On the night of June 19th, 2000, the planets finally aligned.
After a 12-year title drought for the franchise, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant earned their first ring together, guiding the Lakers to a 116-111 comeback win against the Indiana Pacers on Game 6 of the NBA Finals.
The team that had won 67 games during the regular season and had survived a tough Blazers team in the Western Conference Finals came through again in dramatic fashion, erasing a double-digit first-half deficit.
It took every last ounce of production from O’Neal, who played all but 31 seconds in the contest.
The Big Aristotle earned Finals MVP honors after an historic 41-point and 12-rebound performance.
Shaq shot 19-of-32 from the field and added four blocks to his final stat line.
“I’ve never seen anybody dominate like that, ever,” Dr. Jerry Buss said in the locker room after the game. “I mean, obviously, Wilt Chamberlain was something very special, but quite honestly, (O’Neal) played probably the best basketball any player has ever played.”
He had plenty of help thanks to a balanced roster put together by general manager Jerry West and Phil Jackson – in his first year with the purple and gold after winning 6 titles with the Chicago Bulls.
Bryant, crucial in Game 4 after returning from a nasty ankle sprain, chipped in 26 points and 10 boards in 44:44 minutes of play.
That night was the birth of a three-peat led by arguably the most iconic 1-2 punch in Laker history.
“I’ll tell you, that’s the best duo that I’ve seen in a long time,” said Glen Rice.
It was precisely Rice, along with fellow veterans Ron Harper, Rick Fox, Brian Shaw, Robert Horry and A.C. Green, who filled all the gaps in order to turn a very promising team in the previous few seasons into a championship squad.
“We brought some of the older guys in here, me, A.C. Green . . . and we did the job we had to do,” Harper said. “We had our hard times. But we came out on top, and that’s all that counts.”
With the Lakers down by five points at the end of the third quarter, a pair of clutch three-pointers from Horry and Derek Fisher set up the moment that changed the momentum of the game – a steal by Shaw leading to an O’Neal layup that put the Lakers in front, 91-90. The Pacers never led again.
“We just knew we had to survive some things,” said Jackson. “The excruciating moments of Shaq at the free throw line . . . In the fourth quarter, we found a place where they couldn’t stop us.”
Indiana tied the game at 103 with 5:08 to go, but a 6-0 run after the timeout essentially put the game away.
The Lakers shot 10-of-17 from beyond the arc and committed just five turnovers, the clearest tell of a team that rose to the occasion.
Playing in front of a sellout crowd at the brand-new STAPLES Center, the Lakers ushered in a new era of excellence. Dr. Buss knew it then and there:
“This is the first of many, like it was before,” said Buss, who already owned five rings and would win another five for a grand-total of 11.
He was always a visionary, wasn’t he?