On the latest episode of The Hoop Genius podcast, Rip Hamilton recounted what it was like to play against the Los Angeles Lakers’ dynamic duo of Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal. Hamilton stated:
“So, I remember walking into the dressing room, like ‘Yo man, I can’t let this dude beat me again. Like I would never be able to live with myself to hear him talk trash to me every time I see him about how he beat me in high school, and he beat me at the highest level. But we, you know, Ben (Wallace) looked at me and said, ‘Rip, I got Shaq,’ so, I mean, what you talking about? That’s half the problem solved.”
In the early 2000s, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant seemed unbeatable until the Detroit Pistons came along. In 2004, the Lakers came close to their fourth title in five years, but fell short in the NBA Finals.
The Pistons were a hard-nosed defensive unit and embodied the phrase defense wins championships. They held teams to ridiculously low point totals. For example, the Pistons held the New Jersey Nets to just 56 points in the first game of the 2004 Eastern Conference Semifinals.
Hamilton talked about how the Lakers were stacked with talent. Four of their starters were named to the NBA 75 Anniversary Team, but that did not shake the Pistons.
Hamilton revealed that the mentality in their locker room was that they were the best team in the league. He stated:
“We had that ‘me against the world’ attitude. We knew that if we come out and performed and played at the level we are capable of playing, there wasn’t a team on the planet that could beat us. We didn’t get caught up in the hype, we feel as though that we should have swept them. I know a lot of people might feel differently but we feel as though that we were the better team, we were locked in, and we were ready to compete and win the championship.”
The Pistons won the series in five games, holding the Lakers to 81.8 points per game. At the end of the season, O’Neal was traded to the Miami Heat.
Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal won all three championships from 2000 to 2002
The Lakers completed the legendary feat of winning a three-peat from 2000 to 2002 but failed to carry on the momentum.
Only four other teams have completed a three-peat: the 1952-54 Lakers, the 1991-1993 Chicago Bulls, the 1996-1998 Bulls and the 1959-1966 Boston Celtics. Boston, though, completed an unfathomable eight-peat.
The breakup of the Bryant-O’Neal duo saw the Lakers miss out on championship contention until 2008. Although they lost the Finals that year, Bryant led the Lakers to back-to-back titles in 2009 and 2010.
Shaquille O’Neal, on the other hand, won another title with the Heat in 2006. It was his last championship before retiring in 2011.