All anyone remembers now is how dominant Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant were together on the Lakers, and how it all ended prematurely despite the duo winning three championships together. Before all of the glory, their championship run almost didn’t even begin.
In Shaq’s first three seasons with the Lakers, the team failed to make it out of the Western Conference, including two sweeps in back-to-back years to San Antonio and Utah. Phil Jackson was hired in 2000 to put all the pieces together for a championship run. In his first season as head coach of the team, the Lakers won 67 games and found themselves up 3-1 against the Blazers in the Conference Finals
On June 4th of 2000, the Portland Trailblazers almost ended Shaq’s incredible MVP season and prevented a future 3-peat from happening. Entering the playoffs with the top overall seed, the Lakers would defeat the Sacramento Kings and Phoenix Suns before meeting the Portland Trail Blazers in the Western Conference finals.
It was Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals and the Blazers had a 75-58 early 4th quarter lead on the Lakers. Then the Blazers collapsed as the Lakers scored 15 in a row during a 31-11 run over the last 11 minutes and ended up WINNING by four.
“It took everything we had,” Lakers forward Glen Rice would say. “We were down 15, and time was running out. The big thing was we didn’t panic.” No, the Lakers certainly did not panic. Having not lost three consecutive games all season, the Lakers rallied behind the team’s pair of superstar future Hall of Famers, Kobe Bryant, and Shaquille O’Neal.
Kobe Bryant-to-Shaquille O’Neal alley-oops are among the most iconic and lasting NBA images of the early 2000s. The duo’s alley-oop in Game 7 of the 2000 Western Conference finals stands above the rest, without a doubt. After the play, O’Neal darted across the court toward the Lakers’ bench, waving his index finger at an elated home crowd as the Blazers called a desperation timeout.
“Game 7s are very interesting, but I’ve never seen any quite like that one before,” said Lakers coach Phil Jackson, who’d seen his share of playoff brilliance as the coach of Michael Jordan’s six-time champion Chicago Bulls.
“This is what makes champions,”‘ Lakers guard Kobe Bryant said. “We watched Game 7s growing up all the time, and to finally play in one is a real thrill.”
The Lakers would go on to defeat the Indiana Pacers 4-2 in The Finals to claim the franchise’s first championship since 1988.