While it is now great to look back on the early 2000s Los Angeles Lakers and romanticize about the era of Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant dominating en route to three straight NBA championships, the reality is that team was extremely close to never breaking through.
Much of that was due to the extremely talented Portland Trail Blazers who took the Lakers to seven games in the 2000 Western Conference Finals. The Blazers were a deep team that featured six-time champion Scottie Pippen to go along with veterans Rasheed Wallace and Steve Smith.
The bench had nothing but starter-level players as well with the likes of Brian Grant, Detlef Schrempf, Jermaine O’Neal, and someone who always gave the Lakers fits, Bonzi Wells. Along with the defending champion San Antonio Spurs, most viewed the Blazers as Western Conference favorites going into the season.
The Lakers on the other hand had been swept out the playoffs in two consecutive seasons and even with Phil Jackson as head coach, most had their doubts about them. Eventually it became clear that it would come down to the Lakers and Blazers.
But even amidst their biggest battles, Wells revealed to Howard Beck of Bleacher Report that the Blazers never believed the Lakers were championship caliber:
“We never thought the Lakers were a championship team. We thought we were the championship team, because we knew we had the most talent throughout the whole league, not just against them.”
In terms of pure talent, Wells isn’t wrong that they had the most talent as the Trail Blazers could literally go 12-deep down their roster. Had they held on to defeat the Lakers in 2000 it is likely that they would have hoisted the Larry O’Brien trophy that year and possibly become their own dynasty.
But the Lakers had the most dominant force in O’Neal and a young Bryant who was just beginning to figure everything out and make it known that he would be a force to be reckoned with. That combined with trusted veterans like Robert Horry, Brian Shaw and Rick Fox, gave the Lakers exactly what they needed to break through that ceiling and prove Wells and the Blazers wrong.
The lob from Kobe to Shaq is one of the most iconic moments in Lakers and all of NBA history and it was the launching point for their dynasty. Wells, the Blazers and many others may have questioned the Lakers’ championship capabilities at the time, but Shaq, Kobe, and the rest of the team hammered home how wrong they all were.
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