Once Jackson arrived, he was not only able to harness and properly channel the emerging greatness within Bryant, but he also challenged O’Neal to be truly dominant and dedicated. Not only did he produce career numbers (29.7 PPG, 13.6 REBS, 3.8 assists, 3 BPG) while on the way to his first MVP season, but O’Neal and a budding Kobe Bryant led the Lakers all the way to a 4-2 Finals victory over Reggie Miller and the Indiana Pacers. A dynasty was truly born, as the trio of Jackson, O’Neal, and Bryant utilized the Triple-Post (Triangle) Offense to their definite advantage as the Lakers rattled off the franchise’s sole 3-peat from 2000-2002.
O’Neal’s tenure in Los Angeles certainly wasn’t without fault or errors, if we’re being fair and anti-revisionist. Aside from the continuous feuding over a proverbial “pecking order” with Bryant, there was also the lack of urgency in taking care of a necessary toe surgery following the 3-peat. That unfortunate decision not only earned him the moniker ‘Company Time’ (by some) as a result of his “I got hurt on company time, so I’ll heal on company time” stance, but it effectively ended that core group’s reign of dominance. There was also the unacceptable public showing of disrespect towards Dr. Jerry Buss, which he has since apologized for.
There are some that would still question O’Neal’s work ethic given the fact that he never led the league in rebounding or blocked shots. In all honesty, those criticisms are totally fair, given the amount of talent that man actually possessed. Ultimately, I elect to look beyond these things, as there is nothing to be gained from a hypothetical “what if he had ______’s work ethic” argument at this point. O’Neal was the man and player that he was, and there’s nothing that will change that.
I only reference all of this, because O’Neal’s actual L.A. story wouldn’t be complete without a true and fair assessment of the period. Ultimately, as I believe you should be judged by the total sum of your deeds, I’m still grateful for everything O’Neal provided the basketball loving community. While the negatives and sensitive feelings surrounding his eventual exit are undeniable, his positives while donning the number 34 in gold are far more lasting for me. Regardless of any critique, whether just or unjust, O’Neal is still a 3-time Finals MVP and was and was part of one of the most devastating 1-2 combo’s the league has seen.
Love him or hate him, his jersey will forever hang amongst the other all-time greats to wear a Los Angeles Lakers uniform. With 44 (West), 13 (Chamberlain), 22 (Baylor), 25 (Goodrich), 32 (Magic), 33 (Abdul-Jabbar), 42 (Worthy), 52 (Wilkes) and now 34 (O’Neal) in the rafters, the only question remaining is which number is next? Eight or 24?
Here’s a look back at the most iconic Bryant/O’Neal play of their history and an extended look at O’Neal’s entire journey, from junior high and throughout his Hall of Fame career:
In case you missed it, be sure to check out Kobe in our dunk of the week!
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