When Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant both joined the Los Angeles Lakers in the summer of 1996, fans assumed multiple championships were imminent and the only thing to do was plan the parade route through downtown. -city of LA.
Not so fast.
The Lakers were young and immature, and they would have a lot to learn on their journey to glory.
They lost in the second round of the 1997 playoffs in brutal fashion to the Utah Jazz, then were swept by the same Jazz team the following year.
In 1999, Tim Duncan’s San Antonio Spurs had the chance to torment O’Neal and Bryant by sweeping them in the Western Conference semifinals.
Many were beginning to doubt that the team and its duo had what it took to go all the way.
That summer, the Lakers hired Phil Jackson as their new head coach, and he single-handedly changed the team’s culture and mindset.
After winning 67 games and outlasting the Portland Trail Blazers in the Western Conference Finals, the Lakers advanced to the NBA Finals against the Indiana Pacers.
A vintage clutch performance from Bryant in Game 4 gave LA a 3-1 series lead, and after dropping Game 5 he went home looking to finish the job.
The Pacers were stubborn and they led Game 6 84-79 going into the fourth quarter.
The Lakers then started a big rally that gave them a seven-point lead midway through the quarter, although Indiana wasn’t going to give up as they tied the game with 5:08 left.
But he just didn’t have enough firepower as the Lakers finally got their rings, 116-111.
O’Neal scored 41 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and blocked four shots, and for averaging 38.0 points on 61.1% shooting, 16.7 rebounds and 2.7 blocks in the Finals, he was named MVP. from the Serie.
He put together perhaps the greatest individual season in basketball history, and it ultimately put his team on top while creating a new dynasty for it.