The Los Angeles Lakers have had more than their fair share of stars over the course of their 16 NBA Championships, and one of the most celebrated was Shaquille O’Neal. Larger than life both in physique and personality, Shaq combined with Kobe Bryant to form one of the most devastating duos of all time.
However, when it became clear in 2004 the two stars could not continue to coexist, the Lakers opted to trade O’Neal to the Miami Heat in order to re-sign Bryant. It was a painful, but necessary, decision for the franchise as well as the city of Los Angeles, which had acted as Shaq’s personal playground for his time in Los Angeles. With Miami now retiring O’Neal’s jersey, Heat President Pat Riley is still surprised that the Lakers decided to trade the dominant big man (via Mark Medina of the Orange County Register):
To this day, Pat Riley said he was surprised Shaq was available in trade considering the Lakers won 3 out 4 NBA Finals
— Mark Medina (@MarkG_Medina) December 23, 2016
Riley wasn’t the only one surprised by the move. After all, the Lakers had won three titles from 2000-2002 and then made it to the Finals again in 2004, where a stingy Detroit Pistons team and a hearty helping of injuries got in the way (remember Slava Medvedenko, starting power forward?).
Unfortunately, the discord between Bryant and O’Neal, combined with Bryant’s contract expiring, had put the Lakers in a position where they had to make a decision. Los Angeles certainly didn’t get enough in exchange for the former MVP, acquiring Lamar Odom, Caron Butler, Brian Grant, and a draft pick that would later become Jordan Farmar, although teams trading away superstars rarely receive a fair price.
We will always wonder what could have been had Bryant and O’Neal stayed together, but both franchises have experienced success since the trade, and celebrate the days when Shaq wore their uniform.