Shaquille O’Neal famously makes up half of perhaps the greatest duo in NBA history.
O’Neal and Kobe Bryant wreaked havoc on the league in their eight seasons together on the Los Angeles Lakers. Their dominance truly began in the 1999-2000 NBA season when the Lakers matched up with the Indiana Pacers in the 2000 NBA Finals.
The Lakers didn’t have the easiest route to the Finals, going a full five games against the Sacramento Kings in the first round and needing seven games to eliminate the Portland Trail Blazers in the Western Conference Finals. However, O’Neal truly felt him and Bryant had to win it all that season and played with something to prove.
O’Neal reflected on his first NBA Finals with the Lakers, saying that he felt he had to prove how dominant he was in order to keep the team together, according to Brandon ‘Scoop B’ Robinson of Heavy.com:
That was my first one, right? The Pacers? Because after making it to the Finals in ’94 and getting embarrassed by Hakeem Olajuwon, I said to myself, ‘if I ever go back, I gotta put on a performance so dominant that it won’t be a question who the champ is…’ and then, I had another thing motivating me. Rik Smits used kill me when I was younger. So I know he’s way older. He came in the game – oh yeah Shaq’s a dog. He’s the same ol’ Shaq, giving out elbows to the face and in your mouth and in your nose… I’m coming to take this trophy by any means necessary. So there was something that I had to prove and set an example and something that had to be done because, if we don’t win that first one, they’ll probably break us up and it’ll be a lot more negative stuff to talk about.
The Lakers ended up winning this series in six games, beginning their run of three consecutive championships.
And besides a Game 4 in which O’Neal fouled out late in the game and Bryant took over, the former was truly dominant. For the series, O’Neal averaged an absolutely absurd 38.8 points, 16.7 rebounds, and 2.7 blocks per game. He did this while playing 45.0 minutes per game.
In his prime, nobody was as dominant as O’Neal. He simply could not be stopped by anybody, and that’s exactly what he wanted to prove heading into the 2000 NBA playoffs.