Season by Season
Kobe Bryant, Phil Jackson and Shaquille O'Neal made for a title triumverate that led the Lakers in running rampant over the rest of the league. (Robert C. Mora/NBAE Photos)
With all this in his favor, Shaq set out to make the NBA his league. He succeeded.
"He's the most dominating player in our league," Pacers coach Larry Bird said after O'Neal and the Lakers clinched the championship with a 116-111 victory over Indiana in Game 6 of the NBA Finals.
"He's powerful, strong, able to get the ball in the hole," Bird said. "He's improved immensely, starting to make shots further from the basket. He's just so dominating that they have an opportunity here to do something great for a number of years."
It's worth noting that Bird said "they have an opportunity," meaning that the Lakers aren't a one-man show. All-Star guard Kobe Bryant made great strides in his fourth season, posting career-highs in scoring (22.5 ppg), rebounds (6.3 rpg), assists (4.9 apg), steals (1.61 spg) and shooting percentage (.468). He also earned a spot on the All-Defensive First Team.
Bryant proved himself as a clutch player, evident in his game-winning jumper with 2.6 seconds left in Game 2 of the Western Conference Semifinals against Phoenix. Then there was Game 4 of the NBA Finals, when he scored eight of his 28 points in overtime, including a game-winning reverse tip.
But O'Neal was the force nobody wanted to reckon with. He led the league in scoring (29.7 ppg) and field goal percentage (.574). He was second in rebounds (13.6 rpg), third in blocks (3.03 bpg) and fourth in minutes (40 mpg). On March 6, his 28th birthday, Shaq celebrated with 61 points against the Clippers. He also led the Lakers on winning streaks of 19, 16 and 11 games.
He shared All-Star MVP honors with Tim Duncan and was a runaway choice for Finals MVP. Shaq nearly became the first unanimous MVP of the regular season, receiving 120 of a possible 121 first-place votes.
He stepped up his performance in the playoffs, averaging 30.7 points and 15.4 rebounds. But his numbers were most gaudy in the Finals, where he averaged 38.0 points and 16.7 rebounds and shot .611 from the field.
In the Lakers locker room after Game 6 of the Finals, O'Neal summed up his season. "Now that we got one (title)," he said, "we just have to work on two, three, four, five. It's everything I thought it would be."
Other notes from the season:
Charles Barkley's 16-year career came to an end. The future Hall of Famer announced in October that he would retire when the season ended - which, for Barkley, appeared to be when he ruptured the quadriceps tendon in his left knee during a Dec. 8 game in Philadelphia. But the Rockets forward returned to play six minutes and score two points in Houston's season finale.
The NBA family lost three key members with the deaths of Wilt Chamberlain, Bobby Phills and Malik Sealy. Chamberlain, the Hall of Fame center, died on Oct. 12, 1999, at age 63. Phills, a swingman for the Charlotte Hornets, died in a Jan. 12 auto accident. Sealy, a Minnesota Timberwolves guard, died in a May 20 car accident.
Michael Jordan returned to the NBA on Jan. 19 as the President of Basketball Operations for the Washington Wizards. "I look forward to the challenge," Jordan said. "I'm going to have my imprints and footprints all over this organization."
All-Star Saturday belonged to Toronto Raptors swingman Vince Carter, who clinched the NBA.com Slam Dunk on a jam in which he took a bounce pass from teammate Tracy McGrady, went through the legs and rocked the rim with a one-handed jam.
All was quiet on the Feb. 24 trading deadline, with Atlanta and Orlando making a minor deal. One week earlier, however, Chicago's Toni Kukoc went to Philadelphia and Larry Hughes made his way to Golden State in a three-way deal.
San Antonio Spurs forward Sean Elliott, who had received a kidney transplant eight months earlier, returned to the court March 14 against the Atlanta Hawks. He went on to play for the rest of the regular season and the playoffs.
Kevin Johnson came out of retirement after Phoenix point guard Jason Kidd broke his ankle March 22. Johnson played six regular season games and nine playoff games, and returned to retirement after the Lakers eliminated the Suns in the Western Conference Semifinals.