Defining the ten greatest seasons of all time is no easy matter. For one thing, it’s clearly arguable. When you’re comparing players across different eras, with different rules, schedules, competition, and statistics there are just too many variables to account for. That being said it would be absolutely zero fun to talk about if we knew with 100 percent certainty.
So, in my opinion, what defines greatness? To be great you have to separate yourself from the good, the bad, and the ugly. I’m looking for people to standout individually, and I’m looking for said player to lead his team to a championship. While postseason success doesn’t automatically ensure greatness, the ultimate goal of every sport is to win. It’s hard to put a player on this list who did not reach that plateau. In the same breath, Robert Horry, who won seven championships, will never be considered better than Charles Barkley, who won zero championships. To be truly great you need to win and standout, even beyond the victors. So my list is comprised of ten players who did just that. Each player in the season listed won a regular season Most Valuable Player (MVP), a Finals MVP, and a championship. It’s not a surprise that every player on this list is, or will be in the Hall of Fame. I also don’t think it’s a coincidence that there are exactly ten players who have won an MVP and a Finals MVP on the way to a ring in a single season.
Before I begin, the argument against Wilt Chamberlain:
Chamberlain’s storied 50-point, 25-rebound per game season is undoubtedly special. However there is clearly a reason he didn’t win the MVP award that season. Wilt’s commitment to maintain his legendary stat line was more important to him then winning. Wilt posted ridiculous numbers but he was denied the crowning achievement of the regular season and his team lost in the playoffs where he was unable to maintain his numbers — although it’s only fair to say they were still incredible.
Chamberlain did win the MVP award in 1967 on the way to a championship with the Philadelphia 76ers. But despite monstrous regular season numbers, Wilt failed to clearly register himself as the man on that title team. Chet Walker, Billy Cunningham and Hal Greer all went on to have their own Hall of Fame careers and each of Chamberlain’s three mentioned teammates outscored him in the Finals. Wilt was likely still “the guy” on that team but there is enough to make us question it as one of the ten best seasons ever.
The argument against the infamous triple-double season:
The “Big O” Oscar Robertson averaged a triple-double in 1961-62 season. However the numbers didn’t help them achieve any real success as the franchise went 43-37. The Royals were defeated 3-1 in the first round and that was that. As impressive as Robertson’s raw numbers were, I’m sure he would have sacrificed them in a heartbeat for a championship. The Big O also finished third in the MVP voting that season behind Bill Russell and Chamberlain.
The argument against one of the many fantastic Bill Russell seasons:
Russell was a defensive force. We know, like any other elite player of the era, his numbers were preposterous. However, this is a guy who won 11 championships. Russell, his teammates, and coach Red Auerbach just figured it out first. Russell was the driving force behind the Celtics dynasty but no player in history has had more supporting talent. I’m not dismissing the greatness of the Russell era — his rebounding numbers were the main thing that stand out. We will never see dominance like that again in the NBA. However the Celtics’ overall talent, the dominance of the franchise in their era, and the lack of individual numbers separating Russell from other bigs of the time period forced me to leave him off this list.
Finally, why there are no duplicates:
Michael Jordan, LeBron James and Larry Bird are the only players in history to win the MVP, Finals MVP, and championship in the same season on more than one occasion. I have chosen only one season from each. I took the season I believe to be their greatest collective showing. By doing this I allowed all ten players who have reached the highest level of success in an individual season to be recognized.
*Age listed is from the start of the championship season.
*Every player on this list won an MVP, Finals MVP and championship during the listed season.
*** *** ***
10. WILLIS REED, 1969-70
Championship #: 1
Knicks record that season: 60-22, In the playoffs 12-7
Regular Season: 21.7 PPG, 13.9 RPG, 2 APG, 50 FG%, 20.3 PER, .575 TS%, .236 WS/48
Postseason: 23.7 PPG, 13.8 RPG, 2.8 APG, 47 FG%, 20.1 PER, 507 TS%, .168 WS/48
Number 19 for the New York Knicks was a member of the only two championships the franchise has ever won. Reed is also the only Knick to ever win the Most Valuable Player award. Nicknamed The Captain, Reed and Walt Frazier highlighted the golden era of Knicks basketball. Reed became the first player in NBA history to win an MVP, All-Star MVP, and Finals MVP in the same season.
The Knicks won 60 games behind their All-Star center. Reed and Frazier were co-number one options offensively but it was Reed who carried the defense. The Knicks were ranked first in the league in terms of opponents points per game. Reed led the league in defensive win shares and was nominated to the NBA All-Defensive First Team. He finished the regular season with 61 of 71 total first-place MVP votes, adding the esteemed Maurice Podoloff trophy to a long list of his in-season achievements.
The Baltimore Bullets gave the Knicks all they could handle in the first round, forcing the series to seven games. In the second round, as rookie Lew Alcindor tried to carry the Bucks past the Knicks, Willis Reed averaged 28 points over the five-game series. Advancing to the NBA Finals, the Knicks were matched up against the Lakers lethal trio of Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor and Jerry West, who finished second in the MVP voting. Reed quieted his critics early on, scoring 37 points in the series opener. Reed and the Knicks would emerge triumphant in a grueling seven-game series.
9. LARRY BIRD, 1983-84
Championship #: 2
Celtics record that season: 62-20, in the playoffs 15-8
Regular season: 24.2 PPG, 10.1 TRB, 6.6 APG, 1.8 SPG, 49 FG%, 24.2 PER, .552 TS%, .215 WS/48
Postseason: 27.5 PPG, 11 TRB, 5.9 APG, 2.3 SPG, 1.2 BPG, 52 FG%, 26.3 PER, .607 TS%, .236 WS/48
Larry Legend had some better statistical regular seasons but Bird was at his best in the 1984 Playoffs. In the regular season, Legend led the Celtics to 62 wins. Bird, often thought as a non-athletic, pure shooter by the younger generation, led the league in defensive win shares. On the way to his MVP, he was also listed to the NBA’s All-Defensive Second Team. The Celtics team was top eight in both offensive and defensive points per game.
When the season ended, nine players were given first-place MVP votes. Bird was awarded 52 of the possible 76 first-place votes but it should be stated it was not unanimous. Bird would face five of the eight remaining MVP candidates in the playoffs, sending each man packing before he called it a season.
In the first round, the Celtics defeated the Baltimore Bullets 3-1. Jeff Ruland was the leading point scorer and rebounder for the Bullets; he was also the ninth man in the MVP voting. In the semifinals, the Celtics played the Bernard King-led Knicks. This was significant; the Knicks fan base was surging behind King’s incredible scoring and King finished second in the MVP voting. Bird was phenomenal in the series, as he averaged more points, and shot a better percentage than rival King. In Game 7 at the Garden, Bird had 39 points, 12 rebounds, and ten assists to secure the Celtics trip to the conference finals. (In King’s defense he had not one, but two 40-point games in the series. The Legend was just too much.)
In the Eastern Conference Finals, the Celtics squared off against the Milwaukee Bucks, who were in the conference finals for the second year in a row. Don Nelson‘s Bucks were led by Sidney Moncrief, who won the league’s Defensive Player of the Year award and finished fifth in MVP voting. On the season the Bucks led the league in opponents points per game at 101.5 per game. The Celtics averaged 116.2 points per game in five contests in the series and were set for a Finals matchup with Magic and the Lakers.
The Lakers had been in the Finals each of the previous two seasons and boasted a talented roster including Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, James Worthy, Jamal Wilkes, Bob McAdoo and Michael Cooper. It was a superstar showdown to be sure. In the Finals, Bird led all players in points, rebounds, steals, free throws, and free throw percentage. Tied two all in the series, Bird took over. He scored 34 points on 75 percent shooting, and dumped in 17 rebounds to secure the series edge. The Celtics would lose Game 6, but bounced back and win the championship in Game 7.
It was the only postseason in history Bird led the playoff field in win shares per 48 minutes. Though Abdul-Jabbar and Magic finished third and fourth on the MVP ballot, the Celtics overcame. The Legend’s 27.5 points per game in the playoffs were also the highest of his career.
8. MOSES MALONE, 1982-83
Championship #: 1
76ers record that season: 65-17, in the playoffs 12-1
Regular season: 24.5 PPG, 15.3 RPG, 2 BPG, 50 FG%, 25.1 PER, .578 TS%, .248 WS/48
Postseason: 26 PPG, 15.8 RPG, 1.9 BPG, 54 FG%, 25.7 PER, .587 TS%, .260 WS/48
You can’t win without help. Everyone on this list had help. Hell, Malone was a three-time MVP and this was his only championship. Make no mistake, this Sixers squad was beyond talented. Moses led a squad comprised of Julius Erving, Andrew Toney and Maurice Cheeks.
The Sixers were top eight in offense and defense statistically. Malone led the league in rebounding and finished fifth in scoring. It was the only season Malone made an NBA All-Defensive First Team, and only the second time he’d been elected to an All-Defensive Team period.
The Sixers cruised through the playoffs. In the first round, they swept the Bernard King, Truck Robinson, Bill Cartwright Knicks. They beat the Marques Johnson, Moncrief-led Bucks in five, the year before the Celtics. Malone put up a relaxed 28-point, 17-rebound, four-block performance in the conference finals clinching game. In the Finals, Abdul-Jabbar, Magic, Cooper, Wilkes, and Norm Nixon got spanked. They didn’t win a single game. Malone averaged 26 points and 18 rebounds per game in the Finals and outplayed Abdul-Jabbar. In Game 4 to clinch the title Malone had 24 points, 23 rebounds and three blocks.
Malone dominated the MVP vote, taking 69 of 72 possible first-place votes. Malone’s Sixers dominated the field in a similar fashion and here we have the pinnacle season of his career.
“I’ll always be number one to myself.” – Moses Malone
7. TIM DUNCAN, 2002-03
Championship #: 2
Spurs record that season: 62-20, 16-8 in the playoffs:
Regular season: 23.3 PPG, 12.9 RPG, 3.9 APG, 2.9 BPG, 51% FG, 26.9 PER, .564 TS%, .248 WS/48
Postseason: 24.7 PPG, 15.4 RPG, 5.3 APG, 3.3 BPG, 54% FG, 28.4 PER, .577 TS%, .279 WS/48
Duncan had the second-least help in my opinion of anyone on this list — save number three when we get there. Duncan had Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Bruce Bowen, Stephen Jackson and David Robinson all on the team, sure, but no one else was in their prime. This was the last year of the Admiral’s career, Ginobili was a rookie, and Parker was a sophomore. The Spurs defense was third in points per game and Duncan made the NBA All-Defensive First Team.
In the playoffs, the Spurs drew the Starbury Suns. Anfernee Hardaway, Stephon Marbury, Shawn Marion and Amar’e Stoudemire made a series of it but Duncan ensured a win. In Game 6 of the series, Duncan had 15 points, 20 rebounds, 10 assists, and four blocks for a pretty strong triple-double.
The Lakers were on a quest for a four-peat but Duncan averaged 28 points, 12 rebounds, and five assists in the next series, sending the Lakers home in six. Duncan dropped 37 in a 28-point rout of the Lakers in Game 6.
In the conference finals, it was a battle of Texas rivals as Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks came to San Antonio. It would again take six games and the series may have been different if Nowitzki doesn’t miss time but the Spurs got it done in six behind phenomenal play from Duncan.
Finally, the Spurs faced Jason Kidd and the New Jersey Nets in their second straight Finals appearance. Duncan was out of this world in the Finals. Along with his usual dominance in scoring, rebounding and defense, he averaged over five blocks and five assists in the series. In Game 6 to clinch the title, he was two blocks shy of a quadruple double (21 points, 20 rebounds, 10 assists, and eight blocks!).
It was a very tight MVP race, Duncan secured only 60 of 119 first-place MVP votes. However he clearly warranted the award in the postseason. Similar to Bird, Duncan took his game to the next level when his team needed him most. This year was the only time in Duncan’s career he’d lead the postseason in WS/48. The Admiral can thank Duncan for ending his career on such a high note.
6. KAREEM ABDUL-JABBAR, 1970-71
Championship #: 1
Bucks record that season: 66-16, in the playoffs: 12-2
Regular season: 31.7 PPG, 16 RPG, 3.3 APG, 58% FG, 29 PER, .606 TS%, .326 WS/48
Postseason: 26.6 PPG, 17 RPG, 2.5 APG, 52% FG, 25.3 PER, .548 TS%, .271 WS/48
Abdul-Jabbar (at the time, he was still Lew Alcindor) has been mentioned in almost every one of these excerpts. His longevity will always be the thing that sticks with me. He was old enough to play in the era of big men with gaudy numbers, and continued on for two decades. The ’70-71 season was Abdul-Jabbar’s second season. He’s the only Milwaukee Buck to ever win an MVP, and he led the Bucks to their only title. Abdul-Jabbar scored 53 points on two separate occasions that season and definitely made basketball exciting to watch. In the regular season, Abdul-Jabbar led the league in points, PER, and WS/48. It was one of the greatest regular seasons of all time. Keep in mind this is a 23-year-old kid in his second NBA season.
His playoff numbers were still spectacular but there’s a clear drop in production. They made it look easy sending the Warriors home in five. In Game 5, the Bucks won by fifty points. In the second round we had a “changing of the guard,” as Abdul-Jabbar beat Chamberlain and the Lakers in five quick games. Then the Finals were a massacre. The Bucks trio of Abdul-Jabbar, Oscar Robertson, and Bob Dandridge laid into the Bullets. Wes Unseld and Earl “the Pearl” Monroe couldn’t even force a Game 5. Abdul-Jabbar had his best showing of the playoffs, averaging 27.5 points, 18.5 rebounds, and scoring at an efficient 60 percent clip over the four-game series.
The Bucks were first in points per game, and third in opponents points per game. You don’t win 66 games in the NBA by messing around that’s for sure. Abdul-Jabbar went on to win five more championships, five more MVPs, and one more Finals MVP. As an added fun fact, he once said that Oscar Robertson was the greatest player of all time. It’s an interesting thought given the fact he played with or against so many greats in his career.
5. MAGIC JOHNSON, 1986-87
Championship #: 4
Lakers record that season: 65-17, in the playoffs: 15-3
Regular season: 23.9 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 12.2 APG, 52% FG, 27 PER, .602 TS%, .263 WS/48
Postseason: 23.6 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 12.2 APG, 54% FG, 26.2 PER, .607 TS%, .265 WS/48
Magic Johnson was in his absolute peak during the ’86-87 season. Scary, considering he’d already won three championships, but that’s the kind of player he was. Abdul-Jabbar was slowing down, the Lakers were upset by the Rockets the year previous and all eyes were on Magic. Magic had 14 triple-doubles over the course of the year (eleven regular season, three in the postseason). Magic also enjoyed a career-high for points.
The Nuggets were disposed of in three quick contests, as Alex English, who scored 28 points a game in the regular season, was held to 18 in the series. In the semifinals, Magic was two rebounds a game shy of averaging a triple-double in the series. The Warriors lit a fire in Game 4, scoring 129 points but it was extinguished immediately in Game 5.
Next up, the Supersonics were fan favorites and had an exciting roster comprised of Xavier McDaniel, Tom Chambers and Dale Ellis. It didn’t matter. The Lakers swept them, winning Game 4 by a commanding 29 points.
Of course the Celtics were their Finals opponent. I don’t think you can make an argument for Bird or Magic’s best season without them besting the other in the playoffs. Magic averaged 26 points, eight rebounds, 13 assists, and two steals in the Finals. It was the highest rated non-Jordan NBA Finals ever. In Game 2, Magic had 22 points and 20 assists. In Game 3, Magic and Bird each had 30 and the Celtics made it a series. In Game 4, Magic had the famous skyhook and in Game 6 to clinch the championship, he had 16 points, 19 assists and eight rebounds.
It was the only year Magic would lead the league in WS/48, and he did so in both the regular and postseason. Magic had 65 of the possible 76 first-place MVP votes. (Bird had one, Jordan had the other 10.) It was the last time Magic ever won the Finals MVP, although he probably should’ve won over Worthy the following year.
4. LeBRON JAMES, 2011-12
Championship #: 1
Heat record that season: 46-20, in the playoffs: 16-6
Regular season: 27.1 PPG, 7.9 RPG, 6.2 APG, 53% FG, 30.7 PER, .605 TS%, .298 WS/48
Postseason: 30.3 PPG, 9.7 RPG, 5.6 APG, 50% FG, 30.3 PER, .576 TS%, .284 WS/48
I’m sure the main gripe with this selection is the shortened season. However, think about the situation. The Heat are coming off a heart-crushing season in which the underdog Mavericks started punching and didn’t stop. People are still bitter about “The Decision.” the media is crucifying LeBron for a subpar Finals performance, and the weight of the world is on his shoulders. Despite all of this garbage floating around that LeBron is mentally weak, he comes into the season after an extended break and has his best season to date. He’s First Team All-NBA, and First Team All-Defense. He leads the league in PER for the fifth straight year, and WS/48 for the fourth straight year.
Miami heads into the playoffs and the media doubts them at every turn. They embarrass the Knicks in five and LeBron puts to bed the ridiculous notion that Carmelo Anthony always outplays him. The Heat go down 2-1 in the semifinals against the Pacers and every tabloid in North America predicts a Heat choke job. But in Game 4, LeBron blows the doors out, scoring 40 points, grabbing 18 rebounds, and dishing nine dimes. The Heat don’t look back and win the next three games.
The Celtics get feisty in the Eastern Conference Finals behind the best basketball Rajon Rondo has ever played and win Games 3 through 5. In the final two games facing elimination, LeBron averages 38 points, 13.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists, and shoots 60 percent from the field.
In the Finals, LeBron plays all over the map, guarding Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka, and Kendrick Perkins at various points throughout the series. The Heat take care of business and in the championship-clinching Game 5, LeBron has 26 points, 11 rebounds and 13 assists. He gets the monkey off his back and cements his legacy as an all-time great. In the playoffs, LeBron led the field in scoring — remember the year before he was told he didn’t have a killer instinct?
LeBron James pulled the encore the next season. He was awarded an MVP, Finals MVP, and Larry O’Brien trophy in back to back years. Also, don’t forget that immediately following the 2012 championship, he went on to win Olympic gold with Team USA.
3. HAKEEM OLAJUWON, 1993-94
Championship #: 1
Rockets record that season: 58-24, in the playoffs: 15-8
Regular season: 27.3 PPG, 11.9 RPG, 3.6 APG, 3.7 BPG, 53% FG, 25.3 PER, .565 TS%, .210 WS/48
Postseason: 28.9 PPG, 11 RPG, 4.3 APG, 4 BPG, 52% FG, 27.7 PER, .568 TS%, .208 WS/48
No one on this list had less supporting talent than Dream in 1993-94. You’re thinking so let me help you. Reed had Frazier. Bird had Kevin McHale, Robert Parish and Dennis Johnson. Malone had Dr. J, Douglas and Cheeks. Duncan had Parker, and the Admiral granted out of season. Abdul-Jabbar had Big O, and Magic had Abdul-Jabbar, Worthy and Cooper. LeBron had Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Who does Dream have? Otis Thorpe, Robert Horry, Vernon Maxwell, and Kenny “the Jet” Smith, who is a better basketball analyst than he was a player. Hakeem Olajuwon is the only player in NBA history to win an MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, Finals MVP, and championship in the same season. Dream was deemed the best basketball player in the world at either end of the floor and he carried a subpar cast of high-end role players to a title.
The Rockets won 3-1 against Clyde Drexler and Rod Strickland‘s Blazers in the first round. Dream had a 46-point explosion in Game 2, forcing the Blazers to stave off elimination in Game 3.
In the semifinals, the Phoenix Suns came to town. The Suns were a high-powered offensive team ranked No. 1 in the league for points per game. Charles Barkley and Kevin Johnson pushed the Rockets to their absolute limits. It went to Game 7, where Dream shined brightest, scoring 37 points, and adding 17 rebounds, five assists and three blocks. Johnson and Barkley struggled to score, shooting a combine 18-for-41 in the game.
In the Western Conference Finals, it was Rockets vs. Jazz. Karl Malone shot 50 percent from the field during the regular season but shot 43 percent in the series. And in the Finals, the Rockets played the New York Knicks. It had been 21 seasons since the Knicks reached the NBA Finals. Patrick Ewing was the guy tasked with bringing winning back to NYC. Ewing was coming off a 24.5 points, 11.2 rebounds per game season in which he shot 50 percent from the field. He was completely outmatched in the Finals. His scoring dropped to 19 points a night, and he shot a dreadful 36 percent in the Finals. Facing elimination in the final two games, Dream averaged 27.5 points, 10 rebounds, 4.5 assists, and 3.5 blocks.
The Dream racked up every meaningful award in the sport of basketball, with one of the least talented teams to ever hoist the championship trophy. More than that, he validated his selection over a certain individual by the name of Michael Jordan. Speaking of…
2. MICHAEL JORDAN, 1990-91
Championship #: 1
Bulls record that season: 61-21, in the playoffs: 15-2
Regular season: 31.5 PPG, 6 RPG, 5.5 APG, 2.7 SPG, 1 BPG, 54% FG, 31.6 PER, .605 TS%, .321 WS/48
Postseason: 31.1 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 8.4 APG, 2.4 SPG, 1.4 BPG, .52% FG, 32 PER, .600 TS%, .333 WS/48
I was real tempted to choose Jordan from the 72-win season but his numbers were just too juicy in ’90-91. This is prime, hungry Jordan — the same journalists and media tabloids that questioned LeBron’s greatness were doing it to Jordan years earlier. Jordan shoved it to them, becoming the second player in history to win an MVP, Finals MVP, All-Star MVP, and championship in one season. At this point in his career, he’d led the league in scoring four straight years but still hadn’t won a championship. Jordan had the highest PER, and WS/48 of his postseason career over the 1991 Playoffs. He was All-NBA First Team, All-Defensive First Team, and he’d lead the league in scoring for the fifth straight year. It’s also the best field goal percentage he’d ever shoot in the regular season.
In the playoffs, Jordan made mince meat of the Ewing Knicks, sweeping them in three. In the semifinals, the Barkley-led Sixers played a highly competitive physical series. They stole Game 3 despite 46 points from Jordan but that’s all the Bulls would yield. In Game 5, Jordan and Scottie Pippen combined for 66 points. Jordan added 19 rebounds and seven assists to his 38-point scoring bonanza. Chuck went fishing.
It’s no secret there’s no love lost between Isiah Thomas and Jordan. The Pistons had been to the last three NBA Finals, subsequently sending Jordan and his Bulls packing in each of the previous three seasons. Not this time however, as the Bulls showed no mercy in their revenge, sweeping the defending back-to-back champions. The Bulls advanced to the Finals and we got MJ vs. MJ.
The Lakers were still menacing, built around Magic, Worthy, Vlade Divac and Sam Perkins but they didn’t have Abdul-Jabbar anymore. Again the league had a true changing of the guard as the Bulls won the championship in five. The Lakers took Game 1 and Jordan stormed out in Game 2. He scored 33 points, grabbed seven rebounds and dished 13 assists while shooting 83 percent from the field! The Bulls never looked back and didn’t let the Lakers see the series lead again. Jordan averaged over 11 assists in the series, silencing the critics who claimed he was selfish.
Jordan won five more championships and became the “GOAT” but in my opinion, he was never better than when he was winning the first one.
1. SHAQUILLE O’NEAL, 1999-00
Championship #: 1
Lakers record that season: 67-15, in the playoffs: 15-8
Regular season: 29.7 PPG, 13.6 RPG, 3.8 APG, 3 BPG, 57% FG, 30.6 PER, .578 TS%, .283 WS/48
Postseason: 30.7 PPG, 15.4 RPG, 3.1 APG, 2.4 BPG, 57% FG, 30.5 PER, .556 TS%, .224 WS/48
Like Jordan in the previous excerpt, this was the first championship for Shaq and the start of a three-peat. Shaq led the league in points per game — it was also the highest scoring season of his career. It was also the third of what would become five seasons in which he lead the league in field goal percentage. His PER tied a career-high, and his WS/48 were a career-high. It was shockingly Shaq’s only MVP award and one of only three All-Defensive Team allotments. During the regular season he stole the show, highlighted by a 61-point, 23-rebound butchering of the rival Clippers. He had nine regular season games with 20 or more points and 20 or more rebounds. Although people often dismiss the Lakers as a co-dynasty with Kobe Bryant and Shaq, I assure you that was not the case. The 21-year-old Bryant was coming into his own but was the clear Pippen on this particular season. Shaq also became the third, and currently final player to win an MVP, All-Star MVP, Finals MVP, and championship in one season.
The playoffs were no cake walk, the field was tough and deep. In the first round, Chris Webber and the Kings played the Lakers to five games. But the Lakers responded in an elimination situation in Game 5. They held Webber to 33 percent shooting and Shaq shot 63 percent for 32 points, adding 18 rebounds for good measure in the victory.
In the semifinals, the Lakers played some serious defense. They beat the Suns in five games and in the final meeting held them to 65 points. This was also significant as Shaq knocked out his former teammate Penny Hardaway. Only one Suns player scored in double-digits in the final contest. (Todd Day, a reserve who had 10 points.)
The Trail Blazers posed a real threat to the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals. A veteran Scottie Pippen and a young Rasheed Wallace battled their way into a seven-game series, that honestly, they had no business being in. The Lakers won the first game by 15 points, and Shaq had a monster game, scoring 41 points, grabbing 11 rebounds, dishing seven assists and blocking five shots. But the Blazers collected themselves and were a Game 7 fourth quarter away from sending Shaq daddy home early.
In the Finals, Shaq took over in the most dominant Finals performance I can think of. Shaq averaged 38 points, 16.7 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.0 steals and 2.7 blocks on 61 percent shooting. Shaq scored 40 or more points in three of the Lakers’ four wins. Bryant was clearly bothered in the series, averaging only 15.7 points a game on 37 percent shooting, but it didn’t matter. The Pacers staved off elimination in Game 5, in prime fashion, as they killed the Lakers in a 33-point upset. (Shaq still had 35 points.) However in Game 6, Shaq was having none of it. He scored 42 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and blocked four shots for good measure on his way to securing his first ever championship.
Shaq was a monster, and his physical dominance is untouched. If he had learned how to shoot free throws, we’d possibly be talking about him as “the GOAT” — instead he will have to settle for the greatest season of all time. Shaq received 120 of 121 first-place MVP votes during the season.
Am I wrong? Are you furious Jordan wasn’t No. 1? Do you hate my formula and feel one of the statistic monsters from the early seasons deserved a slot? Or hey, maybe you enjoyed the read and just wanted to say that. No matter what the case, feel free to speak your mind and leave some feedback.
What do you think?
Follow Josh on Twitter at @JoshEberley.
Follow Dime on Twitter at @DimeMag.
Become a fan of Dime Magazine on Facebook HERE.