The Greatest Lakers of All-Time: Shaquille O’Neal

(Image/247 Sports)

This is the eleventh in a series of articles featuring a countdown of the Top 16 Greatest Lakers of All-Time, as decided by the followers of Lakers UK on Twitter and Instagram.

Continuing with number 5 – Shaquille O’Neal. We’ll take an in-depth look at his greatest play as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers.

The Big Aristotle played 8 of his 19 seasons in Los Angeles, joining after being wooed by Dr Jerry Buss and Jerry West. In his time with the Lakers he played 24,321 minutes in 636 minutes, scoring 17,278 points and blocking 1588 shots (2nd all-time among Laker players).

O’Neal signed with the Lakers in the summer of 1996, accepting a 7-year, $121 million contract. Remarking “I just want to play the game, drink Pepsi, wear Reebok”, referencing a couple endorsement deals he had at the time. He would, of course, go on to play a major role in one of the greatest dynasties ever formed, pairing with a young Kobe Bryant to deliver Laker fans 3 championships in 3 seasons between 2000 and 2002.

Shaq had some truly legendary moments in the purple and gold. One being his momentous performance against the Philidelphia 76ers in Game 2 of the 2001 NBA Finals. Recording a 20-20 and almost a quadruple-double, he had 28 points, 20 rebounds, 9 assists and 8 blocks. Another memorable game would be the performance he had on his 28th birthday on the 6th of March 2000. He scored 60 points (his career-high) and grabbed 23 rebounds against the Los Angeles Clippers as he led the Lakers to a 123-103 victory.

For this review, we have decided to relive his truly greatest play as a Laker. The faithful alley-oop he received from Kobe Bryant in the final minutes of Game 7 of the 2000 NBA Western Conference Finals.

The Alley-Oop – From Kobe To Shaq

It’s the 4th of June 2000, and it’s Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals. The Lakers are tied at 3-3 with the Portland Trail Blazers. LA had led the series 3-1 after 4 games, losing the last 2. The pressure was truly on the Lakers to finish the series and confine the fact they were up by 2 games to history.

In terms of game 7, Los Angeles kept pace with the Trail Blazers early, only trailing by 3 at half time, 42-39. Portland would then proceed to win the 3rd quarter 29-19, putting them up 71-58 heading into the 4th. Both Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant had struggled during the run, both playing all 12 minutes in the quarter and only combining for 4 points (all from Bryant).

All hope was beginning to look lost for the Lakers as fans prepared themselves for yet another disappointing end to the season. The team had failed to make it to the Finals in the last 3 seasons (exiting in the Conference Semi-Finals once and the Conference Finals twice).

The scoring would continue to go back and forth at the beginning of the 4th quarter, after 2 minutes it sat at 75-60. The purple and gold would then go on a run, starting with a hook shot in the right low post from O’Neal as he received the pass from Rick Fox.

Bonzi Wells would then come the other way and attempt to finish over the top of Fox inside, Bryant comes over with the help and smacks the ball out of the air as it floats towards the rim. He retrieves the loose ball and sets off in the other direction. The ball is passed the perimeter and come to Brian Shaw in the right corner, he rises for the shot and swishes it home. The score sits at 75-65 as Portland calls timeout.

Phil Jackson reminds his players to “shoot good shots” during the timeout, urging them to remain focused. Coming out of the break the Trail Blazers kick the ball around the floor before Scottie Pippen misses a 3 point shot. Shaw catches the long rebound as Bryant sets off on the fastbreak, Shaw gives him the rock, he attempts to go up and finish as he is fouled by Wells. He goes 1/2 from the line. The score is now at 75-66, 9 minutes left.

Portland then comes up and miss two opportunities to score, Lakers get the rebound and come up the other way as Arvydas Sabonis fouls O’Neal underneath as he battles for position down low, earning himself his 5th foul. Forcing the Trail Blazers to swap him out for Brian Grant, a player who has struggled to guard O’Neal the whole series.

Fox then takes a 3 point shot, missing off the back of the rim. O’Neal immediately proves his dominance over his substitute opponent, grabbing the rebound over the top of Grant. He then attempts to put the ball back up as he is fouled by Rasheed Wallace. He goes 1/2, cutting the lead to 8.

The teams go up and down, missing a couple times before the Lakers score once again. Shaw brings the ball up the court as the Staples Center rises to its feet. The Lakers pass the rock around a couple times before the ball finds its way back to Shaw, who shoots the relatively open three from the top. He misses as Robert Horry battles underneath to win the rebound. He pulls it back out as he dribbles to the right corner. He then takes a couple of side steps to his left as he comes out to the right-wing. Big Shot Rob then sets his feet and fires away, sinking the 3 as the crowd explodes, 75-70, 7 minutes left, they were in the process of bringing this game back from the brink.

The game carries on as the Trail Blazers continue to struggle to finish, Bryant brings the ball up the floor as the clock ticks down past 6 minutes. The Lakers start running their set, as Bryant passes it off and proceeds to run into the paint and curls around the left corner before receiving the ball at the top of the key. Guarded by Pippen, he fakes the shot, takes a couple of dribbles round to the left elbow, and pulls up and connects from 11 feet. The crowd rejoice once again as the Lakers are now within 3, 75-72, 5:40 left.

Portland comes up and has another couple of opportunities to stop the bleeding, they were getting offensive rebounds but were unable to finish as Bryant retrieves their second attempt as it clunks off the rim. Portland would then come again as Bryant misses a 3 to tie. They give it to Grant in the post, who is emphatically blocked by O’Neal as he puts up a floater. Pippen retrieves the rebound and the ball ends up in the hands of Wallace, he puts up a long 2 that bounces off the front of the rim and out. Laker ball.

That’s 12 straight misses for the Blazers, the Lakers are on a 12-0 run as Bryant brings the ball up, looking to extend it. They start moving the ball around as Shaw throws an entry pass to O’Neal as he waits in the post. Steve Smith, who is guarding Shaw, immediately comes to double O’Neal. Who kicks it back out to the now open Shaw, he rises and drains the 3 as the roof comes off the building. The Lakers have tied the game! 75-75, 4 minutes left.

The teams go up and down a few more times before Portland finally manage to snap the streak, just inside 3 minutes. Sabonis dumps it into Wallace who finishes over the top of O’Neal, earning the Trail Blazers only their 2nd field goal of the 4th quarter. Going the other way and Sabonis earns his 6th foul as he sends O’Neal to the line. He goes 2/2 as he ties the game 77-77.

Portland continue their struggle as Grant takes a 2 point jumper and misses badly as it bounces off the backboard. O’Neal chases down the long rebound and sets off on the break but is forced to pick up his dribble. The Lakers then get into their half-court offence as O’Neal takes position in the right low post. He receives the ball and immediately spins baseline, putting up a hook shot with his right hand. It connects, giving the Lakers their first lead since halfway through the 3rd quarter, the building explodes as the camera cuts to a dejected Sabonis on the Portland bench. Lakers lead 79-77, 2 minutes left.

O’Neal is then called for a goaltend on the other end, tieing the game at 79. Bryant earns himself 2 free throws as he attacks the paint, going 2/2 at the line and giving the Lakers a 2 point lead. A minute and a half left in the game. O’Neal then picks up a foul on the other end and sends Wallace to the charity line, he misses both as the den that is the Staples Center taunts him.

Bryant then comes up and goes one on one with Pippen, shaking him with a hesitation dribble as he rises up and hits from 16 feet, 4 point lead, 1:08 left. Pippen comes up the floor and puts up an early 3 point shot from the left-wing, O’Neal pulls down the rebound as the clock hits 55 seconds. The Lakers bring the ball up the floor as they look to sink the dagger deeper into the Blazers. Here comes that famous play.

Bryant is pressured by Pippen as he crosses the timeline, stopping on the “S” of the logo as he allows his teammates to get into position. Meanwhile, O’Neal is peeling around the right side of the paint as he is fronted by his man, Grant. Bryant is dribbling with his left hand as he takes a breath. He then goes between the legs to his right and crosses back to his left as he strikes, wrong-footing Pippen. Grant comes across to help as Bryant drives the paint, leaving O’Neal open on the baseline.

O’Neal then points to the rim as Bryant is surrounded. He throws the ball towards the right side of the rim, over the outstretched arm of Grant, as O’Neal launches his 325 lbs frame into the air. He palms the ball with his right hand as he pounds it home. The arena implodes in celebration as Mike Dunleavy calls for time. Fans begin to invade the court, LA leads by 6. 40 seconds left.

Coming out of the timeout Steve Smith receives the ball of the inbound, running through a Wallace screen. He gets doubled as he picks up his dribble, knocking it back to Wallace at the top of the 3 point line. He puts up a long, long 3 point shot, swishing it home from 30 feet and cutting the lead in half. Horry launches the inbound 3/4 up the court to Ron Harper as Pippen fouls him, sending him to the line. Harper goes 1/2 as he puts the team up by 4, 32 seconds left, Portland calls for time.

The ball comes to Smith off the inbound, he drives to the paint hard. The ball is knocked loose as he faces hard defence from O’Neal. Bryant grabs the loose ball as Pippen rushes to foul him, earning himself his 6th foul and sending Bryant to the line. He misses both as the second rims in and out, the Trail Blazers call timeout, as they come back they have 25 seconds left to make something happen.

The ball finds itself in the hands of Smith once again, he attempts and misses a mid-range jumper. Horry comes down with the rebound and is fouled, sending him for 2 free throws. he hits both as the Blazers are out of timeouts. Lakers lead 88-82, 17 seconds left.

Damon Stoudamire will then rush the ball up the floor and sprint to the cylinder, finishing a layup with 11 seconds left, 4 point game. Horry is fouled once again of the inbound, he’ll shoot 2 more. In no way are the Lakers out of the woods yet.

He misses both as Portland grab the rebound and rush onto offence. Wells pulls up for a 3 and misses badly, the ball bounces out of bounds, Laker ball with 4 seconds to play. Steve Smith rushes to intercept the inbound pass but can only knock the ball back out of play. Laker ball, 3.5 seconds left.

The ball then comes to Horry once again as Portland fouls, 2.7 seconds left. He hits the first as the camera shows joyous Kobe Bryant, 5 point lead. The Blazers are done. Horry misses the second, but it doesn’t matter. Portland has accepted their fate and lets the clock run out. Lakers win!

(Image/Robert Mora/NBAE)

Greatness was always expected for Shaquille O’Neal. Drafted by the Orlando Magic with the number one pick in the 1992 NBA Draft, he made his way to Los Angeles in the summer of ’96.

As a Laker, he would earn an NBA scoring title, 6 NBA All-Star selections, 2 NBA All-Star MVPs, 3 NBA All-Defensive Second Team selections, 2 All-NBA Third Team selections, an All-NBA Second Team selection, 4 All-NBA First Team selections, an NBA MVP, 3 NBA Championships, 3 NBA Finals MVPs and later an induction into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.

In 2013 the Lakers made it so no other Laker would wear number 34 again, hanging his jersey in the rafters of the Staples Center. Becoming the tenth player to have his number retired by the Los Angeles Lakers. All these achievements more than cement his no.5 place as a true Laker great!


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Kobe Bryant, the Playoff Duels That Never Happened

(Image/NBA.com)

Kobe Bryant is a name synonymous with the Los Angeles Lakers, and professional basketball as a whole. Throughout his 20 year career Bryant had various accolades, numerous rivalries, and many historic performances. From the Championship 3-peat between 2000-2002, the 9 straight games of 40+ points in 2004, the 81-points against the Raptors in 2006, the back-to-back titles of 2009 and 2010, the 60-point performance in his final game, the list goes on and on.

Throughout his career there were many fantastic duels between Bryant and his NBA counterparts in the regular season, however there were some playoff match-ups that unfortunately never happened. To this day, many dispute what would have occurred if Bryant faced off against certain NBA legends in meaningful playoff scenarios.

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(Image/NSS Mag)

Michael Jordan

Throughout his career, Kobe Bryant was constantly compared to Michael Jordan, and for good reason. Bryant had modelled his game around Jordan, with like-for-like moves, at times looking like a mirror image of MJ.

Jordan and Bryant are widely regarded as the top-2 shooting guards in NBA history. Jordan acquired 6 NBA Championships, with 6 finals MVP awards, and 5 league MVPs, through his stellar career. As for Bryant, he also had a prolific career, garnering 5 NBA Championships, 2 Finals MVPs, and a single league MVP trophy.

Although Bryant and Jordan had a few duels, neither player was in their prime, as Kobe was on the younger end of the spectrum and Jordan on the older side. Both players had great respect for one another, with Bryant quoted saying “he was extremely open to having a mentor relationship and giving me a great amount of advice and an amazing amount of detail, strategies, workout regimen and things like that”.

An NBA Finals match-up between the two in their prime would have been one of the most interesting dynamics to ever take part in sports, full stop. A student overcoming his master story would have set the stage for an incredible duel of basketball prowess.

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 04:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers and Dwayne Wade #3 of the Miami Heat share a laugh in the fourth quarter at Staples Center on December 4, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. The Lakers defeated the Heat 108-107. NOTE
(Image/Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

Dwyane Wade

Similar to how Bryant and Jordan had a “student idolising his teacher” relationship, Dwyane Wade also had a similar connection with The Black Mamba. Wade envied Bryant, and constantly tried to out-duel him on a nightly basis. However, unlike Michael Jordan, a playoff match-up between Bryant and Wade was one that was very possible.

Both players were playing in their primes at similar times, with each being regarded as top-10 players in the NBA. The 2010-11 season looked to possess the ideal framework for a match-up, but it was not meant to be. The Lakers were looking to 3-peat for the second time in a decade, and the Miami Heat had just acquired LeBron James and Chris Bosh, to form a big 3.

Bryant and the Lakers were swept in the Western Conference Semi-Finals by the Dallas Mavericks, who beat Wade, James, Bosh, and the Heat in the NBA Finals, to claim their first ever title.

Dwyane Wade and Kobe Bryant were both undisputed stars, and a duel between the two, mixed with the rivalry that had been developed throughout the 2000s could have come to a settlement.

Luckily we experienced many regular season battles between the two legends, but an NBA Finals series would have been a treat.

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(Image/Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Shaquille O’Neal

The feud between Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal is one of the most proclaimed rivalries the NBA has ever seen. From being the core pieces of one of the most unstoppable dynasties ever (Lakers, 2000-02), to becoming drama infested rivals who forced a separation. Bryant and O’Neal’s relationship was as confusing as they got.

The beef between the former teammates had quelled to a point where Bryant was attempting to solidify himself as an individual star who could compete without O’Neal. While O’Neal was trying to prove to the world that he was still a fierce competitor that could dominate and bulldoze anyone that stood in his way.

The 2004-2005 season was the first time that both had been on different teams since 1996. During the season, Bryant averaged 25 points, 6 rebounds, and 6 assists, compared to O’Neal who put up 22 points, 10 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks. A small glimpse of the potential finals match-up came on Christmas Day 2004, where the Lakers and Heat faced off. Bryant (42 points) missed an overtime buzzer-beater and O’Neal (24 points) and the Heat walked away with the win.

The game was competitive and a joy to watch, but in regards to a finals match-up, that never occurred. O’Neal had made it to the Eastern Conference Finals, and Bryant failed to lead his team to the playoffs accumulating a record of 34-48. The following year, O’Neal got his ring without Bryant, but the Lakers were knocked out in the 1st round to the Phoenix Suns, another potential finals match-up passed by.

In O’Neal’s later years, he faced injury problems, and Bryant went on to claim 2 titles without his presence. A finals match up between these former teammates would have possessed an incredible amount of passion and intensity that would have gone down as one of the best finals series in history, no doubt.

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(Image/Rant Sports)

Tracy McGrady

Kobe Bryant stated that Tracy McGrady was the toughest opponent he had ever faced. Both McGrady and Bryant had come out of high school a year apart and were looked at as two of the most dangerous offensive weapons in the NBA at the time.

Both were similar in playing style, they were athletic, and possessed the ability to score from pretty much anywhere on the court. Both held their own in defense also. In their 21 regular season match-ups, they put up electrifying offensive games, that really were a joy to watch. Over the course of his career Bryant did get the upper hand averaging 25 points, to McGrady’s 19.6.

Looking back, a perfect playoff match-up would have been in the 2002-03 season. McGrady averaged a league-high 32.1 points, adding 6.5 rebounds, and 5.5 assists. Bryant also had an impressive season averaging 30 points, 6 assists, and 7 rebounds. However, neither player was able to make it to the NBA Finals, losing in the 2nd and 1st rounds, respectively. A 7 game playoff series between these two in their prime would have been a delight.

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(Image/Harry How/Getty Images)

LeBron James

There is no doubt that Kobe Bryant and LeBron James were two of the greatest players to play during the 2000-2010 era. Constant debates ensued regarding who was the better player. Playing in opposite conferences, a finals meeting between the two appeared very likely. Unfortunately, the stars never quite aligned for it to happen.

Seeing a young LeBron filled with athleticism and explosiveness, against a smarter, more tactical Bryant would have been delightful on the eye. The 2008-09 season had the perfect template set in place as well. Bryant averaged 27 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists over the course of the season, leading the Lakers to a 65-17 record. LeBron also had a stellar season, averaging 28 points, 7 rebounds, and 7 assists, leading the Cleveland Cavaliers to 66-16 record, whilst winning his first regular season MVP award.

The stage was set for an epic finals match-up, with both teams reaching the Conference Finals. Although Kobe Bryant took his team to the finals, eventually winning the title, LeBron James and the Cavaliers were eliminated by the Orlando Magic.

Had LeBron been able to overcome the Magic, the NBA could have witnessed one of the most exciting finals series of all time.

By Srikar Devireddy (@srikardr999)