Shaquille O’Neal played for six teams in his 19-year career. While his eight years in Los Angeles were the most he spent with any team, one’s first thought would lend itself to think he wouldn’t be one of any team’s greatest of all-time. But take a look at where Shaq stands in Lakers history…
7th in points
3rd in FG%
6th in rebounds
2nd in blocks
And you’re only getting the tip of the iceberg here. He was the biggest part of the Lakers 3-peat in the early 2000s, winning Finals MVP awards in all three of those championships. He added a regular season MVP award in 2000, as well as All-Star selections in every season except 1999. Shaq made his mark on the Lakers, rightfully earning his spot in the greatest of Lakers.
Shaq’s arrival in Los Angeles came with much fanfare. Jerry West worked countless hours to bring Shaq to LA, then to pair him with the young Kobe Bryant. Fair or not, the duo will forever be linked considering their Lakers careers began together and morphed into something special. When Shaq agreed to his 7-year, $121 million contract, his impact was immediate. His first season saw the Lakers win 56 games, followed by a 61-win season in 1997-98. O’Neal averaged 26.2 and 28.3 points in those seasons, respectively. However, each season ended at the hands of the Jazz, losing in the Western Conference semi-finals in ’97, then the Western Conference finals in ’98. In the lockout-shortened season, the Lakers went 31-19, but were swept out of the playoffs by the Spurs.
Enter Phil Jackson, who Shaq has since referred to as a father figure. Jackson brought with him the triangle offense as well as an unequivocal leadership that the Lakers desperately needed. Jackson challenged Shaq to up his level of play, which he responded to by putting up 29.7 points, 13.6 rebounds, and 3.0 blocks on his way to the regular season MVP as the Lakers won 67 games in the regular season. In the playoffs, Shaq took even another step forward, putting up 30.7 points and 15.4 rebounds as he led the Lakers first title since the 1980s. The next season, Shaq barely faltered, putting up 28.7 points, 12.7 rebounds, and 2.8 blocks as the Lakers won 56 games, but went an impressive 15-1 in the playoffs as they won their second straight NBA title. 2001-02 was another year, another title for the Lakers, who finished off their 3-peat with sweep of the Nets in the Finals. Shaq again was his same dominant force, scoring 27.2 points and grabbing 10.7 rebounds each game.
2002-03 was when the cracks in the Lakers armor began to show, as a young Bryant was no longer comfortable living in Shaq’s shadow. Despite putting up another solid season of 27.5 points and 11.1 rebounds, Bryant’s 30.0 point per game average led the Lakers in scoring. However, the Lakers bowed out in the Western Conference semis to the eventual champion Spurs. The Lakers then put together their now infamous last hurrah team featuring Gary Payton and Karl Malone. We know how the season ended, finishing with an embarrassment in the NBA Finals as they lost in five to the Pistons. Shaq, angered by the franchises decisions that he felt were made to appease Bryant, demanded a trade.
Even then, Shaq’s large footprint was left in Lakers lore. Last season, his jersey was finally put up in the Lakers rafters (albeit backwards), it was long overdue and a worthy award. He and Kobe have patched up their relationship and he’s becoming more outspoken in his support and criticism of the Lakers. Despite playing for many teams in his careers, it’s the Lakers who he came back to, and the Lakers who he sought after.