Posted Aug 16 2011 3:42PM
The Lakers floundered for most of the 1990s after Magic Johnson retired, but with the pairing of Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant, it was only a matter of time before the league's most glamorous franchise made it back to the top.
O'Neal was a new man in 1999-2000, as he was completely healthy for the first time since the 1994-95 season, having put a series of thumb, knee and abdominal injuries behind him. His new coach, Phil Jackson, brought the renowned triangle offense to Los Angeles and made O'Neal the focal point.
With all this in his favor, Shaq set out to make the NBA his league.
Bryant, an All-Star, made great strides in his fourth season, posting career-highs in scoring (22.5 ppg), rebounds (6.3 rpg), assists (4.9 apg), steals (1.6 spg) and shooting percentage (.468). He also earned a spot on the All-Defensive First Team.
L.A. dominated throughout the regular season, finishing 67-15 and reeling off a 19-game win streak in February and March. The Portland Trail Blazers came back with a fury this season, not letting a sweep in the 1999 West finals linger in their minds too much. Powered by Rasheed Wallace and newly acquired forward Scottie Pippen, the Blazers were the second-best team in the league at 59-23.
O'Neal was the force nobody wanted to reckon with. He led the league in scoring (29.7 ppg) and field goal percentage (.574). On March 6, his 28th birthday, Shaq celebrated with 61 points against the Clippers. He also led the Lakers on winning streaks of 19, 16 and 11 games.
He shared All-Star MVP honors with Tim Duncan and was a runaway choice for Finals MVP. Shaq nearly became the first unanimous MVP of the regular season, receiving 120 of a possible 121 first-place votes.
Once the playoffs began, there was some heartbreak to be found. In the first round, the eighth-seeded Kings missed their chance to upset the No. 1 seed Lakers in the by losing Game 5. In the East semifinals, the seventh-seeded Knicks upset the No. 2-seeded Heat, ending a Miami playoff run early once again.
The West finals pitted L.A. against Portland and winning the series proved to be no easy task for the Lakers. They had to overcome a 15-point deficit to the Trail Blazers in the fourth quarter of Game 7 in one of the greatest comebacks in NBA playoff history, punctuated by a famous last-minute alley-oop play from Bryant to O'Neal that clinched the win.
In The Finals, the Lakers faced the Pacers, who were making the franchise's first Finals appearance. L.A. dispatched Indy in six games, winning its first title since 1988, with Shaq taking Finals MVP honors.
The season was not without its sad storylines, too. Wilt Chamberlain, one of the NBA's greatest big men, died on October 12, 1999 at the age of 63. Two other NBA players, Bobby Phills and Malik Sealy, also died tragically in separate car accidents during the season.
Charles Barkley's 16-year career came to an end. The future Hall of Famer announced in October that he would retire when the season ended -- which, for Barkley, appeared to be when he ruptured the quadriceps tendon in his left knee during a Dec. 8 game in Philadelphia. But the Rockets forward returned to play six minutes and score two points in Houston's season finale.
Michael Jordan returned to the NBA on Jan. 19 as the president of basketball operations for the Washington Wizards. Spurs forward Sean Elliott, who had received a kidney transplant eight months earlier, returned to the court March 14 against the Atlanta Hawks. He went on to play for the rest of the regular season and the playoffs.
Kevin Johnson came out of retirement after Phoenix point guard Jason Kidd broke his ankle March 22. Johnson played six regular season games and nine playoff games, and returned to retirement after the Lakers eliminated the Suns in the Western Conference semifinals.
Eastern Conference first round
Indiana defeated Milwaukee (3-2)
Miami defeated Detroit (3-0)
New York defeated Toronto (3-0)
Philadelphia defeated Charlotte (3-1)
Western Conference first round
L.A. Lakers defeated Sacramento (3-2)
Phoenix defeated San Antonio (3-1)
Portland defeated Minnesota (3-1)
Utah defeated Seattle (3-2)
Eastern Conference semifinals
Indiana defeated Philadelphia (4-2)
New York defeated Miami (4-3)
Western Conference semifinals
L.A. Lakers defeated Phoenix (4-1)
Portland defeated Utah (4-1)
Eastern Conference finals
Indiana defeated New York (4-2)
Western Conference finals
L.A. Lakers defeated Portland (4-3)
L.A. Lakers defeated Indiana (4-2)
PPG -- Shaquille O'Neal, L.A. Lakers (29.7)
FG % -- Shaquille O'Neal, L.A. Lakers (.574)
FT % -- Jeff Hornacek, Utah Jazz (.950)
3PT % -- Hubert Davis, Dallas Mavericks (.491)
Assists -- Jason Kidd, Phoenix Suns (10.1)
Rebounds -- Dikembe Mutombo, Atlanta Hawks (14.1)
Steals -- Eddie Jones, Charlotte Hornets (2.7)
Blocked Shots -- Alonzo Mourning, Miami Heat (3.7)
Most Valuable Player -- Shaquille O'Neal, L.A. Lakers
Rookie of the Year -- Elton Brand, Chicago Bulls & Steve Francis, Houston Rockets
Defensive Player of the Year -- Alonzo Mourning, Miami Heat
Most Improved Player -- Jalen Rose, Indiana Pacers
Sixth Man of the Year -- Rodney Rogers, Phoenix Suns
Coach of the Year -- Doc Rivers, Orlando Magic
All-Star Game MVP -- Shaquille O'Neal, L.A. Lakers & Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs
NBA Finals MVP -- Shaquille O'Neal, L.A. Lakers
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