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Shaun Powell

In the end of a beautiful relationship in L.A., one big guy left and one stayed.
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Shaq, Kobe, Athens and MJ play in decade's top moments

Posted Dec 9 2009 11:04AM

There are moments, and then there are Moments, the kind that tattoo themselves into your memory bank, making them hard to forget easily. The NBA had its share during the 2000s, certainly more that can be summed up in a few sentences.

Here's a Top 10, confining the good and not-so-good moments to the on-court kind only that helped shape the decade.

10. Greg Oden out for the season, 2007 (and now, this one). When they drafted Greg Oden first overall in 2007, the Blazers had visions of another Bill Walton. Careful what you wish for. Oden quickly adopted Walton's black cat and underwent microfracture surgery on his right knee. And then, just last week, he fractured his left patella. He doesn't deserve this. Nobody does.

9. Cavaliers draft LeBron James, 2003. After a 17-win season, there wasn't really much of a surprise what the Cavaliers would do with the first overall pick. Still, it was a major moment for the franchise, to be able to draft a local (well, Akron) and add instant buzz to a city long associated with professional sports heartbreak. LeBron made the Cavs good and Cleveland a destination. Imagine.

8. Celtics-Bulls first-round playoff series, 2009. This is what playoff basketball is all about: intense, dramatic, big shots, big stops, seven overtime sessions and a seventh game. The Celtics and Bulls engaged in an unanticipated all-timer. The Bulls were just happy to be there. The Celtics and their Big Three were humming for another championship run. But once Derrick Rose scored 36 points in his playoff debut to carry the Bulls to an OT Game 1 road victory, it was on. Biggest game: Bulls extend the series to the limit with a three-OT thriller in Game 6. Biggest performance: Ray Allen's 51 points. Biggest loss: Kevin Garnett, bum right knee. Celtics won but, honestly, didn't we all?

7. Tim Duncan and the Spurs sweep to their fourth title, third this decade, 2007. LeBron James reached the championship round, a bonus for a league that anxiously looked for a transcendent star cut in the Jordan mold. But the NBA Finals didn't last as long as the hype. Duncan and the Spurs didn't have quite the same appeal but made quick work of the Cavs and formed a lasting legacy.

6. Malice at the Palace, 2004. In the context of crashes, this was no fender bender. An ugly and dangerous moment pushed the NBA into mainstream America's everyday talk and was a nightmare for David Stern, always sensitive to the league's image. The cable news shows treated the story like a Thanksgiving turkey, making the meal last for weeks.

5. Dwyane Wade's brilliant NBA Finals, 2006. Given what was at stake, nobody in the decade played better over a stretch of games as Wade did against the Mavericks. In rescuing the Heat from an 0-2 deficit, Wade delivered a performance worthy of Jordan and averaged 34.7 points. That series gave him commercial and critical acclaim. Until then, he was just another good player.

4. Michael Jordan un-retires and retires for the final time, 2003. Initially, he had the perfect exit strategy: dropping the championship-winning jumper over a fallen Bryon Russell that gave the Bulls title No. 6. But the competitive itch still needed scratching, so Jordan had the bright idea to join the Wizards and squeeze himself into the ownership picture. His level of play didn't drop too dramatically during his two seasons, but nobody harkens to the D.C. days when sifting through their memories of Jordan.

3. Kobe scores 81 points, 2006. For someone who took plenty of grief throughout the decade for shooting too much, nobody seemed to mind when Kobe launched 46 against the Raptors. That's because he made 28. Including seven 3-pointers. And he made 18-of-20 from the line. It was truly epic what Kobe did over 42 minutes. And just think, he would've needed another quarter to catch Wilt.

2. Summer Olympics loss, 2004. A team coached by Larry Brown and led by Duncan, LeBron, Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony would beat anyone. Except Argentina. And Lithuania. And Puerto Rico, which won by 19 and shattered the USA's dominance in Olympic hoops. While the international competition was slowly catching up even before the Athens Games, it was still shocking to see the USA taking a beating and the bronze.

1. Shaq-Kobe combo is broken up, 2004. Only in Los Angeles, home to the stars, could a high-profile breakup register big on the Richter scale. They didn't come any higher than Shaq and Kobe, who won three straight titles together and looked to be the best combo since peanut butter and jelly. But typical for couples these days, there were irreconcilable differences that forced owner Jerry Buss to act as mediator and make the call to keep Kobe. It made you wonder what Kobe and Shaq could've accomplished had they put their egos aside.

Shaun Powell is a veteran NBA writer and columnist. You can e-mail him here.

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