Shaq might have gotten some chuckles with his rap over the summer, but Kobe and the Lakers are the ones doing the laughing.
Kobe Bryant has led the Lakers to a better regular season record than 6 of the Shaquille O’Neal led Lakers teams, and is slowly etching his Lakers era in stone.
1996-1997 – 56-26 (Lost in Semi-Finals to Jazz)
1997-1998 – 61-21 (Lost in Conf-Finals to Jazz)
2000-2001 – 56-26 (Won Championship)
2001-2002 – 58-24 (Won Championship)
2002-2003 – 50-32 (Lost in Semi-Finals to Spurs)
2003-2004 – 56-26 (Lost in Finals to Pistons)
2008-2009 – ?
It has been said that he who laughs last laughs best. In the wake of the Shaquille O’Neal trade, it looked as if Shaq and Lakers haters would get the last laugh when the Miami Heat won the 2006 NBA Championship. Shaquille earned his fourth ring (which he won without Kobe moreover), Caron Butler was an All-Star, and all the Lakers had to show for it was Kwame Brown.
The Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak apparently didn’t pull the trigger on deals that would have landed the team the likes of Carlos Boozer and Baron Davis. This eventually led to the summer of 2007. After another disappointing playoff appearance, Kobe Bryant finally said he wanted out.
This to Lakers fans was the death nail that proved they had lost the battle as well as the war. Not only did they lose Big Shaq who had since won a ring, but they were now going to lose Kobe Bryant. The organization was not the same. Dr. Buss became the new Al Davis to Mitch Kupchak’s Matt Millen. The Lakers as we knew them were a thing of the past.
But the NBA is where amazing happens. Andrew Bynum, the Fruit Loops eating porker the Lakers drafted in 2005 who Kobe wanted to “ship out” for Jason Kidd began to become a dominant force.
Bynum had a stretch of All-Star level performances in December capped off by a 28 point 12 rebound 2 block shots effort in the Christmas Day game against the Suns.
After the Lakers 122-115 victory in that game, Suns coach Mike D’Antoni was asked if he thought Andrew Bynum was an up-and-coming force, to which he replied “I hope he’s not up-and-coming”. D’Antoni recognized that the Lakers weren’t getting there, but were indeed here.
Along with the improvement of the Lakers younger players, Mitch Kupchak methodically re-worked the roster under the radar. He traded Maurice Evans for the younger more defensive minded Trevor Ariza.
In what should have been an early sign that NBA teams were cost cutting in a worsening economic climate, the Memphis Grizzlies traded Pau Gasol to the Lakers for seemingly nothing.
After spending 3 seasons in exile the Lakers were now back to being the darlings of the NBA. After watching Dwyane Wade and LeBron James take his spot, Kobe Bryant regained his marketing power. He was back in commercials, on video game covers, and his jersey once again became a top seller.
The Lakers got their Hollywood swagger back. Staples Center became the spot again. Leonardo DiCaprio and the rest are back in the house. The Royal Purple & Gold show are not only a hit at the crib. Their road games seem more and more like they are being played on Figueroa. Kobe Bryant recently noted that the once hostile Arco Arena filled with cow bells have now been replaced with Northern California Lakers fans.
After spending his first few seasons away from the Lakers ripping the organization and its management, Shaquille O’Neal “free styled” a Kobe Bryant diss rap this summer.
He proudly proclaimed that Kobe “couldn’t do without me”, and even inferred he was better than Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. After the Miami Heat won it all 2006, reality soon came into play. They were swept in the first round off the playoffs in the very next season, and missed the playoffs completely in 2008.
Wilt Chaimberneezy avoided the embarrassment of having to be accountable for the mess he assisted in making in Miami and was traded to the Phoenix Suns at the mid-point of last season.
It seemed as if Shaq was back to terrorize the Lakers once and for all. Not only had he won a ring without them, but it appeared as if he would spend the remainder of his career with their division rival who had twice ousted them since his departure.
But while the Lakers made it to another NBA Finals in 2008, Shaq and his new “favorite team of all time” were eliminated. After Shaquille’s hip-hop call out of Kobe and the Lakers, the 2009 season had NBA observers thinking they may be on a playoff collision course.
But even as the former Lakers duo was re-untied for the 2009 All-Star game, The Big Aristotle was unable to hold up his part. After the Maverick’s 130 to 101 win over the Utah Jazz Wednesday, Shaquille O’Neal and the Phoenix Suns were eliminated from playoff contention.
There will be no O’Neal/Bryant split faced NBA promotions this summer. There will be no new classic Suns vs. Lakers 1st round match-up. While Kobe Bean Bryant is leading his team in challenging for the NBA title, Shaquille O’Neal will probably join C-Web and GP in studio with The Jet and Ernie.
And while Shaq is riding on diesel fumes, Kobe is the age Jordan was when he won his 3rd ring. Kobe has 2 skilled 7 footers in their 20′s on his team, 1 of which is an All-Star and the other a top 5 center. While Shaq still needs to take a game or two off, Kobe is still one the most well conditioned athletes in the league and is on the verge of playing his second consecutive complete 82 game season.
Ignoring popular demand and trading O’Neal and resigning Bryant showed why Buss is a great poker player. He was willing to take a gamble, one that did not produce immediate results, but ended up being the right one in the end. Shaq and his contract have since left 2 NBA franchises in their wake. Watch out Mark Cuban, your Mavericks may be the new team that gets Shaq attacked.
The Lakers are back to being the #1 franchise in the NBA, and it looks like Kobe’s year to get his 4th championship. Add the 2008 MVP and you’ll see that he may be the one enjoying the last laugh.
Now you tell me how that tastes?