Following their near perfect 2001 postseason, there wasn’t a soul on Earth who could convince me Shaq and Kobe wouldn’t win the next 4-5 titles.*
Things didn’t pan out exactly that way. The featured picture was taken during Game 6 of the 2003 West Finals, a series the Lakers lost 4-2 to San Antonio ending their chance at a rare four-peat. The rift between Shaq and Kobe grew wider and wider, only magnified by Kobe’s rape case and Kobe violating one of the most ancient man-laws ever written. The super team experiment with the additions of Karl Malone and Gary Payton grew tired of the bickering even before the 2003-04 season tipped off. And before anyone realized, the union was disbanded in the summer of 2004 following a Finals loss to Detroit.
I assume that’s why some view the Shaq and Kobe era as awesome, historically dominant and head scratching. Following years of distance and a now infamous freestyle, the two reconciled – much like how Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain did years after their own playing careers ended – and won joint All-Star Game MVP in 2009. So yeah, that’s the toxic bond in a nutshell. Shaq and Kobe were all-time great, but they could’ve been the greatest had it not been for a small nuance known as pride.
Oh yeah, happy birthday, Shaq! You’re still the most physically imposing mountain with legs I’ve ever seen in my life!
For better or worse, the play that altered the scope of basketball for an entire decade.
* – Keeping the core of Shaq, Kobe and Phil the same, adding some quality role players and having a few lucky bounces, the Lakers could have won five straight titles. Kobe was only maturing as a go-to player – even if he was a major dickhead at times (not like Shaq as an angel either) – and in an ideal world the balance of power shifts without much disruption. It just wasn’t meant to be though.