The Los Angeles Lakers landed the jackpot in the summer of 1996 when they landed big name free agent Shaquille O’Neal to a 7-year, 120 million dollar deal. The team was ecstatic because they knew exactly what type of player they were getting in O’Neal. A seven-foot-one, three hundred and twenty five pounds, monster of a man who could have his way with anyone placed in front of him on the court.
Shaquille proved to be worth every penny as he averaged 26 points and 12 rebounds which saw the Lakers place fourth in a very competitive Western Conference. However, in the 1997 playoffs, Shaq and the Lakers only managed to reach the semi finals as they were soundly put away by the Jazz in five games.
The following season, O’Neal averaged 28 points and 11 rebounds, giving the Lakers the third seed in the West. The Lakers breezed past the first two rounds of the playoffs before setting up a post-season rematch with the Jazz in the Western Conference finals. LA still proved to be no match for Utah, who swept the Lakers en route to their second NBA Finals in consecutive years.
Unfortunately, the 1998/99 season proved to be more of the same. LA finished fifth in the West and got bounced out of the playoffs in the second round, getting swept by the Spurs. It was yet another post-season disappointment for the Lakers.
The 1999/00 season saw Shaq win his first MVP award as he averaged 29 points and 13 rebounds, giving the Lakers the first seed in the Western Conference. This time, however, there was no stopping them. The Lakers went on to win their first title in 12 years. All of their playoff hardships seemed to disappear when the Lakers started to catch a glimpse of a potential second star in twenty-one year old Kobe Bryant. Shaq and Kobe’s dynamic duo proved to be too much for the league in the years to come as they went on to three-peat, winning 2000, 2001, and 2002 NBA Championships.
Despite their success on the court together, it was not always great off the court for the two Laker stars. Kobe and Shaquille butted heads for the remainder of their tenure with the Lakers as Kobe questioned O’Neal’s work ethic on countless occasions which then led to chemistry issues. The superstar duo never won another NBA title as they would end up losing in the second round to San Antonio in 2003 and to Detroit in the Finals of 2004.
Shaquille and Kobe’s relationship would reach the boiling point which left management no choice but to trade O’Neal to the Miami Heat, ending his historic run with the LA Lakers. Although his career with the Lakers did not have the happy ending many would have wanted, nobody can deny the impact he made for the franchise during his 8 year period. Shaquille O’Neal’s name will forever live among the greats who have worn the purple and gold.