Till this day, NBA fans, members of the media and players, both current and former, discuss the Kobe Bryant-Shaquille O’ Neal, or Shaquille O’ Neal-Kobe Bryant, era of the Lakers. Was it Shaq’s team? Or was it Kobe’s team? Shaq carried the team. Kobe carried the team. Kobe would not have won without Shaq. Shaq would not have won without Kobe. Tomato, to-ma-to. You get the point. But is there a clear answer to all this?
Both Shaq and Kobe were acquired by the Lakers in 1996. Kobe came first, however, as the Lakers traded Shaq was by far the best free agent available that summer and just entering his prime. Kobe was drafted straight out of high school and had tremendous upside.
After four years, in 2000, the Lakers won the NBA Finals and would claim the ’01 and ’02 titles as well, completing the ever so difficult, “three-peat.” In the 2000 Finals, Shaq lead the Lakers in scoring, averaging 38 ppg. The ’01 and ’02 Finals were no different as Shaq paced the Lakers with 33 and 36 ppg. (via Basketball-Reference). Dominant numbers by the most dominant big man to ever play the game. However, Kobe was right behind Shaq in each of those Finals, scoring 15.6, 24.6, 26.8 pgg in ’00, ’01 and ’02 (via Basketball-Reference). Although Kobe did not put up big numbers like Shaq, he was the go-to-guy on the perimeter as he took over a handful of games with his jumpers and provided the Lakers with countless clutch shots.
In game 4 of the 2000 Finals, Shaq fouled out with a little over two minutes remaining in the overtime period. Kobe, after missing most of game 2 and all of game 3 with an ankle injury, scored six of his 28 points following Shaq’s exit including the game-securing put-back layup with 5.9 seconds remaining. Did I mention he was only 21 years-old at the time?
Yes, it is a small sample size of Kobe’s clutch performance, but trust me, there are many more spanning from the 2000-02 Finals. But it brings me back to point that both Kobe and Shaq were equal factors in the Lakers’ championship runs in their three-peat. Shaq’s unstoppable inside game and defensive presence as well as Kobe’s takeover moments and killer jumpers were monumental in the team’s success.
Thus, I conclude that Shaq would not have won without Kobe, and, Kobe would not have won without Shaq. As for the question of whose team it was? Well, Shaq was traded in 2004 and Kobe remained a Laker for life. ‘Nuff said.