The Los Angeles Lakers were, by far, the best team in the 2000s. Here is their story.
In the early 2000s, the Los Angeles Lakers were the most feared team in the NBA.
They beat some great teams during their run together and won three titles in a row (3-peat). They even swept an entire conference one post-season.
So, how did this Lakers team come about?
The story goes something like this…
The Arrival of Kobe Bryant
In 1996, the Lakers brought on a young 17-year-old high school grad by the name of Kobe Bryant.
He wasn’t as skilled or conditioned as they wanted him to be initially, but the GM, scouts, and coaches saw the drive, passion, and potential in him.
So, the team traded for Kobe a few days after he was drafted 13th overall by the Charlotte Hornets.
In his first NBA season, he barely played. But when he did play, he messed up a lot.
He had some good days where he scored more than 15 points, but it was common for him to make less than 40 percent of his shots.
However, there was one thing that set Kobe apart from all of the other young rookies -his maniacal work ethic and desire to improve.
Kobe knew he was bad compared to star NBA players at his position. So, he kept asking them questions about how they did certain moves or how they countered certain defensive schemes.
And when the stars didn’t respond to him, he asked them again.
He was persistent and it paid off because so many of these stars would eventually tell him what he wanted to know.
For example, there was this one game, Michael Jordan recalls, where Kobe asked him how to do something during the last quarter of the contest.
Via CBS Sports:
“In the fourth quarter of that game, he asked me about my post-up move, in terms of, ‘Do you keep your legs wide? Or do you keep your legs tight?’ It was kind of shocking,” Jordan said, via Lazenby. “I felt like an old guy when he asked me that. I told him on the offensive end you always try to feel and see where the defensive player is. In the post-up on my turnaround jump shot, I always use my legs to feel where the defense is playing so I can react to the defense.”
In addition to that, Kobe was constantly training.
He was always in the gym working on his game and conditioning. He was obsessed with getting better at basketball and becoming the best player ever.
There was this one story where Allen Iverson said he invited Kobe to the club, but Kobe declined and said that he had to go “back to the gym.”
Via The Players’ Tribune:
“Remember when I came out to L.A. for the first time our rookie year? You picked me up at the hotel and we went out for some food, and you asked me what I was getting up to later.
“I said I was going to the club. I mean, we in L.A.! I’m going to the club, Kobe. Come on, man.
“And what did you say?
“‘I’m going back to the gym.’”
All this time with a basketball led Kobe to consistently average more points every year.
I know this isn’t necessarily an indication of improvement, but Kobe was also making All-Star games, being voted into All-NBA and All-Defensive teams, and helping his team win rings.
Huh, maybe I should have just noted that instead. Anywhoo…
Shaquille O’Neal and the Impact of Phil Jackson
As for Shaq, he was already a mega-superstar when he joined the Lakers in the summer of 1996.
He was an All-Star and All-NBA player. And, more importantly, he had playoff experience as he made it all the way to the NBA Finals 2 years before.
However, the duo didn’t have success in the first few years together. The Lakers were a playoff team, but they had trouble getting out of the conference series.
- In 1997, they played the Utah Jazz and were easily beaten.
- Then in 1998, they played the Jazz again and were also easily beaten.
- Then in 1999, they played the San Antonio Spurs in the semifinals and were swept.
It wasn’t until the season of 1999-2000 when Phil Jackson became their head coach that they started to see success in the post-season.
The Lakers 3-Peat
In 1999-00, they were 67-15, good for first in the Western Conference (and league). Their journey in the playoff was a bumpy road but they made their way through to the Finals with few bruises.
There, they played the Indiana Pacers and the NBA’s top villain, Reggie Miller.
The Lakers came through and won the series 4-2. Shaq and Kobe won their first championship title and the big fella got his first Finals MVP award.
The dynamic duo tasted the sweet godly juices of winning and wanted more. Thus, the following season, they set out to repeat.
The duo harnessed their chakra in the 2000-01 regular season (winning 56 games) and unleashed their full power in the playoffs when they swept every team except Allen Iverson’s Philadelphia 76ers.
Kobe and Shaq defeated them 4-1 to win their second championship title together.
In 2001-02, the Lakers went 58-24 in the regular season.
The path in the playoff wasn’t an easy stroll, especially when you compare it with the previous season, but they got where they wanted to go.
They faced off against Jason Kidd and the New Jersey Nets.
Shaq dominated with 36.3 points, 12.3 rebounds, and 3.8 assists and led the Lakers to sweep the Nets as they unlocked the 3-peat. He also got his third Finals MVP trophy.
Kobe was no chum either, as he averaged 26.8 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 5.3 assists.
The next season, Kobe and Shaq set out to make history by winning 4 championship titles in a row.
However, they failed to make it to the Finals as they were denied entry at the gate by the San Antonio Spurs, who won the ring that year.
The Beginning of the End to the Lakers Dynasty
The team felt they needed a change after this loss.
So in 2003-04, the Lakers brought on two legends (albeit old) of the game to help them attain one more ring -they signed Karl Malone and Gary Payton.
They had a fantastic season (56-26) and got to the Finals, but they lost to a team that was deemed as underdogs the entire post-season, the Detroit Pistons (or the Bad Boys 2.0).
Detroit beat them 4-1 in a physical series.
This defeat showed the Lakers that they, again, needed a change. One superstar had to go and, in the offseason, the team chose to trade Shaq to the Miami Heat.
In return, the Lakers received Lamar Odom, Caron Butler, and Brian Grant.
This was when this Lakers dynasty ended.
On his new team, Shaq won one more title with a future legend, Dwyane Wade (who was awarded the Finals MVP), in 2006.
Kobe went on to win two more titles back-to-back in 2009 and 2010.
Shaq and Kobe are one of the most dominant duos in NBA history that were derailed by ego.
One could only imagine what they could’ve achieved had they put aside their pride and stuck it out together.