37
122
.303
178
8th
1998
32
18-9
204
2.22
187
4th
34
34
83
.262
156
102 gms
1999
33
19-9
136
3.57
126
-
35
49
106
.306
188
2nd
2000
34
19-9
190
3.00
153
3rd

45
121
.304
183
162 game average
20-9
187
2.40
175


1980s
Don Mattingly (LH) vs Roger Clemens (RH)

1984-1995
Peak Years: 1986-1989
Mattingly's 1980s OPS+: 144 (3rd in AL)

Clemens' 1980s ERA+: 139 (1st in MLB*)
* in 174 starts instead of 200
The eighties didn't have a real signature rivalry.  The decade's most feared hitter was Mike Schmidt, but no NL pitcher was consistently at their best the same time Schmidt was.  Mattingly (the only non-Hall of Fame caliber player on this list) established himself as a premiere batter in 1984 by winning the batting title, followed by an MVP in '85, while Clemens was still finding his stride.  Then in 1986 Roger Clemens put together his first great season, not only winning the Cy Young, but also the MVP ahead of second-place Mattingly.

All-Time Head-to-Head
G PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
22
75
74
23
3
0
0
8
1
6
.311
.320
.351
.671
0
0
0
0
2
1986-1989 Peak Years
10
35
35
11
1
0
0
3
0
1
.314
.343
.657
0
0
0
0
0
0

Don Mattingly, NYY
Roger Clemens, BOS
AGE HR RBI BA OPS+ MVP

AGE W-L SO ERA ERA+ CY
25
31
113
.352
161
2nd
1986
23
24-4
238
2.48
169
MVP/CY
26
30
115
.327
146
7th
1987
24
20-9
256
2.97
154
CY
27
18
88
.311
128
-
1988
25
18-12
291
2.93
141
6th
28
23
113
.303
133
15th
1989
26
17-11
230
3.13
132
-

28
115
.324
143
162 game average
20-9
249
2.88
148


1970s
Willie Stargell (LH) vs Tom Seaver (RH)

1967-1982
Peak Years: 1969-1975
Stargell's 1970s OPS+: 156 (1st in MLB)
Seaver's 1970s ERA+: 138 (1st in MLB)
Stargell was a consistent power hitter in the sixties and then took his game to the next level in 1969, the same year Seaver won his first Cy Young.  Their peak could have extended beyond 1975 had injuries not slowed Stargell down for a couple years.  The rivalry enjoyed a brief, one season resurgence in 1979 when Stargell won his only MVP and Seaver, now pitching with the Reds, finished 4th in Cy Young voting.  They only saw each other in one regular season game that year, but then faced off in game 1 of the NLCS.

All-Time Head-to-Head
G PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
41
140
128
31
8
4
8
20
10
38
.242
.300
.555
.855
0
1
1
1
3
1969-1975 Peak Years
27
95
89
19
4
2
6
13
5
30
.213
.263
.506
.769
0
0
1
1
3
1979 NLCS Game 1 - Pirates won the game 5-2 (Seaver took a no decision), and won the series 3-0
1
3
2
0
0
0
0
0
1
1
.000
.333
.000
.333
0
0
0
0
0

Willie Stargell, PIT
Tom Seaver, NYM
AGE HR RBI BA OPS+ MVP

AGE W-L SO ERA ERA+ CY
29
29
92
.307
163
21st
1969
24
25-7
208
2.21
165
CY
30
31
85
.264
125
15th
1970
25
18-12
283
2.82
143
7th
31
48
125
.295
185
2nd
1971
26
20-10
289
1.76
194
2nd
32
33
112
.293
164
3rd
1972
27
21-12
249
2.92
115
5th
33
44
119
.299
186
2nd
1973
28
19-10
251
2.08
175
CY
34
25
96
.301
168
10th
1974
29
11-11
201
3.20
112
-
35
22
90
.295
148
7th
1975
30
22-9
243
2.38
146
CY

39
121
.294
163
162 game average
19-10
238
2.46
146


1960s
Willie Mays (RH) vs Sandy Koufax (LH)

1955-1966
Peak Years: 1961-1966
Mays' 1960s OPS+: 159 (2nd in NL)
Koufax's 1960s ERA+: 147 (1st in MLB)
A mediocre pitcher before 1961, Koufax became an all-time great in just a six year stretch before injuries forced him to retire in the prime of his career.  This period overlapped with the second half of a 13 year stretch where Mays dominated baseball.  Koufax not only won an MVP in 1963, he finished second to Mays in '65 and one spot ahead of him in '66.  Making this rivalry even better were the tight pennant races between the Giants and Dodgers in 1962, '65, and '66.  Hank Aaron was a close second place for the hitter selection.

All-Time Head-to-Head
G PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
43
122
97
27
8
1
5
14
25
20
.278
.426
.536
.962
0
0
1
0
2
1961-1966 Peak Years
27
89
74
18
5
1
4
12
15
15
.243
.371
.500
.871
0
0
1
0
2

Willie Mays, SFG
Sandy Koufax, LAD
AGE HR RBI BA OPS+ MVP

AGE W-L SO ERA ERA+ CY
30
40
123
.308
160
6th
1961
25
18-13
269
3.52
122
-
31
49
141
.304
165
2nd
1962
26
14-7
216
2.54
143
-
32
38
103
.314
175
5th
1963
27
25-5
306
1.88
159
MVP/CY
33
47
111
.296
172
6th
1964
28
19-5
223
1.74
186
3rd
34
52
112
.317
185
MVP
1965
29
26-8
382
2.04
160
CY
35
37
103
.288
149
3rd
1966
30
27-9
317
1.73
190
CY

46
120
.305
168
162 game average
21-8
269
2.19
156


* A Note on Award Voting *
The Cy Young award was not given out prior to 1956, and from '56-'66, it was only given to one pitcher in all of baseball, rather than one from each league.  Additionally, the MVP was not awarded consistently in each league until 1931.  For all the missing years I am relying on the research of Bill Deane, an expert in this area.  He picked hypothetical MVPs and Cy Youngs for each season in which one was not awarded in a league and his lists appear in the encyclopedia, Total Baseball.  These instances will be noted with an asterisk (*).

1950s
Stan Musial (LH) vs Warren Spahn (LH)

1942, 1946-1963
Peak Years: 1947-1958
Musial's 1950s OPS+: 160 (1st in NL)
Spahn's 1950s ERA+: 126 (1st in NL)
Musial and Spahn came into baseball in 1941 and '42, respectively.  After missing time for military service, they then each began a stretch of sustained excellence that saw an astounding 12 year rivalry peak.  What's more, the peak doesn't even include Musial's 1946 MVP or Spahn's hypothetical Cy Young in 1961.  Perhaps the best hitter and pitcher of the '50s played on the same team, thus eliminating any chance of a Mickey Mantle vs Whitey Ford entry here.

All-Time Head-to-Head
PA AB H 2B 3B HR BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP
366
316
102
22
6
16
47
28
.323
.414
.582
.996
1
0
0
2
1947-1958 Peak Years
272
232
79
17
5
13
38
22
.341
.435
.625
1.060
1
0
0
1
Play-by-play data is incomplete

Stan Musial, STL
Warren Spahn, BSN/MLN
AGE HR RBI BA OPS+ MVP

AGE W-L SO ERA ERA+ MVP
26
19
95
.312
134
20th
1947
26
21-10
123
2.33
170
15th
27
39
131
.376
200
MVP
1948
27
15-12
114
3.71
105
14th
28
36
123
.338
177
2nd
1949
28
21-14
151
3.07
124
7th/CY*
29
28
109
.346
164
2nd
1950
29
21-17
191
3.16
122
18th
30
32
108
.355
183
2nd
1951
30
22-14
164
2.98
124
11th
31
21
91
.336
167
5th
1952
31
14-19
183
2.98
122
23rd
32
30
113
.337
169
8th
1953
32
23-7
148
2.10
188
5th/CY*
33
35
126
.330
167
6th
1954
33
21-12
136
3.14
119
11th
34
33
108
.319
157
8th
1955
34
17-14
110
3.26
115
-
35
27
109
.310
143
9th
1956
35
20-11
128
2.78
125
4th
36
29
102
.351
172
2nd
1957
36
21-11
111
2.69
130
5th/CY
37
17
62
.337
145
12th
1958
37
22-11
150
3.07
116
5th/CY*

32
115
.337
165
162 game average
19-12
132
2.94
127


1940s
Ted Williams (LH) vs Bob Feller (RH)

1939-1941, 1946-1956
Peak Years: 1939-1941, 1946-1948
Williams' 1940s OPS+: 200 (1st in MLB)
Feller's 1940s ERA+: 131 (2nd in MLB)
Ted Williams is the greatest hitter in baseball history, and while many lament that he lost three prime years of his career to military service (1943-1945), Bob Feller was equally impacted.  Feller was arguably the best pitcher in baseball from 1939-1941 before spending the next three seasons with the military.  When the rivalry resumed in 1946 both players returned to their pre-war primes, though only for three more seasons.  Williams won the MVP in 1949, but Feller had dropped off from being an elite pitcher.

All-Time Head-to-Head
PA AB H 2B 3B HR BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP
186
149
52
12
4
10
37
12
.349
.478
.685
1.163
0
0
5
0
1939-1941, 1946-1948 Peak Years
93
75
25
5
3
3
18
5
.333
.462
.600
1.062
0
0
3
0
Play-by-play data is incomplete

Ted Williams, BOS
Bob Feller, CLE
AGE HR RBI BA OPS+ MVP

AGE W-L SO ERA ERA+ MVP
20
31
145
.327
160
4th
1939
20
24-9
246
2.85
154
3rd/CY*
21
23
113
.344
161
14th
1940
21
27-11
261
2.61
163
2nd/CY*
22
37
120
.406
235
2nd
1941
22
25-13
260
3.15
125
3rd/CY*
27
38
123
.342
215
MVP
1946
27
26-15
348
2.18
151
6th
28
32
114
.343
208
2nd
1947
28
20-11
196
2.68
130
8th
29
25
127
.369
189
3rd
1948
29
19-15
164
3.56
114
23rd

35
126
.354
196
162 game average
20-11
206
2.80
138


1930s
Lou Gehrig (LH) vs Lefty Grove (LH)

1925-1939
Peak Years: 1926-1938
Gehrig's 1930s OPS+: 181 (1st in MLB)
Grove's 1930s ERA+: 162 (1st in MLB)
Lefty Grove is considered by some to be the best left-handed pitcher of all-time and he spent the prime of his career going head-to-head with two of the best hitters in history: Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth.  Ruth's prime started and ended several years earlier than Grove's, whereas Gehrig's overlapped almost entirely.  Grove was arguably more dominant at his position than Gehrig, winning six consecutive hypothetical Cy Youngs, along with one MVP.

All-Time Head-to-Head
PA AB H 2B 3B HR BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP
172
155
43
8
5
4
15
33
.277
.341
.471
.812
2
0
0
0
Play-by-play data is incomplete

Lou Gehrig, NYY
Lefty Grove, PHA/BOS
AGE HR RBI BA OPS+ MVP

AGE W-L SO ERA ERA+ MVP
23
16
109
.313
152
10th
1926
26
13-13
194
2.51
165
8th
24
47
173
.373
220
MVP
1927
27
20-13
174
3.19
132
-
25
27
147
.374
193
-
1928
28
24-8
183
2.58
155
-/CY*
26
35
125
.300
165
NA
1929
29
20-6
170
2.81
149
NA/CY*
27
41
173
.379
203
NA
1930
30
28-5
209
2.54
185
NA/CY*
28
46
185
.341
194
2nd
1931
31
31-4
175
2.06
217
MVP/CY*
29
34
151
.349
181
2nd
1932
32
25-10
188
2.84
160
14th/CY*
30
32
140
.334
177
4th
1933
33
24-8
114
3.20
134
5th/CY*
31
49
166
.363
206
5th
1934
34
8-8
43
6.50
73
-
32
30
120
.329
176
5th
1935
35
20-12
121
2.70
175
14th
33
49
152
.354
190
MVP
1936
36
17-12
130
2.81
189
15th
34
37
158
.351
176
4th
1937
37
17-9
153
3.02
159
-
35
29
114
.295
132
19th
1938
38
14-4
99
3.08
160
21st

39
155
.343
182
162 game average
21-9
151
2.89
157


1920s
Rogers Hornsby (RH) vs Dazzy Vance (RH)

1922-1932
Peak Years: 1922-1928
Hornsby's 1920s OPS+: 188 (1st in NL)
Vance's 1920s ERA+: 130 (1st in MLB)
Hornsby was the best hitter in the NL during the decade, winning seven batting titles and two triple crowns.  Vance was the top strikeout pitcher of the era and would have been more highly regarded had his Dodgers teams not generally been so poor.  Not included in the peak years are Hornsby's MVP in 1929 or Vance's 1930 ERA title because their counterpart suffered through a down season.  No Babe Ruth in the 1920s spot?  As mentioned in the '30s section, Ruth's chief rival was Lefty Grove, but their careers didn't overlap enough and no other AL pitcher compared to Ruth's dominance during this time.

All-Time Head-to-Head
PA AB H 2B 3B HR BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP
108
92
24
3
1
3
10
22
.261
.330
.413
.743
5
1
1
0
Play-by-play data is incomplete

Rogers Hornsby, STL/NYG/BSN
Dazzy Vance, BRO
AGE HR RBI BA OPS+ MVP

AGE W-L SO ERA ERA+ MVP
26
42
152
.401
207
NA/MVP*
1922
31
18-12
134
3.70
111
NA
27
17
83
.384
187
NA
1923
32
18-15
197
3.50
111
NA
28
25
94
.424
222
2nd
1924
33
28-6
262
2.16
174
MVP/CY*
29
39
143
.403
210
MVP
1925
34
22-9
221
3.53
118
5th/CY*
30
11
93
.317
124
18th
1926
35
9-10
140
3.89
98
-
31
26
125
.361
175
3rd
1927
36
16-15
184
2.70
147
-
32
21
94
.387
202
13th
1928
37
22-10
200
2.09
190
11th

31
131
.382
190
162 game average
20-12
201
3.00
131


1910s
Ty Cobb (LH) vs Walter Johnson (RH)

1907-1927
Peak Years: 1910-1919
Cobb's 1910s OPS+: 192 (1st in MLB)
Johnson's 1910s ERA+: 183 (1st in MLB)
Probably the best hitter and pitcher of the dead-ball era, Cobb and Johnson went head-to-head for two decades.  Even in the era of high batting averages and low ERAs, their respective numbers against the rest of the league were simply astounding.  Cobb claimed hypothetical MVPs in 1907 and '09 before Johnson came into his own in 1910, and they both put up very good seasons in the 1920s, including an MVP for Johnson, but neither was as consistently great as they were during their ten year peak.

All-Time Head-to-Head
PA AB H 2B 3B HR BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP
164
145
54
11
1
1
17
15
.372
.438
.483
.921
2
0
0
0
Play-by-play data is incomplete

Ty Cobb, DET
Walter Johnson, WSH
AGE HR RBI BA OPS+ MVP

AGE W-L SO ERA ERA+ MVP
23
8
91
.383
206
NA
1910
22
25-17
313
1.36
183
NA
24
8
127
.420
196
MVP
1911
23
25-13
207
1.90
173
5th/CY*
25
7
83
.409
200
7th
1912
24
33-12
303
1.39
240
3rd
26
4
67
.390
196
20th
1913
25
36-7
243
1.14
259
MVP/CY*
27
2
57
.368
190
14th
1914
26
28-18
225
1.72
164
-/CY*
28
3
99
.369
185
NA
1915
27
27-13
203
1.55
191
NA/CY*
29
5
68
.371
179
NA
1916
28
25-20
228
1.90
147
NA
30
6
102
.383
209
NA
1917
29
23-16
188
2.21
120
NA
31
3
64
.382
194
NA
1918
30
23-13
162
1.27
214
NA/CY*
32
1
70
.384
166
NA
1919
31
20-14
147
1.49
215
NA/CY*

6
101
.387
192
162 game average
22-12
185
1.59
183


1900s
Honus Wagner (RH) vs Christy Mathewson (RH)

1900-1916
Peak Years: 1903-1912
Wagner's 1900s OPS+: 175 (1st in MLB)
Mathewson's 1900s ERA+: 142 (1st in NL)
If Cobb and Johnson were the top hitter and pitcher of the dead-ball era, Wagner and Mathewson were each a close second (the four of them, plus Babe Ruth, were the five charter members of the Baseball Hall of Fame).  Mathewson was seven years younger than Wagner and by the start of 1903, Wagner had already won three straight hypothetical MVPs and established himself as the greatest baseball player ever, to that point.  After Mathewson's breakout '03 season, the stage was set for the first truly great batter-pitcher rivalry in baseball history.

All-Time Head-to-Head
PA AB H 2B 3B HR BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP
38
38
12
1
0
1
0
0
.316
.316
.421
.737
0
0
0
0
Play-by-play data is incomplete

Honus Wagner, PIT
Christy Mathewson, NYG
AGE HR RBI BA OPS+ MVP

AGE W-L SO ERA ERA+ MVP
29
5
101
.355
160
NA/MVP*
1903
22
30-13
267
2.26
149
NA/CY*
30
4
75
.349
188
NA
1904
23
33-12
212
2.03
133
NA
31
6
101
.363
175
NA
1905
24
31-9
206
1.28
230
NA/MVP*
32
2
71
.339
168
NA
1906
25
22-12
128
2.97
88
NA
33
6
82
.350
187
NA/MVP*
1907
26
24-12
178
2.00
123
NA/CY*
34
10
109
.354
205
NA
1908
27
37-11
259
1.43
168
NA/MVP*
35
5
100
.339
177
NA/MVP*
1909
28
25-6
149
1.14
222
NA/CY*
36
4
81
.320
133
NA
1910
29
27-9
184
1.89
157
NA/CY*
37
9
89
.334
156
3rd
1911
30
26-13
141
1.99
167
2nd/CY*
38
7
102
.324
144
2nd
1912
31
23-12
134
2.12
161
12th

7
105
.343
168
162 game average
24-10
157
1.90
151


1890s
Ed Delahanty (RH) vs Kid Nichols (RH)

1891-1901
Peak Years: 1892-1899
Delahanty's 1890s OPS+: 157 (1st in MLB)
Nichols' 1890s ERA+: 146 (1st in MLB)
Delahanty was the decade's premiere power hitter and Nichols was a more consistently dominant pitcher than his more famous peer, Cy Young.  Nichols had two superb seasons under his belt by the time their mutual peak years began, and Delahanty delivered two more extraordinary seasons after Nichols' decline.  Lasting eight years, this was the greatest rivalry of 19th Century baseball.

Ed Delahanty, PHI
Kid Nichols, BSN
AGE HR RBI BA OPS+
AGE W-L SO ERA ERA+
24
6
91
.306
157
1892
22
35-16
192
2.84
124
25
19
146
.368
164
1893
23
34-14
94
3.52
139
26
4
133
.404
159
1894
24
32-13
113
4.75
124
27
11
106
.404
187
1895
25
26-16
148
3.41
146
28
13
126
.397
190
1896
26
30-14
102
2.83
160
29
5
96
.377
161
1897
27
31-11
127
2.64
168
30
4
92
.334
156
1898
28
31-12
138
2.13
174
31
9
137
.410
189
1899
29
21-19
108
2.99
138

12
146
.375
171
162 avg

23-11
95
3.15
143

1876-1880s
Dan Brouthers (LH) vs John Clarkson (RH)

1884-1888, 1892-1894
Peak Years: 1885-1888
Brouthers' 1876-'80s OPS+: 183 (1st in MLB*)
* in 980 games instead of 1000
Clarkson's 1876-'80s ERA+: 141 (1st in MLB)

During the first years of the National League the game of baseball did not look much like it does today.  Some fundamental rules were different, seasons were short, and only a handful of pitchers started every game for their team.  In these years Brouthers became the first consistently great hitter, starting his run of dominance in 1881.  Clarkson's first full season was 1885 and he quickly became the league's top hurler.  Their rivalry ended prematurely when Brouthers joined Clarkson's Boston team in 1889 (Brouthers led the league in batting that year, while Clarkson led the league in just about everything) and then Brouthers jumped to rival professional leagues for two seasons.

Dan Brouthers, BUF/DTN
John Clarkson, CHC/BSN
AGE HR RBI BA OPS+
AGE W-L SO ERA ERA+
27
7
59
.359
203
1885
23
53-16
308
1.85
163
28
11
72
.370
208
1886
24
36-17
313
2.41
146
29
12
101
.338
169
1887
25
38-21
237
3.08
145
30
9
66
.307
174
1888
26
33-20
223
2.76
105

14
103
.342
187
162 avg

23-11
155
2.49
139



 


National Basketball Association
Basketball is great for rivalries because players match up against each other on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball.  And more than in baseball and football, the best players have a greater impact on their team's success.  First and foremost, when considering these match-ups it was important that rivals play the same position so that they actually guarded each other.  I then ranked players based both on statistics (conventional and advanced, primarily Win Shares) and award voting (MVP, All-NBA, and All-Defensive).  Players did not necessarily need to play in the same division, or even conference, but their prime years had to overlap significantly and more weight was given to rivalries that included playoff meetings and team rivalries.  All stats are taken from Basketball-Reference.com.  Note: I came up with Win Shares per 82 games as the decade leaderboard stat and players needed to play a minimum of 500 games in the decade to qualify.  Though I prefer the Box Plus/Minus and Real Plus-Minus as all-in-one stats, those stats do not go all the way back to the '40s and '50s so I'm using WS/82 for uniformity's sake.  The "AN/AD" abbreviations in the tables below stands for All-NBA and All-Defensive team selections.

2010s
Kevin Durant (SF) vs LeBron James (SF)

2008-Present
Peak Years: 2010-Present
Durant's 2010s WS/82: 16.4 (2nd in NBA/2nd at SF)
James' 2010s WS/82: 17.6 (1st in NBA/1st at SF)
Durant vs James is the best rivalry in the NBA in a generation.  James has been the undisputed best player in basketball for several seasons, but Durant, who is four years younger, has been steadily improving and is the best scorer since Michael Jordan.  They have finished 1-2 in MVP voting in four of the past five seasons.  The rivalry could approach all-time great status with a few more playoff meetings, either in the Finals or by one of them changing teams into the same conference.

All-Time Head-to-Head

W MP FG FG% 3P 3P% FT FT% REB AST STL BLK TO PF PTS
Durant
3
40.2
10.1-20.9
.486
1.9-4.6
.415
7.2-8.5
.849
6.6
3.6
1.4
0.8
3.7
2.5
29.4
James
11
38.1
10.8-20.4
.528
1.9-5.1
.366
5.9-7.6
.774
6.4
6.5
2.2
1.0
3.2
1.6
29.3
2010-Present Peak Years
Durant
3
41.7
10.5-21.6
.486
2.3-5.3
.434
8.4-9.8
.857
7.5
3.8
1.8
0.8
4.1
2.7
31.7
James
7
40.0
11.1-20.7
.536
2.2-5.7
.386
6.5-8.5
.765
6.8
7.3
2.4
0.8
3.6
1.8
30.9
2012 NBA Finals (Heat 4-1, James MVP)
Durant
1
42.6
11.4-20.8
.548
2.6-6.6
.394
5.2-6.2
.839
6.0
2.2
1.4
1.0
3.8
4.0
30.6
James
4
44.0
10.2-21.6
.472
0.6-3.2
.188
7.6-9.2
.826
10.2
7.4
1.6
0.4
3.8
2.0
28.6

Kevin Durant, OKC
LeBron James, CLE/MIA
AGE PPG RPG APG WS AN/AD MVP

AGE PPG RPG APG WS AN/AD MVP
21
30.1
7.6
2.8
16.1
1 / -
2nd
2010
25
29.7
7.3
8.6
18.5
1 / 1
MVP
22
27.7
6.8
2.7
12.0
1 / -
5th
2011
26
26.7
7.5
7.0
15.6
1 / 1
3rd
23
28.0
8.0
3.5
12.2
1 / -
2nd
2012
27
27.1
7.9
6.2
14.5
1 / 1
MVP
24
28.1
7.9
4.6
18.9
1 / -
2nd
2013
28
26.8
8.0
7.3
19.3
1 / 1
MVP
25
32.0
7.4
5.5
19.2
1 / -
MVP
2014
29
27.1
6.9
6.3
15.9
1 / 2
2nd
26
25.4
6.6
4.1
4.8
- / -
27 gm
2015
30
25.3
6.0
7.4
10.4
1 / -
3rd

29.0
7.5
3.9
16.4

Average
27.2
7.3
7.2
17.6



2000s
Tim Duncan (PF) vs Kevin Garnett (PF)

1998-Present
Peak Years: 1999-2008
Duncan's 2000s WS/82: 13.9 (3rd in NBA/3rd at PF)
Garnett's 2000s WS/82: 14.1 (2nd in NBA/2nd at PF)
Three of the best players in the decade were power forwards: Duncan, Garnett, and Dirk Nowitzki.  Nowitzki's rivalry with Duncan was not chosen here because his peak came slightly later than the dual peaks of Duncan and Garnett, plus these two were phenomenal defenders, making for more compelling play on both sides of the court.  Though these selections are based more on the numbers, the real life dislike between Duncan and Garnett is also worth noting.

All-Time Head-to-Head

W MP FG FG% 3P 3P% FT FT% REB AST STL BLK TO PF PTS
Duncan
26
37.3
7.6-16.5
.461
0.0-0.1
.000
4.2-6.7
.627
12.1
3.2
0.5
1.8
2.6
2.2
19.4
Garnett
17
37.3
8.0-17.7
.453
0.2-0.4
.389
3.6-4.6
.779
10.6
4.1
1.4
1.9
2.8
3.2
19.9
1999-2008 Peak Years
Duncan
17
39.0
8.0-17.9
.448
0.0-0.1
.000
4.5-7.3
.616
11.8
3.6
0.6
2.1
2.4
2.4
20.6
Garnett
13
39.5
8.4-18.7
.450
0.2-0.6
.352
4.3-5.5
.783
12.1
4.8
1.2
2.3
3.6
3.4
21.3
1999 First Round (Spurs 3-1), 2001 First Round (Spurs 3-1)
Duncan
6
40.5
7.9-17.0
.463
0.0-0.1
.000
4.9-7.0
.696
11.9
3.4
0.9
2.5
2.3
2.8
20.6
Garnett
2
41.9
7.8-17.1
.453
0.0-0.6
.000
5.9-7.4
.797
12.0
4.0
1.4
1.8
2.4
2.9
21.4

Tim Duncan, SAS

Kevin Garnett, MIN/BOS
AGE PPG RPG APG WS AN/AD MVP

AGE PPG RPG APG WS AN/AD MVP
22
21.7
11.4
2.4
8.7
1 / 1
3rd
1999
22
20.8
10.4
4.3
5.4
3 / -
10th
23
23.2
12.4
3.2
13.0
1 / 1
5th
2000
23
22.9
11.8
5.0
11.6
1 / 1
2nd
24
22.2
12.2
3.0
13.2
1 / 1
2nd
2001
24
22.0
11.4
5.0
11.8
2 / 1
5th
25
25.5
12.7
3.7
17.8
1 / 1
MVP
2002
25
21.2
12.1
5.2
12.8
2 / 1
12th
26
23.3
12.9
3.9
16.5
1 / 1
MVP
2003
26
23.0
13.4
6.0
15.6
1 / 1
2nd
27
22.3
12.4
3.1
13.1
1 / 2
2nd
2004
27
24.2
13.9
5.0
18.3
1 / 1
MVP
28
20.3
11.1
2.7
11.2
1 / 1
4th
2005
28
22.2
13.5
5.7
16.1
2 / 1
11th
29
18.6
11.0
3.2
10.8
2 / 2
8th
2006
29
21.8
12.7
4.1
14.9
- / 2
-
30
20.0
10.6
3.4
13.0
1 / 1
4th
2007
30
22.4
12.8
4.1
10.7
3 / 2
9th
31
19.3
11.3
2.8
11.1
2 / 1
7th
2008
31
18.8
9.2
3.4
12.9
1 / 1
3rd/DY

21.7
11.8
3.2
14.2

Average
22.0
12.2
4.8
14.0



1990s
Hakeem Olajuwon (C) vs David Robinson (C)

1990-2002
Peak Years: 1990-1996
Olajuwon's 1990s WS/82: 11.9 (6th in NBA/2nd at C)
Robinson's 1990s WS/82: 16.5 (2nd in NBA/1st at C)
These two centers were the top two non-Michael Jordan players of the '90s, and they each won an MVP in the two seasons Jordan was away.  They were not only prolific scorers, but intimidating defenders that combined for three Defensive Player of the Year awards.  It's worth noting that the Charles Barkley vs Karl Malone rivalry was also great, but neither impacted the defensive side of the court anywhere close to Olajuwon and Robinson.

All-Time Head-to-Head

W MP FG FG% 3P 3P% FT FT% REB AST STL BLK TO PF PTS
Olajuwon
12
37.7
8.8-20.0
.441
0.0-0.1
.167
4.2-5.4
.768
11.2
2.8
1.9
3.4
2.9
4.0
21.9
Robinson
30
37.7
7.0-14.3
.488
0.1-0.1
.600
5.5-7.7
.717
11.2
2.9
2.2
3.3
3.0
3.4
19.6
1990-1996 Peak Years
Olajuwon
12
39.9
10.0-22.1
.451
0.0-0.2
.200
4.9-6.2
.796
12.2
3.2
2.0
3.6
3.1
4.4
24.9
Robinson
19
40.2
7.7-16.2
.475
0.1-0.2
.600
6.3-8.6
.734
11.9
3.2
2.2
3.7
3.5
3.5
21.8
1995 West Finals (Rockets 4-2)
Olajuwon
4
43.5
15.5-27.7
.560
0.2-0.3
.500
4.2-5.2
.806
12.5
5.0
1.3
4.2
4.2
4.8
35.3
Robinson
2
41.7
7.3-16.3
.449
0.0-0.3
.000
9.2-11.8
.775
11.3
2.7
1.5
2.2
4.5
4.2
23.8

Hakeem Olajuwon, HOU
David Robinson, SAS
AGE PPG RPG BPG WS AN/AD MVP

AGE PPG RPG BPG WS AN/AD MVP
27
24.3
14.0
4.6
11.2
2 / 1
7th
1990
24
24.3
12.0
3.9
15.1
3 / 2
6th/RY
28
21.2
13.8
3.9
8.6
3 / 2
18th
1991
25
25.6
13.0
3.9
17.0
1 / 1
3rd
29
21.6
12.1
4.3
9.8
-
-
1992
26
23.2
12.2
4.5
13.9
1 / 1
3rd/DY
30
26.1
13.0
4.2
15.8
1 / 1
2nd/DY
1993
27
23.4
11.7
3.2
13.2
3 / 2
6th
31
27.3
11.9
3.7
14.3
1 / 1
MVP/DY
1994
28
29.8
10.7
3.3
20.0
2 / 2
2nd
32
27.8
10.8
3.4
10.7
3 / -
5th
1995
29
27.6
10.8
3.2
17.5
1 / 1
MVP
33
26.9
10.9
2.9
9.7
2 / 2
4th
1996
30
25.0
12.2
3.3
18.3
1 / 1
2nd

25.2
12.3
3.9
12.8

Average
25.6
11.8
3.6
16.9



1980s
Larry Bird (SF) vs Julius Erving (SF)

1980-1987
Peak Years: 1980-1984
Bird's 1980s WS/82: 14.2 (1st in NBA/1st at SF)
Erving's 1980s WS/82: 10.6 (5th in NBA/3rd at SF)
The 1980s were dominated by Bird vs Magic, and rightfully so.  However, they played different positions and seldom guarded each other, so for the purposes of this list, they do not qualify.  Erving was a closer rival to Bird at the SF position than any PG was to Magic.  Due to a six year age difference, their peaks only overlapped briefly, but that five year peak saw the two players battle for Eastern Conference supremacy.  Erving had already established himself as an all-time great and had revolutionized much of how the game was played with his athleticism and grace.  Then along came Bird, only to revolutionize the game again with his grit and unselfishness.

All-Time Head-to-Head

W MP FG FG% 3P 3P% FT FT% REB AST STL BLK TO PF PTS
Bird
23
40.5
9.8-20.9
.464
0.5-1.3
.405
3.7-4.4
.845
10.7
6.8
1.6
0.8
3.0
2.9
23.8
Erving
21
34.7
9.1-16.7
.472
0.2-0.5
.467
4.5-5.9
.755
5.8
3.6
1.3
1.3
1.9
3.2
22.8
1980-1984 Peak Years
Bird
15
41.4
9.4-20.7
.429
0.2-0.7
.167
4.1-4.9
.833
12.4
6.3
--
0.9
--
3.5
23.0
Erving
13
37.5
10.6-18.6
.498
0.1-0.1
1.000
5.3-7.1
.740
6.9
3.6
--
1.8
--
3.3
26.6
1980 East Finals (76ers 4-1), 1981 East Finals (Celtics 4-3), 1982 East Finals (76ers 4-3), 1985 East Finals (Celtics 4-1)
Bird
12
41.5
8.9-18.7
.415
0.3-0.9
.272
4.0-4.8
.851
11.3
6.8
2.6
1.3
3.8
3.4
22.1
Erving
12
34.5
7.3-15.0
.400
0.1-0.3
.333
4.9-6.1
.796
6.1
4.0
2.0
2.2
2.6
3.3
19.5
Before the 1981-82 season only FGM, 3PM, FTM, FTA, and PTS are currently available

Larry Bird, BOS
Julius Erving, PHI
AGE PPG RPG APG WS AN/AD MVP

AGE PPG RPG APG WS AN/AD MVP
23
21.3
10.4
4.5
11.2
1 / -
4th
1980
29
26.9
7.4
4.6
12.5
1 / -
2nd
24
21.2
10.9
5.5
10.8
1 / -
2nd
1981
30
24.6
8.0
4.4
13.8
1 / -
MVP
25
22.9
10.9
5.8
12.5
1 / 2
2nd
1982
31
24.4
6.9
3.9
13.3
1 / -
3rd
26
23.6
11.0
5.8
14.0
1 / 2
2nd
1983
32
21.4
6.8
3.7
10.9
1 / -
5th
27
24.2
10.1
6.6
13.6
1 / 2
MVP
1984
33
22.4
6.9
4.0
10.1
2 / -
6th

22.6
10.7
5.6
12.7

Average
24.0
7.2
4.1
12.7



1970s
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (C) vs Bob McAdoo (C)

1973-1986
Peak Years: 1974-1978
Abdul-Jabbar's 1970s WS/82: 18.7 (1st in NBA/1st at C)
McAdoo's 1970s WS/82: 11.8 (3rd in NBA/2nd at C)
The 1970s were a tough decade for individual rivalries because Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was so much more dominant than every other player, and the other greats of the era had few rivals whose peak significantly overlapped with theirs.  That said, Bob McAdoo had a three year stretch from 1974-76 where he legitimately pushed Abdul-Jabbar for 'best player' status.  Both would have Hall of Fame careers, though McAdoo would never again reach the heights he did in the mid-70s, and he even spent four seasons in the 1980s as Abdul-Jabbar's back-up on the Los Angeles Lakers.


All-Time Head-to-Head Peak Years Playoffs

W FG FT FT% PTS
W FG FT FT% PTS
W FG FT FT% PTS
Abdul-Jabbar
21
11.3
4.0-5.4
.748
26.7

11
12.4
4.5-6.1
.748
29.4

No Meetings
McAdoo
7
10.3
4.6-6.3
.739
25.1

6
12.8
5.9-7.9
.748
31.6


Before the 1981-82 season only FGM, 3PM, FTM, FTA, and PTS are currently available

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, MIL/LAL
Bob McAdoo, BUF/NYK
AGE PPG RPG BPG WS AN/AD MVP

AGE PPG RPG BPG WS AN/AD MVP
26
27.0
14.5
3.5
18.4
1 / 1
MVP
1974
22
30.6
15.1
3.3
15.3
2 / -
2nd
27
30.0
14.0
3.3
12.9
- / 1
5th
1975
23
34.5
14.1
2.1
17.8
1 / -
MVP
28
27.7
16.9
4.1
17.0
1 / 2
MVP
1976
24
31.1
12.4
2.1
12.3
- / -
2nd
29
26.2
13.3
3.2
17.8
1 / 2
MVP
1977
25
25.8
12.9
1.4
9.6
- / -
-
30
25.8
12.9
3.0
12.1
2 / 2
4th
1978
26
26.5
12.8
1.6
10.9
- / -
10th

27.3
14.4
3.4
17.3

Average
29.8
13.4
2.1
14.0



1960s
Wilt Chamberlain (C) vs Bill Russell (C)

1960-1969
Peak Years: 1960-1969
Chamberlain's 1960s WS/82: 20.7 (1st in NBA/1st at C)
Russell's 1960s WS/82: 14.1 (4th in NBA/2nd at C)
The Chamberlain-Russell rivalry is covered slightly more comprehensively elsewhere on this site, but it was so good that it deserves double coverage.  Not only did they reinvent the way basketball was played, their dichotomy made their rivalry so transcendent.  The stat-stuffing playboy who rewrote the record books versus the defensive-minded captain who won virtually all the rings.  And not only did they play each other a lot, they played for high stakes.  Four times they battled for the Eastern Conference Championship and twice they played for the NBA Championship.  It's worth noting that for most of their rivalry there were less than ten teams in the league, so though that doesn't make the stakes any less dramatic, it helps to explain the frequency with which the two competed for titles.


All-Time Head-to-Head Peak Years Playoffs

W FG FT FT% PTS
W FG FT FT% PTS
W FG FT FT% PTS
Chamberlain
37
12.0
5.9-11.9
.467
29.9

37
12.0
5.9-11.9
.467
29.9

20
10.0
5.9-11.8
.481
25.7
Russell
57
5.9
2.7-4.5
.545
14.2

57
5.9
2.7-4.5
.545
14.2

29
5.9
3.2-5.2
.594
14.9
1960 East Finals (Celtics 4-2), 1962 East Finals (Celtics 4-3), 1964 NBA Finals (Celtics 4-1), 1965 East Finals (Celtics 4-3),
1966 East Finals (Celtics 4-1), 1967 East Finals (76ers 4-1), 1968 East Finals (Celtics 4-3), 1969 NBA Finals (Celtics 4-3)
Only FGM, FTM, and PTS are currently available for all games, FTA available for some

Wilt Chamberlain, PHW/SFW/PHI/LAL
Bill Russell, BOS
AGE PPG RPG APG WS NBA MVP

AGE PPG RPG APG WS NBA MVP
23
37.6
27.0
2.3
17.0
1st
MVP
1960
25
18.2
24.0
3.7
13.8
2nd
2nd
24
38.4
27.2
1.9
18.8
1st
4th
1961
26
16.9
23.9
3.4
13.0
2nd
MVP
25
50.4
25.7
2.4
23.1
1st
2nd
1962
27
18.9
23.6
4.5
15.5
2nd
MVP
26
44.8
24.3
3.4
20.9
2nd
7th
1963
28
16.8
23.6
4.5
13.5
1st
MVP
27
36.9
22.3
5.0
25.0
1st
2nd
1964
29
15.0
24.7
4.7
17.3
2nd
3rd
28
34.7
22.9
3.4
15.1
2nd
5th
1965
30
14.1
24.1
5.3
16.9
1st
MVP
29
33.5
24.6
5.2
21.4
1st
MVP
1966
31
12.9
22.8
4.8
11.7
2nd
4th
30
24.1
24.2
7.8
21.9
1st
MVP
1967
32
13.3
21.0
5.8
12.2
2nd
3rd
31
24.3
23.8
8.6
20.4
1st
MVP
1968
33
12.5
18.6
4.6
8.2
2nd
-
32
20.5
21.1
4.5
14.7
-
-
1969
34
9.9
19.3
4.9
10.9
-
4th

34.4
24.3
4.5
20.7

Average
14.8
22.6
4.6
14.1



1960s
Oscar Robertson (PG) vs Jerry West (PG)

1961-1974
Peak Years: 1962-1971
Robertson's 1960s WS/82: 17.1 (2nd in NBA/1st at PG)
West's 1960s WS/82: 14.4 (3rd in NBA/2nd at PG)
In breaking with the 'rule' of only listing one rivalry per decade, the Robertson-West rivalry is included here because it is the greatest rivalry between guards in NBA history.  This whole list is dominated by centers and forwards so it seems right to put at least one rivalry between guards on the list.  They were the All-NBA starting back-court for seven straight seasons and they ushered in a new era where the 'little guys' could dominate the game by shooting the basketball.  While Robertson-West was the greatest rivalry between PGs, the best rivalry between shooting guards is probably Kobe Bryant vs Dwyane Wade.


All-Time Head-to-Head Peak Years Playoffs

W FG FT FT% PTS
W FG FT FT% PTS
W FG FT FT% PTS
Robertson
37
9.9
8.8-10.3
.839
28.5

25
10.3
9.4-11.4
.830
30.0

2
3.9
1.9-2.6
.722
9.6
West
50
10.2
7.4-9.0
.814
27.7

39
11.1
8.2-10.0
.823
30.5

5
7.0
5.3-6.7
.787
19.3
1972 West Finals (Lakers 4-2), 1974 First Round (Bucks 4-1)
Only FGM, FTM, and PTS are currently available for all games, FTA available for some

Oscar Robertson, CIN/MIL
Jerry West, LAL
AGE PPG RPG APG WS AN/AD MVP

AGE PPG RPG APG WS AN/AD MVP
23
30.8
12.5
11.4
15.6
1st
3rd
1962
23
30.8
7.9
5.4
12.9
1st
5th
24
28.3
10.4
9.5
16.8
1st
3rd
1963
24
27.1
7.0
5.6
8.1
1st
5th
25
31.4
9.9
11.0
20.6
1st
MVP
1964
25
28.7
6.0
5.6
14.0
1st
5th
26
30.4
9.0
11.5
17.0
1st
2nd
1965
26
31.0
6.0
4.9
16.7
1st
3rd
27
31.3
7.7
11.1
16.9
1st
3rd
1966
27
31.3
7.1
6.1
17.1
1st
2nd
28
30.5
6.2
10.7
17.4
1st
4th
1967
28
28.7
5.9
6.8
11.7
1st
-
29
29.2
6.0
9.7
12.3
1st
5th
1968
29
26.3
5.8
6.1
9.6
2nd
-
30
24.7
6.4
9.8
12.9
1 / -
-
1969
30
25.9
4.3
6.9
10.8
2 / 2
-
31
25.3
6.1
8.1
11.4
2 / -
-
1970
31
31.2
4.6
7.5
15.2
1 / 1
2nd
32
19.4
5.7
8.2
12.4
2 / -
5th
1971
32
26.9
4.6
9.5
12.8
1 / 1
2nd

28.1
8.0
10.1
16.5

Average
29.0
6.0
6.4
15.6



1947-1950s
 Neil Johnston (C) vs Dolph Schayes (PF/C)

1952-1959
Peak Years: 1953-1958
Johnston's 1950s WS/82: 14.6 (2nd in NBA/2nd at C)
Schayes' 1950s WS/82: 14.0 (4th in NBA/3rd at C)
After George Mikan dominated the first few years of the newly formed NBA, it was Johnston and Schayes who carried the torch as league's best big men (along with Bob Pettit, though his peak started a little later).  Johnston's dominance has been somewhat lost to history.  He certainly would have won at least one MVP had the award existed before 1956.  Schayes' best was never as dominant as Johnston's, but his career was much longer and more consistent.  And though Schayes spent a lot of time at the power forward position, he still battled with centers in the post enough to qualify for this spot.

Individual box scores are unavailable from this time so we don't have head-to-head data. We do know that Johnston's Philadelphia Warriors met Schayes' Syracuse Nationals in the playoffs four times: 1952 First Round (Nationals won 2-1), 1956 East Finals (Warriors 3-2), 1957 First Round (Nationals 2-0), and 1958 First Round (Warriors 2-1).

Neil Johnston, PHW
Dolph Schayes, SYR
AGE PPG RPG APG WS NBA MVP

AGE PPG RPG APG WS NBA MVP
23
22.3
13.9
2.8
15.3
1st
NA
1953
24
17.8
13.0
3.2
13.1
1st
NA
24
24.4
11.1
2.8
18.3
1st
NA
1954
25
17.1
12.1
3.0
14.8
1st
NA
25
22.7
15.1
3.0
15.4
1st
NA
1955
26
18.5
12.3
3.0
12.0
1st
NA
26
22.1
12.5
3.2
13.9
1st
-
1956
27
20.4
12.4
2.8
11.8
2nd
5th
27
22.8
12.4
2.9
13.7
2nd
-
1957
28
22.5
14.0
3.2
12.5
1st
5th
28
19.5
11.1
2.3
11.3
-
12th
1958
29
24.9
14.2
3.1
13.7
1st
2nd

22.3
12.7
2.9
17.0

Average
20.2
13.0
3.0
14.8



National Football League
Football's individual rivalries are a little harder to quantify than baseball and basketball.  This is due in part to the dearth of defensive statistics.  That said, each play in football is rich with one-on-one match-ups along the line and at the skill positions.  For this section I started by looking at the following position battles: wide receivers vs corner backs, running backs/tight ends vs linebackers, offensive tackles vs defensive ends, and centers/offensive guards vs defensive tackles.  Quarterback is the most important position in the game, but there isn't really an opposite position on the defensive side of the ball.  I only selected pairings from within the same division to guarantee that the players met each season, and then I looked at players who made it to the Hall of Fame and/or made the HOF's All-Decade Teams.  Since football players have shorter careers and the nature of some of the positional battles are so different, I included two rivalries per decade.  Note: I was more reliant on award voting than stats here, but Approximate Value (calculated since 1960) is the closest thing we currently have to an all-in-one stat for football.  I use Approximate Value per 16 Games (AV/16), with a minimum of 100 games played, and excluding active players as of the 2015 season.

2010s
The top rivalries for this decade are still TBD. There needs to be a few more years of Pro Bowl and All-Pro voting, plus short peaks and player movement out of divisions makes it hard to narrow in on rivalry with lasting power. We shall see.

2000s
Tony Gonzalez (TE) vs Junior Seau (LB)
1997-2002
Peak Years: 1999-2002
Gonzalez's AV/16: 8.8
(6th all-time at TE)
Seau's AV/16: 11.4
(21st all-time at LB)
Tony Gonzalez is probably the greatest tight end of all-time, and the first few years of his career overlapped with the later years of Junior Seau's storied run.  This is one of several rivalries where the player peaks didn't overlap for long, but they overlapped enough.


Tony Gonzalez, KAN
Junior Seau, SDG
AGE PB AP1 AV
AGE PB AP1 AV
23
PB
AP1
8
1999
30
PB

16
24
PB
AP1
11
2000
31
PB
AP1
12
25
PB
AP1
9
2001
32
PB

10
26
PB

10
2002
33
PB

8

14
6
149
Totals

12
6
191
Kevin Mawae (C) vs Richard Seymour (DT)
2001-2005
Peak Years: 2002-2004
Mawae's AV/16: 10.2
(12th all-time at C)
Seymour's AV/16: 11.0
(16th all-time at DT)
Richard Seymour played all over the defensive line, racking up more snaps at defensive end than at tackle, but he was voted to the HOF's All-Decade team at DT and had many great battles with the older Kevin Mawae, who was still a Pro Bowler even though is All-Pro days were behind him.

Kevin Mawae, NYJ
Richard Seymour, NWE
AGE PB AP1 AV
AGE PB AP1 AV
31
PB

14
2002
23
PB

10
32
PB

11
2003
24
PB
AP1
16
33
PB

12
2004
25
PB
AP1
14

8
3
154
Totals

7
3
113


1990s
Jerry Rice (WR) vs Deion Sanders (CB)
1989-1993
Peak Years: 1991-1993
Rice's AV/16: 13.2
(5th all-time at WR)
Sanders' AV/16: 12.9
(6th all-time at CB)
This might be the glamour match-up on this list.  Jerry Rice and Deion Sanders were both near the top of their respective positions.  The rivalry had a couple different incarnations when they played on the same 49ers team for one year, and then Sanders joined the conference (but not divisional) rival Cowboys.

Jerry Rice, SFO
Deion Sanders, ATL
AGE PB AP1 AV
AGE PB AP1 AV
29
PB

13
1991
24
PB

13
30
PB
AP1
17
1992
25
PB
AP1
11
31
PB
AP1
20
1993
26
PB
AP1
12

13
10
250
Totals

8
6
151
Randall McDaniel (G) vs Warren Sapp (DT)
1995-1999
Peak Years: 1997-1999
McDaniel's AV/16: 11.9
(3rd all-time at C/G)
Sapp's AV/16: 12.3
(6th all-time at DT)
Yet another elder-vs-younger match-up.  Randall McDaniel and Warren Sapp dominated their respective positions in the late-'90s.  The rivalry ended in 2000 when McDaniel joined Sapp's Buccaneers.



Randall McDaniel, MIN
Warren Sapp, TAM
AGE PB AP1 AV
AGE PB AP1 AV
33
PB

12
1997
25
PB

15
34
PB
AP1
18
1998
26
PB

13
35
PB

12
1999
27
PB
AP1
21

12
7
165
Totals

7
4
152


1980s
Earl Campbell (RB) vs Jack Lambert (LB)
1978-1984
Peak Years: 1978-1983
Campbell's AV/16: 10.9
(34th all-time at RB)
Lambert's AV/16: 14.9
(3rd all-time at LB)
These two are often just as associated with the '70s as they are the '80s, yet their peaks spent more time in the 1980s so here they are.  Earl Campbell is one of the poster children for a career cut short, but he still had several great battles with Jack Lambert and the Steeler linebacker core.

Earl Campbell, HOU
Jack Lambert, PIT
AGE PB AP1 AV
AGE PB AP1 AV
23
PB
AP1
13
1978
26
PB

12
24
PB
AP1
15
1979
27
PB
AP1
13
25
PB
AP1
14
1980
28
PB
AP1
12
26
PB

10
1981
29
PB
AP1
15
27


8
1982
30
PB
AP1
17
28
PB

10
1983
31
PB
AP1
17

5
3
78
Totals

9
6
136
Russ Grimm (G) vs Randy White (DT)
1981-1988
Peak Years: 1983-1985
Grimm's AV/16: 10.3
(21st all-time at G)
White's AV/16: 11.4
(14th all-time at DT)
Russ Grimm and Randy White only had a three year peak, but they still had eight total seasons.  And during their three year peak, there might not have been a better battle in all of football while the Cowboys and Redskins were consistently vying for the division championship.

Russ Grimm, WAS
Randy White, DAL
AGE PB AP1 AV
AGE PB AP1 AV
24
PB
AP1
17
1983
30
PB
AP1
15
25
PB
AP1
15
1984
31
PB
AP1
19
26
PB
AP1
13
1985
32
PB
AP1
16

4
3
90
Totals

9
7
149


1970s
Charley Taylor (WR) vs Mel Renfro (CB)
1964-1977
Peak Years: 1966-1973
Taylor's AV/16: 12.1
(10th all-time at WR)
Renfro's AV/16: 12.0
(8th all-time at CB)
Charley Taylor and Mel Renfro each only made the All-Pro first team once, but their 14 year rivalry and eight year peak is certainly noteworthy.  Both were Pro Bowlers in 1964 and '65, but Taylor was mostly playing at halfback so that does not count toward their peak.

Charley Taylor, WAS
Mel Renfro, DAL
AGE PB AP1 AV
AGE PB AP1 AV
25
PB

16
1966
25
PB

8
26
PB
AP1
11
1967
26
PB

7
27


7
1968
27
PB

7
28


11
1969
28
PB
AP1
12
29


10
1970
29
PB

11
30


5
1971
30
PB

10
31
PB

11
1972
31
PB

12
32
PB

10
1973
32
PB

15

8
1
125
Totals

10
1
130
Floyd Little (RB) vs Willie Lanier (LB)
1967-1975
Peak Years: 1968-1973
Little's AV/16: 11.4
(31st all-time at RB)
Lanier's AV/16: 11.6
(17th all-time at LB)
Like Taylor-Renfro, these two were only the very top of the league at their position a few times, but they were among the best for an extended period.  Floyd Little led the league in rushing in 1971, and probably would have in '69 had he not been injured.

Floyd Little, DEN
Willie Lanier, KAN
AGE PB AP1 AV
AGE PB AP1 AV
26
PB

8
1968
23
PB
AP1
15
27
PB
AP1
9
1969
24
PB

13
28
PB

10
1970
25
PB

9
29
PB

10
1971
26
PB
AP1
14
30


12
1972
27
PB

10
31
PB

16
1973
28
PB
AP1
17

5
1
83
Totals

8
3
108


1960s
Forrest Gregg (T) vs Gino Marchetti (DE)
1956-1966
Peak Years: 1959-1964
Gregg's AV/16: 11.4
(7th all-time at T)
Marchetti's AV/16: 13.8*
(3rd all-time at DE)
Both guys' AV numbers are incomplete since the stat only goes back to 1960, and Marchetti's AV/16 is through 72 games instead of the minimum of 100.  Not only were these two the most dominant at their positions, their teams constantly battled for the division title, combining for 9 division titles and 7 league championships in a span of 10 years from 1958-67.

Forrest Gregg, GNB
Gino Marchetti, BAL
AGE PB AP1 AV
AGE PB AP1 AV
26
PB


1959
32
PB
AP1

27
PB
AP1
12
1960
33
PB
AP1
12
28
PB

11
1961
34
PB
AP1
10
29
PB
AP1
13
1962
35
PB
AP1
12
30
PB
AP1
12
1963
36
PB

11
31
PB
AP1
12
1964
37
PB
AP1
14

9
7
113
Totals

11
7
62
Lance Alworth (WR) vs Willie Brown (CB)
1963-1970
Peak Years: 1964-1969
Alworth's AV/16: 14.0
(1st all-time at WR)
Brown's AV/16: 11.3
(10th all-time at CB)
Lance Alworth and Willie Brown dominated the pass-happy upstart AFL throughout the '60s.  Their peak lasted from 1964-69, plus Alworth led the league in AV in 1963 and Brown led in '73.




Lance Alworth, SDG
Willie Brown, DEN/OAK
AGE PB AP1 AV
AGE PB AP1 AV
24
PB
AP1
15
1964
24
PB
AP1
9
25
PB
AP1
15
1965
25
PB

6
26
PB
AP1
17
1966
26


5
27
PB
AP1
11
1967
27
PB

14
28
PB
AP1
15
1968
28
PB
AP1
14
29
PB

11
1969
29
PB
AP1
14

7
6
120
Totals

9
5
144


1950s
Jim Ringo (C) vs Leo Nomellini (DT)
1953-1963
Peak Years: 1957-1961
If only Jim Ringo and Leo Nomellini were the same age.  Nomellini made the all-'50s team and Ringo made the all-'60s team, yet they still battled each other for seven years this decade



.

Jim Ringo, GNB
Leo Nomellini, SFO
AGE PB AP1 AV
AGE PB AP1 AV
26
PB
AP1

1957
33
PB
AP1

27
PB


1958
34
PB


28
PB
AP1

1959
35
PB
AP1

29
PB
AP1
12
1960
36
PB

11
30
PB
AP1
16
1961
37
PB

9

10
6
91
Totals

10
6
30
Lenny Moore (HB) vs Joe Schmidt (LB)
1956-1965
Peak Years: 1956-1963
Lenny Moore was one of the greatest athletes of the decade and excelled as both a runner and receiver.  He made opposing linebackers really work to chase him all over the field.  Joe Schmidt beats out Bill George here as they were the top two LBs of this era and were so similar to each other.  Both Moore and Schmidt excelled well into the '60s, but both were listed on the 1950s all decade team so that is where they are slotted.

Lenny Moore, BAL
Joe Schmidt, DET
AGE PB AP1 AV
AGE PB AP1 AV
23
PB


1956
24
PB
AP1

24



1957
25
PB
AP1

25
PB
AP1

1958
26
PB
AP1

26
PB
AP1

1959
27
PB
AP1

27
PB
AP1
16
1960
28
PB

12
28
PB
AP1
14
1961
29
PB
AP1
14
29
PB

5
1962
30
PB
AP1
15
30


4
1963
31
PB

5

7
5
71
Totals

10
8
58
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