Shaq with MVP Trophy

Lakers History: Purple and Gold Clinches First Three-Peat in Los Angeles

by Rodrigo Azurmendi
Staff Writer

If what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, then the Nets never had a chance here.

The Lakers faced the abyss of going down 3-1 to the Sacramento Kings in the 2002 Western Conference Finals before being rescued by Robert Horry, and then winning Game 7 in overtime.

If one sees that historic series as the matchup between the 2 best teams in the league, then what happened in the real NBA Finals makes a lot more sense.

Coming into the night of June 12th, 2002, the Phil Jackson-Kobe Bryant-Shaquille O’Neal Lakers had done it all. The won their first ring after tough battles with the Blazers and Pacers in 2000. They crushed the competition in 2001, going 15-1 in the playoffs. And here, with the Kings in the rearview mirror and a 3-0 lead, only a formality stood between them and the first three-peat in the history of the franchise in Los Angeles.

In fairness, Games 1 and 3 had been competitive. The purple and gold won them by five and three points, respectively. Sandwiched between them was a 23-point demolition at STAPLES Center.

New Jersey had prime Jason Kidd and Kenyon Martin and a decent supporting cast led by Keith Van Horn, Todd McCollough and Kerry Kittles, but it was no match for L.A.’s star-power and depth.

Game 4 was another close affair, with the Nets leading at one point by 11 in the first quarter. However, the Lakers quickly tied it early in the second quarter, and both teams traded until about midway through the 4th.

The rest of the game reads a lot like a summary of one of the best 3-year periods in the history of the league: Derek Fisher jumpers, Bryant’s layups and Shaq’s and-1’s.

O’Neal averaged 36.3 points in the Finals and won his third consecutive Finals MVP trophy, a feat he shares with Michael Jordan to this day.

The Lakers had five players in double figures, but the cherry on top was Mitch Richmond scoring the last basket of the game, finally winning a ring in the last moments of a decorated 14-year NBA career.

“You have to tip your hat off to them,” Kidd said. “They were the best team. Unfortunately, we just couldn't get it done in this series.”

It was also Jackson’ 11th NBA title, allowing him to tie Red Auerbach at that point in time.

“It is remarkable that I'm sitting here in a situation that I never dreamed of,” said Jackson. "I've been very fortunate to be in this position.”

He also got a nice shout out from his big man.

“I'd like to congratulate Phil for bringing out the best in us," said O'Neal. “He gave us a plan when we first met him. He gave me a plan when we first met him. He promised us if we stuck to the plan that everything would work out.”

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