#34 Shaquille O'Neal
1996 - 2004
Signed during the summer of 1996, Shaquille O’Neal spent eight fulfilling seasons with the Lakers. He, along with Kobe Bryant, helped lead the purple and gold to three straight NBA titles from 2000-02.
During the first title run, O’Neal won the regular-season MVP award, falling one vote short of being the first player ever to win the award unanimously. He captured the NBA’s scoring title (29.7 points), while finishing second in rebounds (13.6) and third in blocked shots (3.0).
“It was tough,” former Lakers forward Pau Gasol said of defending O’Neal. “It was a challenge. His size, strength, his power – it was too much to handle, especially when he wanted to (play).”
In the NBA Finals, O’Neal guided L.A. past Indiana in six games. The 7-foot-1 center posted three 40-plus point games, averaging 38 points and nearly 17 rebounds, emerging as the NBA Finals MVP, too.
The following year — 2000-01 — the Lakers swept Portland, Sacramento and San Antonio, compiling an 11-0 record before facing the Philadelphia 76ers in the Finals. They became the second team in NBA history to sweep the conference playoffs — the first being the 1988-89 Lakers.
L.A. matched up with the Philadelphia 76ers in the Finals and dropped the first game at home, ending their quest to become the first franchise to finish the playoffs undefeated. They rolled through the next four games, though, finishing with a 15-1 overall playoff mark. O’Neal guided the Lakers, averaging 33.0 points and almost 16 rebounds, to go along with five assists and three blocks, leading to his second straight NBA Finals MVP award.
During the last Lakers’ championship run, in which L.A. swept New Jersey, O’Neal averaged 36.3 points, 12.3 rebounds, four assists and three blocks, again winning the NBA Finals MVP award.
Aside from three NBA titles and three Finals MVP awards, O’Neal was also voted to seven All-Star Games (won two All-Star Game MVPs), five All-NBA First Team selections and one All-NBA Second Team selection, plus three All-Defensive-Team nominations while in Los Angeles.
More than just changed basketball, O’Neal impacted the game so much so that opposing teams game planned specifically for him — yet couldn’t find a way to slow him down, as the statistics show.