If you ask someone who knows anything about basketball how many rings Kobe Bryant has, they'll probably give you the correct answer—three.
Now ask that same person how many would he have if he didn't play with Shaq and they'll probably tell you zero.
I won't argue that Shaq is a top 10 player of all-time and the most dominating force since Wilt Chamberlain.
However, how many would the Big Aristotle have without Kobe? The answer to that question is one. That's right, one, which would be with Miami. Kobe deserves just as much credit if not more for the Los Angeles Lakers' three-peat.
Don't believe me? Let me prove it to you.
In the 1999-2000 season, Bryant lead the team in assists and steals (not to mention his 22.5 ppg) as the Lakers went on to win 67 games.
The Lakers ran into some trouble against the Portland Trailblazers in the Western Conference Finals. It all came down to Game Seven, in which "Mr. Second Fiddle" had 25 points, 11 rebounds, seven assists, and four blocks. O'Neal finished with 18 points and nine rebounds.
The Lakers went on to win 89-84 in the biggest comeback in Western Conference Finals history.
Anyone seriously think that the Lakers could have beat the Blazers that night without Kobe? I don't think so. No Kobe equals no championship.
But they did beat the Blazers and went on to play the Indiana Pacers in the finals.
In Game Four, with the Pacers looking to even the series up at two games apiece, Shaq fouled out in overtime. Bryant would go on to score eight points in OT as the Lakers won 120-118.
The Lakers went on to win the series in six games.
In 2000-2001, Bryant again lead the team in assists, while he saw his points per game jump to 28.5.
This time they breezed through the playoffs, going 15-1 and beating the Philadelphia 76ers in the Finals.
Shaq would once again win the NBA Finals MVP, but Bryant wasn't too shabby in the playoffs either, averaging 29.4 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 6.1 assists per game.
Compare that to Michael Jordan's playoff stats in 1991-1992 (second championship), in which he averaged 31.1 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 8.4 assists.
However, nobody would dare say Jordan doesn't deserve credit for his team's success.
The last of the Lakers' championships would occur the following season (2001-2002). Once again, Kobe lead his team in assists as they finished with the second best record in the West, behind the Sacramento Kings.
They would meet the Kings in the Western Conference Finals and the series went the distance—seven games.
Bryant would once again come up big. He scored 30 points, added 10 rebounds, and dished out seven assists as the Lakers won by six.
Anyone seriously think the Lakers would still have beaten the Kings without Kobe's near triple-double? I don't think so. No Kobe equals no championship.
In the Finals, the Lakers swept the New Jersey Nets, and once again Shaq won the MVP Award. Kobe wasn't too bad either, averaging 27 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 5.3 assists per game, while shooting 51.4% from the floor.
Not too bad for a guy who wouldn't have accomplished anything without the Big Fella, huh?
It was also in this series that Bryant would begin to gain his reputation as clutch. In fourth quarters alone, he shot a staggering 63% from the field, while scoring 12 and 11 in the final quarter of games three and four.
USA Today recognized his greatness, saying: "Never before has a player on the winning team put up the numbers and had the impact that Bryant had against the Nets and not been selected series MVP."
It's clear that Kobe wouldn't have any rings without Shaq, but what seems to get lost is just how important he was to the Lakers' success. He wasn't some average contributor, he was, at times, the best and most important player on the team.
It's clear that Shaq didn't just hand Kobe his three rings, he went out there and got them himself.
And if you think differently...well, you're an idiot.