"Kobe was carried by Shaq" - the narrative that belittles Bryant's first three-peat. It's the ultimate argument Kobe's critics use when discussing the all-time ranking of Black Mamba. And let me tell you right away; it's wrong.
It wasn't a dynamic where you can single out one of the two and say someone got carried. The fact is they were a tandem, and they both depended on each other. Looking at the stats, one may say Shaq was a more dominant part of the duo. But can you really look at Kobe's numbers and say those are the stats of a player that got carried? I don't think so. Saying Shaq was 1A to Kobe's 1B makes some sense, but even that is a pure generalization of their run. It was much more situational.
Nevertheless, let's try debunking the myth of Kobe getting carried by Shaq. What better way to do it than to go through their playoff run in '01. So let's see how “Shaq carried Kobe.”
Coming off a 56 wins regular-season, the Lakers were set to face Portland in the first round of the playoffs. It was a very solid Portland team, the one that Lakers beat in a 7 games series in the '00 WCF. Blazers were led by Damon Stoudamire, Steve Smith, Rasheed Wallace, and veterans Scottie Pippen and Arvydas Sabonis. However, they were no match for a fired-up Lakers squad who were ready to go back to back after winning their first title the previous year.
LA swept the series 3-0, and it wasn't even close. They beat the Trail Blazers by an average margin of almost 15 points, outplaying them in every single segment of the game of basketball.
Shaq led the Lakers with 27 PPG, 15.7 RPG, and 2.7 APG on .526 TS%. What did Kobe do? He put up 25 PPG, 4.3 RPB, and 7.7 APG on .565 TS%. He led his team in assists, was their second-leading scorer, and played elite defensive throughout the whole series.
After they bounced Portland in the first round, the Lakers were up against the Sacramento Kings in the Western Conference Semifinals. The Kings were a very good team, led by 27-year-old Chris Webber and European Core of Stojaković-Türkoğlu-Divac. They had themselves a year, winning 55 games and making the post-season as 3rd seed in the West.
However, the Kings were also outmatched by the power of Kobe and Shaq. They swept them in four games, not allowing Sacramento to pose a serious threat on their title run.
Shaq opened the series with back-to-back 40 and 20 performances and was simply unguardable. Kobe took over in games 3 and 4, dropping 36 and 48 to close out the series. Bryant was actually the team's leading scorer, averaging 35 points per game. He added 9 rebounds and 4.3 assists per contest while shooting .473 from the floor.
Shaq put up a fantastic performance once again, going 33.3/17.3/2.3 over the four games series. It seemed like they balanced each other out perfectly, with one carrying a load of first two games and the other closing out the series with amazing performances in the last two games.
Beating the Kings met only one thing; the Lakers were once again in the WCF. Only this time, they were up against the number one seeded Spurs. David Robinson was in the later stage of his career, being 35 at the time. But nevertheless, San Antonio on a paper presented a serious threat to the Lakers.
However, what happened on the floor denied the whole notion about San Antonio being a real challenge for guys in purple and gold. Beacuse guess what? The Lakers swept the series once again. It meant that heading into the NBA Finals, they were 12-0. They simply ran through the conference. And bear in mind, those were all 50-wins teams they have swept.
The Lakers were once again led by their two-headed monster of Kobe and Shaq. Kobe had himself a series, averaging 33.3/7/7 on .514 shooting from the floor. Shaq, on the other hand, averaged 27 points of his own, adding 13 RPG and 2.5 APG in the process. He had a tougher matchup in Tim Duncan, and it kind of reflected on his stats. That's why Kobe took over. Like I said; it was situational.
After sweeping the Spurs, the Lakers were after a 16-0 playoff run, the first in NBA's history. The only team that was on their way was the Philadelphia 76ers, led by none other than Allen Iverson. Their dreams of going undefeated in the post-season were crushed right after Game 1. AI put up 48 and led the Sixers to a 6 point victory.
However, what was their first post-season loss that year ended up being their only one. The Lakers won four consecutive games, winning their second of three NBA titles with the duo of Shaq and Kobe leading them.
Shaq got the Finals MVP, and deservingly so. Diesel averaged 33 PPG, 15.8 RPG, and 4.8 APG and was a matchup nightmare for Sixers. However, Kobe also did his thing. Mamba averaged 24.8/7.8/5.8 but had struggled to find his shot the whole series, hitting only .415 off his FGAs.
And there you have it. That was Lakers' playoff run in '01 which finished with them winning their back-to-back title. Does it still look like Kobe was carried by Shaq?
If it does, maybe this will help you change your mind. Over the entire post-season, Kobe averaged 29.4 PPG, 7.3 RPG, and 6.1 APG. He was the team's second-leading scorer and had led them in assists, while also being arguably their best perimeter defender. Oh, he also led the Lakers in win shares with 3.8.
Now, Shaq also put up an out of this world performance throughout the entirety of the playoffs. He averaged 30.4/15.4/3.2 while adding 2.4 blocks per game. He also had a fantastic Finals series and became the Finals MVP as he should have. No one is arguing against it.
What I'm arguing against is the notion that Shaq carried Kobe over that run. Looking at those numbers, can anyone really say that's a fair argument? I don't think so.
Like I said, if you want to call Shaq 1A to Kobe's 1B, I can live with that. But saying that one was carried by another is just absurd.