Former NBA player Bonzi Wells made a guest appearance on the BasketballNews podcast. He talked about the infamous rivalry between the Los Angeles Lakers and Portland Trailblazers two decades ago. The Lakers were competing for their first championship in the Shaq and Kobe era, and on their way to their first championship, they had to go up against a tough and loaded Blazers squad. Those Blazers had several great players on their team and presented a real challenge to the Lakers in the 2000 WCF when they were really close to beating them in 7 games.
Bonzi remembers how important Rasheed Wallace and Scottie Pippen were for the Blazers, especially on defense, providing help when needed while at the same time mentoring younger players. That was the series in which the late great Kobe Bryant made his presence felt and showcase to the world he is the next big thing in the NBA. Bonzi also talked about the approach they had guarding Kobe in which Pippen told him he needs to follow Kobe wherever he goes and not allow him to get any space to manoeuver.
Even though he was only 21 years old at the time, Kobe was extremely versatile and had an unbelievably polished game for someone of his age. The Blazers wanted to exploit any weakness in his game, and Bonzi said Kobe was ‘light’, which means they wanted to be physical with him as much as possible and use it to their advantage.
They were like dogs, go get him Bonz, follow him everywhere, and that is how it was. And Pippen was like go and follow that motherf***er to the locker room, everywhere he goes you shade him and you send him to us. That is how it was, and that is what I loved about Kobe. We used to try and f**k Kobe up but in a good way. Not trying to hurt him but just tried to make him feel us. We felt like he was light, and that was our only defense against him. He had excellent footwork, a great shooter, competitive fibers of the charts. There were only a few things that you could find about Kobe back then that were deficits, and him not being strong was one of them, and that is what we tried to do. We tried to make our offense the best defense in terms of posting him up, going for every rebound, banging on him, and just trying to do whatever you can to wear him down in the fourth quarter.Bonzi Wells, via BasketballNews
Shaquille O’Neal was the best player in the NBA that year and the MVP, but the Blazers were able to slow him down to a certain extent. They had big bodies they were constantly throwing at Shaq, with Arvydas Sabonis being the primary defender on Shaq the majority of the time. Unfortunately for the Blazers, Sabonis was out of his prime at that point in his career with several injuries that robbed him, and he was no longer the player he was when he played in Europe.
Playing against Shaq, I wish Shaq got a chance going against a young Sabonis and see what he could’ve done against him. Shaq got a great chance to bully Sabonis a little bit, and he was the saving grace for the Lakers back then. We should have won at least two championships with that team, maybe even three if they kept us together because we had such a great team, but it was the mindset of management that wasn’t in the same place and reality of what we needed.Bonzi Wells, via BasketballNews
The Lakers eventually won that series in seven games after being down by 15 points in the fourth quarter of game seven. Like Bonzi mentioned, they were a great team with a fantastic group of individuals who didn’t have enough time to try and challenge the Lakers during those championship runs. Too bad their management didn’t make the right moves at that time because the Blazers looked like a team that had all the tools to match up with the Lakers and potentially ruin their chances of a three-peat they had.