I recently learned that former NBA Most Valuable Player (“MVP”) award winners Russell Westbrook (2016-17 MVP) and James Harden (2017-18 MVP) found themselves on the Los Angeles Clippers. It occurred to me that they have now been teammates on three separate franchises.

Mr. Harden was drafted by the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2009, where he joined Mr. Westbrook, who was then a second-year guard. They played together through the 2011-12 season (wherein the Thunder lost in the NBA Finals against the Miami Heat), when Mr. Harden was traded to the Houston Rockets. Mr. Westbrook remained in Oklahoma City, where he won the 2016-17 NBA MVP and was succeeded in the MVP pantheon by Mr. Harden in 2017-18. Mr. Westbrook was traded to Mr. Harden’s Rockets in 2019, and they played one season together in Houston (2019-20) before Mr. Westrbook was traded to the Washington Wizards and Mr. Harden was not long after traded to the Brooklyn Nets. After an additional stopover for Mr. Westbrook with the Los Angeles Lakers and Mr. Harden with the Philadelphia 76ers, they both found their way to the Clippers.

Were Any Other NBA MVPs Teammates on Three Franchises?

This story inspired a question: Have there been any other NBA MVPs who were teammates on three different NBA franchises? I suspect that the answer is no – but I thought that I would write an article as I conduct the research to determine whether my hunch is correct. Moreover, since I have a feeling that no pair of MVPs other than Messrs. Harden and Westbrook ever played together on three separate franchises, I thought it would be interesting to also check whether any other pair of MVPs played together on two separate franchises – I know of at least one such example off the top of my head. Before we start the survey, let us establish the ground rules:

  • We are looking for two NBA players each of whom (1) won at least one NBA MVP award and (2) who played together on two or three separate franchises.
  • It does not matter whether the players played together before or after winning the MVP. For example, Mr. Harden and Mr. Westbrook were teammates in Oklahoma City several years before either won an MVP.
  • “Played together” means actually appearing in at least one game together on a given franchise. For example, 2000-01 NBA MVP Allen Iverson spent the first two weeks and change of the 2009-10 NBA season with the Memphis Grizzlies, for whom he played for in three games. In order for another MVP to have played with Mr. Iverson, that player would have had to appear in one of the three games that Mr. Iverson appeared in with the Grizzlies.
  • The term “different franchises” does not include cases where a player is the member of a franchise when it moves. For example, 2013-14 NBA MVP Kevin Durant played his rookie season (2007-08) with the Seattle SuperSonics and his second season (2008-09) with the Oklahoma City Thunder. But this counts as one franchise because the SuperSonics moved from Seattle to Oklahoma City. I will note any cases where this rule may be relevant.
  • The term “different franchises” also does not include different stints for the same franchise. For example, Mr. LeBron James had separate stints – 7 years and 4 years respectively – with the Cleveland Cavaliers. I will not count someone who played with Mr. James in both stints as having played with Mr. James on both franchises.
  • I am not counting stints in the former ABA since it was not possible to win the NBA MVP while playing in the ABA. Striking the ABA only affects Moses Malone and Julius “Dr. J” Erving.


After completing the above survey, I also looked into how many different MVPs had played at least one game with another MVP (see section).

Conducting the Research

The NBA MVP award was first awarded to then-Saint Louis Hawks forward Bob Pettit in the 1955-56 season. Although the MVP has been awarded at the end of every regular season since 1955-56, only 35 individual NBA players have won at least one NBA MVP award on account of the fact that several of the MVP award winners won more than one MVP. Multiple MVP Winners Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (6); Bill Russell and Michael Jordan (5); Wilt Chamberlain and LeBron James (4); Moses Malone, Larry Bird, and Magic Johnson (3); Bob Pettit, Karl Malone, Tim Duncan, Steve Nash, Stephen Curry, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Nikola Jokic (2)

As a matter of logic, it would be impossible for an NBA player who has won at least one MVP to have played with another player who won at least one MVP on two or three different franchises if both players did not play on at least two or three different franchises in their careers. Thus, as a threshold matter, we can simplify our task by casting aside the NBA MVP winners who only played for a single franchise. Fortunately, my memory and past NBA knowledge is sufficient to prevent this task from becoming tedious.

NBA MVP Winners Who Played For One Franchise

Pettit, Bob55-56Milwaukee/St. Louis Hawks (54-55 to 64-65)*
Russell, Bill57-58, 60-61, 61-62, 62-63, 64-65Boston Celtics (56-57 to 68-69)
Unseld, Wes68-69Baltimore/Capitol/Washington Bullets (68-69 to 80-81)*
Reed, Willis69-70New York Knicks (64-65 to 74-75)
Erving, Julius80-81Philadelphia 76ers* (76-77 to 86-87)
Bird, Larry83-84, 84-85, 85-86Boston Celtics (79-80 to 91-92)
Johnson, Magic86-87, 88-89, 89-90Los Angeles Lakers (79-80 to 90-91; and 95-96)
Robinson, David94-95San Antonio Spurs (88-89 to (02-03)
Duncan, Tim01-02, 02-03San Antonio Spurs (97-98 to 14-15)
Nowitzki, Dirk06-07Dallas Mavericks (98-99 to 19-20)
Bryant, Kobe07-08Los Angeles Lakers (96-97 to 15-16)
Curry, Stephen14-15, 15-16Golden State Warriors (09-10 to Present)
Antetokounmpo, Giannis18-19, 19-20Milwaukee Bucks (13-14 to Present)
Jokic, Nikola20-21, 21-22Denver Nuggets (15-16 to Present)
Embiid, Joel22-23Philadelphia 76ers (16-17 to Present)
* Mr. Pettit originally played for the Milwaukee Hawks and stayed with the franchise when it moved to Saint Louis. Mr. Unseld remained with the Bullets for their Baltimore, Capitol, and Washington iterations.

16 of the 35 MVPs played for only a single franchise. Four of the 16 (Messrs. Curry, Antetokounmp, Jokic, and Embiid) are still active, meaning they may yet play for other franchises. But as of the completion of this survey, we can disregard these 16 NBA MVPs.

NBA MVP Winners Who Played For Two Franchises

Only six NBA MVP winners played for exactly two franchises.

Cousy, Bob57-58Boston Celtics (50-51 to 62-63); Cincinnati Royals (69-70)
Robertson, Oscar63-64Cincinnati Royals (60-61 to 69-70); Milwaukee Bucks (70-71 to 73-74)
Abdul-Jabbar, Kareem*70-71, 71-72, 73-74, 75-76, 76-77, 79-80Milwaukee Bucks (69-70 to 74-75); Los Angeles Lakers (75-76 to 88-89)
Cowens, Dave72-73Boston Celtics (70-71 to 79-80); Milwaukee Bucks (82-83)
Jordan, Michael87-88, 90-91, 91-92, 95-96, 97-98Chicago Bulls (83-84 to 92-93 and 94-95 to 97-98); Washington Wizards (00-01 to 01-02)
Olajuwon, Hakeem93-94Houston Rockets (83-84 to 00-01); Toronto Raptors (01-02)
Malone, Karl96-97, 98-99Utah Jazz (83-84 to 02-03); Los Angeles Lakers (03-04)
* Mr. Abdul-Jabbar won is first of six MVPs as Lew Alcindor before finalizing his name change.

NBA MVP Winners Who Played For Three Or More Franchises

Finally, the remaining 13 player have won at least one NBA MVP and played for three or more franchises.

Chamberlain, Wilt59-60, 65-66, 66-67, 67-68Philadelphia/San Francisco Warriors (59-60 to 64-65)*; Philadelphia 76ers (64-65 to 67-68); Los Angeles Lakers (68-69 to 72-73)
McAdoo, Bob74-75Buffalo Braves (72-73 to 76-77); New York Knicks (76-77 to 78-79); Boston Celtics (78-79); Detroit Pistons (79-80 to 80-81); Los Angeles Lakers (81-82 to 84-85); Philadelphia 76ers (85-86)
Walton, Bill77-78Portland Trail Blazers (74-75 to 77-78); San Diego/Los Angeles Clippers (79-80 to 84-85); Boston Celtics (85-86 to 86-87)
Malone, Moses78-79, 81-82, 82-83Buffalo Braves (76-77); Houston Rockets (76-77 to 81-82); Philadelphia 76ers (82-83 to 85-86 and 93-94); Washington Bullets (86-87 to 87-88); Atlanta Hawks (88-89 to 90-91); Milwaukee Bucks (91-92 to 92-93); San Antonio Spurs (94-95)
Barkley, Charles92-93Philadelphia 76ers (84-85 to 91-92); Phoenix Suns (92-93 to 95-96); Houston Rockets (96-97 to 99-00)
O’Neal, Shaquille99-00Orlando Magic (92-93 to 95-96); Los Angeles Lakers (96-97 to 03-04); Miami Heat (04-05 to 07-08); Phoenix Suns (07-08 to 08-09); Cleveland Cavaliers (09-10); Boston Celtics (10-11)
Iverson, Allen00-01Philadelphia 76ers (96-97 to 06-07; and 09-10); Denver Nuggets (06-07 to 08-09); Detroit Pistons (08-09); Memphis Grizzlies (09-10)
Garnett, Kevin03-04Minnesota Timberwolves (95-96 to 06-07; and 14-15 to 15-16); Boston Celtics (07-08 to 12-13); Brooklyn Nets (13-14 to 14-15)
Nash, Steve04-05, 05-06Phoenix Suns (96-97 to 97-98 and 04-05 to 11-12); Dallas Mavericks (00-01 to 03-04); Los Angeles Lakers (12-13 to 13-14)
James, LeBron08-09, 09-10, 11-12, 12-13Cleveland Cavaliers (02-03 to 09-10 and 14-15 to 17-18); Miami Heat (10-11 to 13-14); Los Angeles Lakers (18-19 to Present)
Rose, Derrick10-11Chicago Bulls (08-09 to 15-16); New York Knicks (16-17 and 20-21 to 22-23); Cleveland Cavaliers (17-18); Minnesota Timberwolves (17-18 to 18-19); Detroit Pistons (19-20 to 20-21); Memphis Grizzlies (23-24, Present)
Durant, Kevin13-14Seattle SuperSonics/Oklahoma City Thunder (07-08 to 14-15)*; Golden State Warriors (15-16 to 18-19); Brooklyn Nets (20-21 to 22-23); Phoenix Suns (22-23 to Present)
Westbrook, Russell16-17Oklahoma City Thunder (08-09 to 18-19); Houston Rockets (19-20); Washington Wizards (20-21); Los Angeles Lakers (21-22 to 22-23); Los Angeles Clippers (22-23 to Present)
Harden, James17-18Oklahoma City Thunder (09-10 to 11-12); Houston Rockets (12-13 to 20-21); Brooklyn Nets (20-21 to 21-22); Philadelphia 76ers (21-22 to 22-23); Los Angeles Clippers (23-24, Present)
Mr. Chamberlain played with the Warriors when they were in Philadelphia and San Francisco. He later played for the Philadelphia 76ers, but the 76ers were a different franchise than the Philadelphia Warriors. Kevin Durant played his rookie season with the Seattle SuperSonics and remained with the team when it moved to Oklahoma City before his second season.

Harden-Westbrook the Only Pair of MVPs to Cross Paths With Three Different Franchises

A cursory look at the careers of the NBA MVPs who played for three or more franchises reveals that James Harden and Russell Westbrook are the only pair of MVPs to cross paths three times. I suspected as much, but in light of the number of teams some MVPs have played for, it was worth double checking.

Two Pairs of MVPs Played Together On Two Different Franchises

Off the top of my head, I was aware of one pair of NBA MVPs other than James Harden and Russell Westbrook who played together on at least two different franchises: Mr. Harden and Kevin Durant. Like Mr. Westbrook, Mr. Durant was a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder at the same time as Mr. Harden. Their paths would cross again early in the 2020-21 NBA season when Mr. Harden was traded to the Brooklyn Nets.

Near-Miss: Bob McAdoo and Moses Malone

Studying the table led me to discover one instance where two NBA MVPs came very close to having played with one another on two different franchises. Mr. Bob McAdoo, the 1974-75 NBA MVP, and Moses Malone, the 79-80, 81-82, and 82-83 MVP, were both briefly on the Buffalo Braves (which eventually became today’s Los Angeles Clippers) at the same time in 1976-77. Mr. Malone played a combined six minutes in the Braves’ first two games on October 21 and October 23, 1976. However, Mr. McAdoo did not play in either game, and Mr. Malone was traded to the Houston Rockets (where he would go on to win two of his three MVP awards in later years) on October 24. Mr. McAdoo made his season debut for the Braves on October 30, nearly one week after Mr. Malone was traded. Mr. McAdoo himself was then traded to the New York Knicks on December 9 of the same year. However, there paths would cross nine seasons later when Mr. McAdoo signed with Mr. Malone’s Philadelphia 76ers on January 31, 1986, and appeared in a game that Mr. Malone started on that same day. Thus, if we change the criteria to MVPs who were on the same roster with two franchises, Mr. McAdoo and Mr. Malone qualify. However, when the criteria is played in a game together with two franchises, Mr. McAdoo and Mr. Malone just missed each other.

While checking to see if Mr. McAdoo’s and Malone’s paths crossed, I noted that they managed to play with many other MVPs during their long careers. Mr. McAdoo’s paths crossed with Dave Cowens, Kareen Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Moses Malone, Julius Erving, and Charles Barkley. Mr. Malone won a championship with Mr. Erving and also played with Mr. Barkley, Mr. McAdoo, and Mr. David Robinson in what was Mr. Robinson’s MVP season and Mr. Malone’s final season.

Which NBA MVP Played With the Most Other MVPs?

The McAdoo-Moses Malone study inspired me to run one final study with the data I collected. Which NBA MVP played with the most other NBA MVPs? Here are the ground-rules for this survey:

  • We are looking for NBA MVP award winners who played in at least one game together at any point during their careers – before or after winning the MVP.
  • Each player only counts once. For example, Messrs. Durant and Westbrook count once for Mr. Harden.

Below, I present a chart. I included links for select cases that may not be immediately obvious.

NBA MVPMVPs Played WithTotal
Pettit, BobN/A0
Cousy, BobBill Russell, Oscar Robertson2
Russell, BillBob Cousy1
Robertson, OscarBob Cousy, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar2
Chamberlain, WiltN/A0
Unseld, WesN/A0
Reed, WillisN/A0
Abdul-Jabbar, KareemOscar Robertson, Magic Johnson, Bob McAdoo3
Cowens, DaveBob McAdoo, Larry Bird2
McAdoo, BobDave Cowens, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Moses Malone, Julius Erving5
Walton, BillLarry Bird1
Malone, MosesJulius Erving, Charles Barkley, Bob McAdoo, David Robinson4
Erving, JuliusMoses Malone, Charles Barkley, Bob McAdoo3
Bird, LarryDave Cowens, Bill Walton2
Johnson, MagicKareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bob McAdoo2
Jordan, MichaelN/A0
Barkley, CharlesMoses Malone, Julius Erving, Bob McAdoo, Hakeem Olajuwon4
Olajuwon, HakeemCharles Barkley1
Robinson, DavidMoses Malone, Tim Duncan2
Malone, KarlShaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant2
O’Neal, ShaquilleKobe Bryant; Karl Malone, Steve Nash, LeBron James, Kevin Garnett5
Duncan, TimDavid Robinson1
Iverson, AllenN/A0
Garnett, KevinShaquille O’Neal1
Nash, SteveDirk Nowitzki, Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant3
Nowitzki, DirkSteve Nash1
Bryant, KobeShaquille O’Neal, Karl Malone, Steve Nash3
James, LeBronShaquille O’Neal, Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook3
Rose, DerrickLeBron James1
Durant, KevinRussell Westbrook, James Harden, Stephen Curry3
Curry, StephenKevin Durant1
Westbrook, RussellKevin Durant, James Harden, LeBron James3
Harden, JamesKevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Joel Embiid3
Antetokounmpo, GiannisN/A0
Jokic, NikolaN/A0
Embiid, JoelJames Harden1

Our study reveals that Messrs. Bob McAdoo and Shaquille O’Neal hold the records as NBA MVPs for having played with five other players to have won the MVP. What else can we glean from this survey?


One interesting take-away is how many of these MVP pairings happened at the end of one of the MVP’s careers. Allow me to offer examples:

  • Bob Cousy came out of a more than half-decade retirement to play in 7 games as a player-coach for the Cincinnati Royals in 1969-70. Because Mr. Oscar Robertson, who was still one of the best players the NBA, happened to be the star of the Royals that season, they each get credit for having played with an MVP.
  • Bill Russell, who played with a proverbial parade of Hall of Famers, only played with one fellow MVP (perhaps aided by the fact that Mr. Russell himself hogged five MVPs).
  • When you think of Larry Bird’s teammates, you are likely to first think of Kevin McHale and Robert Parish. However, neither Messrs. McHale nor Parish won an MVP. Mr. Bird gets credit on our table for having played with Mr. Cowens (one season) and Mr. Walton (two) at the end of their careers (however, note that Mr. Walton was a key contributor to the Celtics’ 85-86 championship team).
  • Michael Jordan was flanked by fellow NBA Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen for all six of his championships. However, Mr. Pippen’s best MVP finish was third in 1993-94 (while Mr. Jordan was off playing baseball), so Mr. Jordan went through his career without ever playing alongside another MVP winner.
  • That one of David Robinson’s backups in his MVP season was Moses Malone, who was playing in his 21st and final professional season (his first two professional seasons were in the ABA), is likely almost as obscure as Oscar Robertson and Bob Cousy briefly appearing in games together.
  • One can hardly say “Karl Malone” without “John Stockton,” but Mr. Malone is flanked on this list not by Mr. Stockton, but by Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant, with whom he played in his final season. That Lakers team lost in the 2004 NBA Finals to the Detroit Pistons, which I covered in a separate essay.
  • Speaking of Mr. O’Neal, his late-career brought him into brief alliances with Steve Nash, LeBron James, and Kevin Garnett. Missing is Mr. O’Neal’s 2005-06 championship teammate Dwyane Wade, who won NBA Finals MVP in what remains in the running for greatest Finals performance in NBA history.
  • Steve Nash is notable for being the only person on our list to have played with Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant on different teams.
  • LeBron James is something of a latter-day Larry Bird on our list. He won championships in Miami with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, in Cleveland with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, and in Los Angeles with Anthony Davis. However, none of these players happened to win MVPs. Mr. James’ MVP trio features late career versions of Shaquille O’Neal, Derrick Rose, and Russell Westbrook.

Another reason this list is nothing more than a curiosity is because it can be changed well after a player’s career ends. For example, Kawhi Leonard of the Los Angeles Clippers is still one of the best players in the NBA. Were he to stay healthy and win an NBA MVP, that would give Mr. Tim Duncan, who retired in 2015, a second MVP teammate, despite the fact that Mr. Duncan would have been retired for nearly one decade prior to Mr. Leonard winning an MVP. There are many such similar examples one could create, especially as some star players continue to perform at a high level as they enter their late 30s.

An Interesting Hypothetical

While this list is not about hypothetical scenarios, I could not help but consider one interesting case. Dwight Howard was one of the best players in the NBA in the late 2000s and early 2010s, and he had a very strong MVP case in 2010-11, in which year he finished runner-up to Derrick Rose (for whatever it is worth, I think Mr. Howard and LeBron James had stronger MVP cases than Mr. Rose that season). Mr. Howard’s post-Orlando Magic career (he was traded to the Lakers in 2012) took him to many places. I was curious how many MVPs Mr. Howard crossed paths with.

  • In 2012-13, he played with Messrs. Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash on the Lakers.
  • After signing with Houston in 2013-14, he played several seasons along-side James Harden.
  • In 2019-20, Mr. Howard played with LeBron James.
  • In 2020-21, Mr. Howard backed up Joel Embiid
  • In a second stint with the Lakers in 2021-22, Mr. Howard played with Mr. Westbrook

Thus, had Mr. Howard won the 2010-11 NBA MVP and had the same career he had after the fact, he would have played with a record six fellow MVPs. I will venture that this is probably the best realistic hypothetical that we can put together (i.e., a hypothetical involving a player who in serious MVP contention in one at least season), but perhaps there is another lurking somewhere.


This concludes my curiosity-driven study of NBA MVPs playing together. While many NBA MVPs cross paths over the course of their careers, especially in cases when a former MVP transitions into being a role player later in his career, the cases of Mr. Harden playing with Mr. Westbrook on three franchises and with Mr. Durant on two are unique in NBA history. While these circumstances were only made possible by Messrs. Harden, Durant, and Westbrook changing teams regularly, it is also a testament to how much talent the Seattle SuperSonics/Oklahoma City Thunder collected in the late 2000s, having picked Messrs. Durant, Westbrook, and Harden in three consecutive drafts.