Imagine the matchup. Magic Johnson and his Showtime Lakers with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, James Worthy, Byron Scott and A.C. Green with head coach Pat Riley against Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, Rick Fox, Robert Horry and Derek Fisher with head coach Phil Jackson. It sure would look good on a billboard, wouldn’t it?
The Lakers were the NBA team of the ’80s. They won titles in 79-80, 81-82, 84-85, 86-87, and 87-88. They had a killer team with three future Hall of Famers playing together. Pat Riley was by far the best basketball mind during those days.
Shaq and Kobe’s Lakers were a different beast altogether. For one thing, they had the most dominant player on the planet in the middle leading them. Kobe, of course, would grow into one of the most killer athletes in all of sports.
Phil Jackson, who could possibly be the greatest NBA coach of all-time, had everything running correctly in his triangle offense. They won three titles in a row. An unstoppable dynamic duo with killer role players.
Which Los Angeles Lakers team was better?
The NBA hadn’t changed all that much in terms of the game itself when Shaq and Kobe ruled. The big men were still the rulers of the planet and Shaq was like a combo of Godzilla and Kong. Kareem was still playing at a high level when he arrived in LA. Magic came next of course and the rest is history.
The Showtime Lakers had better talent overall. Other than Magic and Kareem, there was Worthy, Cooper, Green, Scott, and Thompson. Plus they played a more up-tempo style of game. They basically ran their opponents off the court. There were more options.
Shaq and Kobe’s Lakers were different. Shaq was the main piece of the puzzle and no one dared move him. He was unstoppable. I think he would have given the ’80s Lakers serious trouble as well as Kareem. Too much of a threat.
Kobe would have been able to play off of that and utilize his skills to pick that Lakers team apart and even when he wasn’t playing off of Shaq, he could do so much damage. Robert Horry, Rick Fox, Derek Fisher were great role players and both hit big shots when they had to and contributed when needed. In a seven-game series, I think it would be close.
Defensively, Michael Cooper would have been called into guard Kobe. How well would he have done? Well, he had much luck guarding Larry Bird and was by far one of the best defensive players ever.
Cooper would have done great but Kobe was a player that was different. You could guard him as best you could but he really never seemed to be shut down. Also too, how would they handle Shaq in the middle? Kareem would be giving up a lot of weight and A.C. was solid but he wasn’t seven feet tall. They would have had to collapse down on him, leaving many options open.
Then of course would come two of the clutch players going at it head-to-head. Magic against Kobe. When the game was in the clutch, these are the two guys you wanted to have the ball. It would have been back and forth all the way down to the last seconds of the game.
For fans, it would have been the ultimate matchup as well as the ultimate nail-biter. I think in the end, Shaq and Kobe’s Lakers would have prevailed in a very close 4-3 series.