History remembers the 1999-2000 NBA season as the one where the Los Angeles Lakers — led by Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant — finally broke through and won their first of three championships.
Aided by Robert Horry, Rick Fox, and a slew of other good role players, the Lakers passed by several great teams like the Portland Trail Blazers on their way to the title. However, history often forgets the little details of events like this.
Details like the fact that the Lakers were considered by some as underdogs heading into their series with the Trail Blazers. There was the famous Bryant to O’Neal lob, that punctuated the Lakers erasing a fourth-quarter deficit Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals.
Much has been made about what would have happened to the careers of Bryant and O’Neal, and Lakers as a whole, had they lost to Portland. The matchup resonates so much that Horry said the Trail Blazers were the best team he faced his entire career, according to Howard Beck of Bleacher Report:
“It’s probably the best team I’ve ever faced playing basketball, period,” says Robert Horry, who won seven championships in his 16-year career, including three with the Lakers.
O’Neal added that part of what made them so great is that they were one of the only teams to not fear the Lakers during those three years:
“They were the toughest team,” Shaq says, “and they were the only team that wasn’t scared of us.”
Fox said that this was one of the most talented and deep teams he ever faced:
“To this day, I’m hard-pressed to find a team that was more stacked when it comes to true quality of player, over the course of their entire careers. You just felt they had an answer at every position, twice. And the bench crew would be a 50-win team in the league.”
Led by Rasheed Wallace and Scottie Pippen, and highlighted by an endless list of great role players, the Trail Blazers ran a full 10-man rotation where a 21-year old Jermaine O’Neal was the 10th man.
They five players that either were All-Stars that year or would become recognized as such in the couple seasons following. Portland may have very well defeated the Lakers if not for true dominance by Shaq on a nightly basis.
Even with O’Neal averaging 25.9 points, 12.4 rebounds and 2 blocks per game, the Trail Blazers still led Game 7 by 15 points with 10 minutes remaining.