Kawhi Leonard’s masterful team building has put the Clippers in the driver’s seat for the NBA title next season, which is great for the red and blue portion of Los Angeles and anyone wanting a wide open championship race. More importantly for our purposes, it creates an incredible mid-major duo with Leonard (San Diego State, but you knew that) teaming up with fellow Mountain West alum Paul George (Fresno State, but you also knew that).
The pair have impressive credentials with nine all-star appearances and three all-NBA first team selections between them. That would seem to put them pretty high on the all-time mid-major duo list, but here’s the competition:
Ron Harper (Miami Ohio) and Scottie Pippen (Central Arkansas)
Maybe put an asterisk next to this one since Pippen did attend UCA when it was an NAIA school and, of course, this isn’t the duo that ruled the 90s. Nonetheless, Pippen’s greatness makes this easy to squeeze in, and Harper was no slouch as a big-bodied, high level wing defender that made life easier for Michael Jordan. The Bulls, especially in the second three-peat, had plenty of mid-major flavor in addition to these two, including the man, in the middle, from New Mexico, Luc Longley.
That sadly doesn’t include Dennis Rodman, who went to Division II Southeastern Oklahoma State — but if we were to bend the rigid rules of this exercise and consider him a mid-major alum he’d be all over this list. The rebounding maestro played with a trio of Hall of Famers in Joe Dumars (McNeese State), David Robinson (Navy) and Pippen across his many NBA stops.
Damian Lillard (Weber State) and CJ McCollum (Lehigh)
Recency bias may be at play here, but until the Clippers pairing this was the preeminent mid-major duo currently running it out. The pair led Portland to the 2019 Western Conference Finals, with Lillard landing on the All-NBA second team. If McCollum played in the East he’d almost certainly have a couple of All Star games to his name already.
5. Steve Nash (Santa Clara) and Shawn Marion (UNLV)
The two only played together for three full seasons in Phoenix, but what it was quite the run. Marion was a one-time All Star when Nash and Mike D’Antoni showed up in 2004-05 and from there the seven seconds or less legend was born. Over the next three seasons Nash won two MVPs, Marion went to three All Star games, the Suns won 60 or more games twice and made two Western Conference Finals.
4. Julius Erving (UMass) and Andrew Toney (Louisiana)
Dr. J’s more famous running partner in Philadelphia was Moses Malone, who famously went straight from high school to the ABA. But Toney was a big part of the Sixers’ 1982-83 championship season, and was remembered by Charles Barkley as the best player he’s ever played with. In total, Toney was a two-time All Star guard that played seven seasons alongside the future Hall of Famer in Philadelphia.
3. John Stockton (Gonzaga) and Karl Malone (Louisiana Tech)
Arguably the second most iconic duo of the NBA’s 90s heyday — depending on where you rank Shaq and Penny — Stockton and Malone played together for 18 seasons in Utah. They went to 24 All Star games between them, and the Jazz won 53 games or more 10 times over that stretch. They never could get over the hump in two cracks at the Bulls in the Finals, but no two Hall of Famers may be more synonymous with one another.
2. Larry Bird (Indiana State) and Dennis Johnson (Pepperdine)
Johnson may not have been at his height when he joined Bird in Boston in 1983, but the five-time All Star and future Hall of Famer was a big part of two Celtics championships in the 80s. Bird’s professional credentials are one thing — Hall of Fame, 12-time All Star, three-time MVP, Dream Teamer — but, in his Sycamore blue, may be the most iconic mid-major player ever. And really, that’s all that matters here.
1. Bill Russell (San Francisco) and Bob Cousy (Holy Cross)
Authors of two of the more “why that now sure seems obscure” NCAA champions, Russell and Cousy did more of the same for Red Auerbach’s Celtics. Cousy was an established Boston star when Russell arrived in 1956 and helped lift the franchise to its first title. They’d win six championships in seven seasons together, with both taking home at least one MVP award during that stretch.