Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal won three NBA championships together. They likely would have won many more if it weren’t for the bad blood that divided the two basketball titans. Shaq won one championship without Bryant, who won two championships without O’Neal.
According to the 2004 NBA Finals MVP Chauncey Billups, the Detroit Pistons used the lack of unity between them to defeat the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2004 NBA Finals.
During an appearance on ALL THE SMOKE, Billups shared that despite being a lesser talented team, the Pistons played into the Lakers’ locker room issues:
“It wasn’t a talent thing. We didn’t have the best talent in the series. We had the best team and we did play on that. You know, at that time, Kobe hadn’t won Finals MVP. It’s always been Shaq. We know they had that little thing and we really played into that.”
Billups continued to discuss the Pistons strategy, adding:
“We trapped Kobe, Kobe was really frustrated with us trapping him. We played Shaq man to man. Shaq getting 35 and 18, but we keeping him on the floor cause we going at him. Our gameplan was really good. We played to their psyche. They didn’t really let GP or Karl Malone, they didn’t throw them the ball, they didn’t let them do nothing. You know how the triangle was. We had to worry about Kobe, worry about Shaq, everybody else we just stay close. They didn’t have no freedom. We just had too many weapons.”
The 2004 Finals remains one of the most surprising upsets in NBA history. Besides Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal, the Los Angeles Lakers had Gary Payton and Karl Malone going into the season. While the two players were past their prime, many felt the Lakers were the overwhelming favorites.
Watch Chauncey Billups discuss Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal and the 2004 NBA Finals below (starting at the 37:10 mark):
Are Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal the best duo ever?
Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal spent eight seasons as teammates, appearing in four championships and winning three. Bryant would make six All-Star teams in this span, while O’Neal would make seven. Bryant was also named in six All-NBA teams, while O’Neal was named in the All-NBA team in all his eight years with the Lakers. Kobe would also make five All-Defensive teams, while O’Neal made three. O’Neal would also win an MVP award.
Despite their long list of accomplishments, many questions remain regarding what could have been. Had the duo remained together, they potentially could have surpassed fellow Lakers duo Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson as the greatest duo of all-time.
Relive the Lakers’ Western Conference Finals Game 7 run against the Portland Trail Blazers, which culminated in Kobe Bryant’s legendary alley-oop to Shaquille O’Neal: