Kobe and Shaq Needed Each Other: The Numbers Don't Lie

Matt SmithCorrespondent IJune 13, 2009

SACRAMENTO, CA - JUNE 2: (L-R)Rick Fox #17, Shaquille O'Neal #34 and Kobe Bryant #8 of the Los Angeles Lakers in Game seven of the Western Conference Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers during the 2002 NBA Playoffs at Arco Arena in Sacramento, California on June 2, 2002.  The Lakers won in overtime 112-106.   NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

I think a large percentage of the hoops loving world has been bamboozled when it comes to evaluating the Shaq, Kobe three peat Lakers.  It seems to me the perception of some is that those titles “belong” to Shaq and Kobe rode the “Big Stagecoach” to three Championships.  I think this is a gross misrepresentation of the facts. 

I think part of the problem is some of us have short memories and seem to have forgotten how dominant Bryant was and because of Kobe’s youth at the time, people viewed him as a precocious 21 year old kid and Shaq as the grown man leader of the team.

The age difference and large size of O’Neal made for an easy “Big Brother/leader, Little Brother/follower” box to put them in.  It’s funny how no one calls last years Celtic title “all” Garnett’s or “all” Pierce’s, reason being, I think people see them as peers.  

Taking a closer look at the stats of Shaq and Kobe and compare their numbers to each other and compare them to other greats you will see this was a PARTNERSHIP.

 These Lakers won three championships and I would agree that the first title in 2000 Shaq who was the league MVP, a veteran in the middle of his prime did the heavy lifting that season so if you want to characterize any of the three titles as “Shaq’s” this is the one. 

Even so, O’Neal and Bryant looked like a paring of Wilt and Mike with each of them capable of 40 point nights and incredible performances.

Title Run No. 1 1999-2000

In the 1999-2000 season, Shaq won the league MVP, All Star Game MVP, was named First Team All-NBA and Second Team All-Defensive.  Kobe was an All Star, Second Team All-NBA and First Team All-Defensive.  Since the playoff’s is where legends are made and people say O’Neal carried Kobe let’s take a look at the playoff #’s.

Playoff numbers (Shaq, Kobe, + next best Lakers)

Shaq            30.7 ppg   15.4 reb   3.1 ast  

Kobe            21.1 ppg    4.5 reb    4.4 ast

Glen Rice      12.4 ppg    4.0 reb    2.1 ast

Ron Harper    8.6 ppg    3.7 reb     3.2 ast

The season resulted in a championship and a Finals MVP for Shaq, he was the most dominant player and the clear cut leader of the team.  Both players did shine in the post season with Kobe playing quarterback you may recall the alley-oop pass to Shaq to win the Western Conference Finals against Portland

O’Neal led the team in scoring 16 games during the playoffs with games scoring 46, 43, 41, 41, 40 plus eight other 30 point games.  Bryant proved his offensive skill leading the team in scoring six times with highs being 35, 33, 32 and 32 again at the age of 21.

Title Run No. 2 2000-2001

Kobe Bryant’s game and confidence was on another level this season and this is the year the Lakers dynasty became a more evenly balanced two headed monster with Shaq and Kobe able to equally kill and destroy.

In fact during the regular season they were both in the top five in the NBA in scoring Shaq scoring 28.7 a night and Kobe 28.5.  They were again both All-Stars, Shaq First Team All-NBA and Kobe Second Team All-NBA and both made the Second Team All-Defensive Team.

In this post season they continued the balanced attack combo that featured the best perimeter player both offensively and defensively and the best interior player, most dominant force in basketball.

Playoff numbers (Shaq, Kobe, + next best Lakers)

Shaq              30.4 ppg   15.4 reb   3.2 ast 

Kobe              29.4 ppg    7.3 reb    6.1 ast

Derek Fisher   13.4 ppg    3.8 reb    3.0 ast

Rick Fox         10.0 ppg    4.9 reb    3.6 ast

The Lakers won their second championship of the decade and Shaq received his second NBA Finals MVP.  He deserved any accolades he received but this was clearly a team with two superstars surrounded by quality role players.  Not many teams in league history have had a tandem so prolific. 

Through this playoff run Shaq led the team in scoring in eight games scoring 30 points or better seven times and 40 points three times.  Kobe on the other hand led the team in scoring in eight games, scoring 30 points or more in seven games and two games over 40 including the team playoff high of 48 points.

Title Run No. 3 2001-2002

By this time Shaq and Kobe’s off court issues are taking their toll on the team but on the court they proved to be effective as ever.  Both players were at the top of their game and highly decorated. 

They were each All-Stars, and First Team All-NBA plus Kobe was Second Team All-Defensive and the All Star Game MVP.  Shaq had acknowledged Kobe as the best player in the game during the previous year’s playoffs and O’Neal was still the most dominant player in the game. 

Playoff numbers (Shaq, Kobe, + next best Lakers)

Shaq            28.5 ppg   12.6 reb   2.8 ast 

Kobe            26.6 ppg    5.8 reb    4.6 ast

Derek Fisher  10.2 ppg    3.3 reb    2.7 ast

Rick Fox         9.8 ppg     5.4 reb    3.4 ast

The third Championship in a row brought a deserved third Finals MVP for Shaq but again he and Kobe combined for a bulk of the teams production.  The MVP is for the NBA Finals but if you look at the entire playoffs you will again see both players carried the team on their backs. 

O’Neal was the team scoring leader in nine playoff games, eight times scoring 30 or more points and Kobe led the team in ten playoff games, six times scoring 30 or more points.

The point of this statistical analysis is to prove how foolish it is to claim Kobe was carried by Shaq to his three rings. 

Why is it that no one questions the validity of the rings won by other stars that played with stars (Bob Cousy, Sam Jones, John Havlicek, Jerry West, Wilt, Julius Erving, James Worthy, Kareem, Magic, Bird, McHale, Isiah, Joe Dumars, Dennis Rodman, David Robinson, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce), but with Kobe, he is judged on a completely different and unfair level. 

No one wins a title alone and I have never heard a star getting his rings devalued because he played with another great player except in the case of Kobe.

This article is by no means to be taken as a slight on the great impact Shaq had on this Lakers team.  He was completely deserving of any awards and accolades he received.  The purpose is to help debunk the myth that Kobe Bryant somehow needs to prove something by winning another ring by himself because his first three rings are somehow tainted. 

You may not like Kobe and some hate to give him any credit but the numbers don't care about opinions or petty hate, the numbers don't lie. 


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.