Now here’s a bit of irony: what was better than trading Shaq? Signing him! For those who remember, the 1996 offseason was where the Lakers dynasty of the 2000’s began, as former Lakers GM and Laker great, Jerry West was able to sign a 24 year old Shaquille O’Neal to a massive seven year, 120 million dollar contract and acquire the draft rights to Kobe Bryant for Vlade Divac. During his inaugural four years with Orlando, Shaq had already become one of the best players in the league–taking Orlando to the NBA finals in only his second year in the league and accomplished enough to be named one of the 50 Greatest Players of All-Time at the start of the 1996-97 NBA season. Although his eight year stint with the Lakers didn’t start with an immediate championship, it didn’t take long for Shaq to lead the Lakers to the promise land, which he did in a dominating fashion…multiple times.
After three years of early exits in the playoffs due to immaturity, inexperience and lack of quality coaching, Shaq and the Lakers finally made it to the top in 2000. After a dominating regular season, where they went 67-15 behind Shaq’s MVP season, the Lakers ousted the Indiana Pacers in the NBA finals four games to two, Shaq was named the finals MVP and the Lakers were able to begin what would be the first dynasty of the new decade.
Even though 2000 would be the Big Fella’s lone MVP regular season, it did not stop him or the Lakers from continuing their success. Led by Shaq, the Lakers went on to experience the best playoff record, 15-1, in NBA history, during the 2001 postseason. After plowing through the first three rounds of the playoffs, the Lakers reached the NBA finals for a second consecutive season and were able to overcome league MVP Allen Iverson and the Philadelphia 76ers in five games. Once again, Shaq was crowned MVP of the NBA Finals.
The 2001-02 NBA season would solidify the Lakers as a true dynasty and Shaq would once again be behind their success. Although Kobe Bryant was much improved and well on his way to becoming the best player in the league, it was Shaq who crushed the competition in the Lakers four game sweep of the New Jersey Nets in the NBA Finals. Taking home his third Finals MVP trophy in as many seasons, The Big Aristotle had established himself among the great Laker centers, putting him in the same company as hall-of-famers George Mikan, Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
His tenure with the Lakers may not have ended on the highest note, however, it does not take away the fact, that during his time wearing the forum blue and gold, he was the biggest, baddest monster to ever own the paint.
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