The Los Angeles Lakers were special at the turn of the millennium.
After reviewing the Magic-Worthy duo last week, we have gotten to THE Los Angeles Lakers duo. Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal, the most dominant duo in NBA History. Yes, better than the MJ-Pippen duo.
Kobe and Shaq made the Lakers one of the defining teams of the 2000s. They won three championships together (in consecutive fashion no less) and were a truly unstoppable one-two punch.
Few times in NBA History have two superstars complemented each other in such a perfect manner (I’m talking on the court because they had well documented off the court issues that we will not get into in this article).
Let’s dive into some history before getting into the nitty-gritty. Following their back to back championships in 1987 and 1988, the Lakers reached the NBA Finals for a third consecutive time in 1989 (8th overall appearance since 1980).
Yet, they fell to the Detroit Pistons after Magic Johnson and Byron Scott suffered injuries that severely hindered the team. A couple of years later, the Lakers reached the Finals once again only to be steamrolled by the emerging Chicago Bulls led by Michael Jordan.
Following the 1991 NBA Finals, the Lakers became a nonfactor for the majority of the decade with their seasons ending quickly and in disappointing fashion for a franchise accustomed to so much glory. The Purple and Gold had to return to their championship-winning ways.
After Jordan’s second retirement, there was a power vacuum in the NBA and the Lakers pounced on the opportunity. How did they do it? Hint: It’s in the article’s title.
The summer of 1996 might be the most important one in Lakers’ history. During that summer, Los Angeles acquired two of the greatest players to ever step on an NBA court. First, they completed the now infamous trade that Charlotte Hornets fans love to hear. Let’s hear it one more time for the sake of having a good ol’ laugh, shall we?
The Charlotte Hornets traded the 13th pick in the 1996 draft (which turned out to be one of the greatest drafts ever) to the Los Angeles Lakers in exchange for Vlade Divac. Two things stand out here.
Let us begin with the fact that Jerry West traded Divac in order to be able to sign Shaq. Now the other issue, that pick became Kobe Bryant who went on to become one of the 10 greatest players in NBA History. There should be a plaque outside Staples Center thanking the Hornets for five championships.
After 1996, the Lakers were back in business. The Bulls still ran the league, but their time was almost up and LA was gearing up to become the next boss in town. Los Angeles got past the first round each of the first three years that Shaq and Kobe were there but in year four a breakthrough occurred.
In the year 2000, led by league MVP Shaquille O’Neal, the Lakers made their first Finals since 1991. They defeated the Indiana Pacers and claimed their first title since 1989. But this was only the beginning of a generation-defining dynasty and what came next makes the Kobe/Shaq duo the greatest in NBA History.
If you have been following the series then you already know that what we attempt to do here: find the best year both players had as a duo. Not only do I take into consideration stats, but also accolades achieved during that season by both players. This leads me to a pretty easy decision, in this case, Shaq and Kobe had their best year as a duo during the 2000-01 season.
Obviously, let’s start with their traditional regular-season stats and shooting percentages.
Kobe: 28.5ppg, 5.9rpg, 5.0apg while shooting 46.4/30.5/85.3
Shaq: 28.7ppg, 12.7rpg, 3.7apg while shooting 57.2/0/51.3
Both players were named to the all-star game, made the all-defensive second team, and were honored with an All-NBA team selection (Shaq made the first team and Kobe made the second team).
The Lakers grabbed the second seed in the Western Conference and cemented their legacy with one of the greatest playoff runs any team has ever had. Los Angeles went 15-1 on their quest for a second straight championship. Here’s a list of the competition they demolished on their way for an NBA title.
The 50-32 Portland Trail Blazers led by Rasheed Wallace and Damon Stoudamire (swept)
The 55-27 Sacramento Kings led by Chris Webber and Peja Stojakovic (swept)
The 58-24 San Antonio Spurs led by Tim Duncan and Derek Anderson (swept)
The 56-26 Philadelphia 76ers led by Allen Iverson and Theo Ratliff (won in 5)
That lone loss was mostly due to an Allen Iverson masterpiece (he was the league MVP btw). I also want to add that all the teams that the Lakers squashed during this playoff run were among the top 10 in net rating during the regular season. Keep that in mind in case you were thinking that these teams were a bunch of scrubs. This was a playoff run for the ages. Let’s see how Kobe and Shaq fared during the playoffs.
Kobe: 29.4ppg, 7.3rpg, 6.1apg while shooting 46.9/32.4/82.1
Shaq: 30.4ppg, 15.4rpg, 3.2apg while shooting 55.5/0/52.5
This duo was truly unguardable. Nobody could truly stop one or the other. Both players were a perfect match and created a well-oiled machine. Los Angeles went on to win another NBA title in 2002 and they are still the last team to have three-peated. Next week we’ll discuss another duo featuring Kobe Bryant but this time he leads the way.