Today in Sports History: June 19, 2000

On June 19, 2000, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal clinched their first NBA championship as the Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Reggie Miller-led Indiana Pacers in Game 6 of the 2000 NBA Finals. This marked the Lakers’ first title since 1987-88: the “Showtime” era. O’Neal had one of the most dominant NBA seasons of all time in 1999-00 as he captured the league MVP award, was co-MVP of the 2000 All-Star Game, was named the Finals MVP, and he led the league in scoring in both the regular season and the playoffs.

The O’Neal-and-Bryant-led Lakers went 67-15 throughout the 1999-00 regular season. They prevailed through a seven-game Western Conference Finals series against the Portland Trail Blazers to advance to the NBA Finals. In a hardwood classic Game 7 against Portland, the Lakers’ epic fourth-quarter comeback was punctuated by a signature alley-oop thrown from Bryant to O’Neal. In the 2000 NBA Finals, the dominant O’Neal averaged 38 points per game, 16.7 rebounds per game, and 2.7 blocks per game. Bryant, who sustained an injury in Game 2 of the Finals, which kept him out of action for the remainder of the game and for Game 3, had one of his many displays throughout his storybook career in Game 4 of being one of the all-time most heroic and clutch performers. Bryant put the team on his back during much of the overtime of the Lakers’ Game 4 victory with O’Neal fouled out. O’Neal finished the clinching Game 6 with 41 points and 12 rebounds while Bryant finished with 26 points and 10 rebounds. 

Bryant, who entered the 1996 NBA Draft straight out of high school, was traded to the Lakers on the same day he was selected by the Charlotte Hornets. Soon after, O’Neal, who had proved himself as a superstar with the Orlando Magic, signed with LA. The Lakers were certainly an exciting young team from 1996-97 – 1998-99 but faced disappointment in each of those years in the playoffs. In the offseason of 1999, Phil Jackson, who had guided the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls to six championships, was hired to coach the O’Neal-and-Bryant-led Lakers. The Lakers, who had played at the Great Western Forum since 1967-68, moved to their new home arena beginning in 1999-00: The STAPLES Center. Playing under the legendary Coach Jackson, O’Neal and Bryant led the Lakers to three consecutive championships from 1999-00 – 2001-02 and forged one of the most dynamic superstar combos in history. There have been very few players in history as unstoppable a force as O’Neal was in his prime and there have been very few players in history as talented, sensational, and driven as Bryant was. The Bryant-and-O’Neal dynasty came to a halt in the summer of 2004, following their disappointing Finals loss to the Detroit Pistons. 

After one year off, Jackson returned to coach Bryant and the Lakers. While Bryant had one of the most statistically historic individual regular seasons in 2005-06, O’Neal and Dwyane Wade of the Heat joined forces to claim the 2005-06 NBA championship. Bryant continued to perfect his game and his leadership skills even more. He and Coach Jackson would lead the Lakers to two more championships in 2008-09 and 2009-10. Upon being asked what his 2009-10 championship meant to him individually, Bryant answered: “Just one more than Shaq. You could take that to the bank.”

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