'Bryant...to Shaq!'

Two decades after one of the wildest turning points in NBA history, Lakers and Blazers royalty recall the lob that tied Kobe and Shaq together forever, sparked a three-peat and upended a powerhouse.
photo of Howard BeckHoward Beck@@HowardBeckNBA Senior WriterJune 4, 2020

The play that launched the last Lakers dynasty was not scripted. How could it have been?

Nothing about Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal was ever predictable or linear, or fit any logical framework. There was no playbook for unifying these two basketball titans, no blueprint for massaging their uneasy partnership.

Shaq and Kobe would do everything as they saw fit: fight, feud, stumble, rally, win, lose, lead and, yes, sometimes collaborate.

And if these willful, mesmerizing talents—paired together by Lakers architect Jerry West in the summer of 1996—were going to maximize their full potential, it would be on their terms, their timing, their design.

It would be purposeful, spontaneous and genuine.

It would happen when it was needed most. It did, memorably and gloriously, 20 years ago today.

Kobe Bryant skipped into the lane and gently pushed the ball skyward, high above the Staples Center court. Shaquille O'Neal soared to meet it, his right palm cradling and slamming it down, in one swift, violent motion.

And then, pandemonium. Happy, delirious pandemonium.

You remember the play mostly for what came next: O'Neal, bounding across the court, eyes bulging, mouth agape, index fingers pointing. Teammates swarming, leaping. Twenty-thousand fans roaring in delight.

And minutes later, the Lakers celebrating a hard-fought Game 7 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers to advance to the NBA Finals.

The Lob would become the defining moment of the Shaq-Kobe era: the play that started it all. A championship would soon follow. And two more after that.

"In that moment, man, we broke through," says Rick Fox, a key teammate during the dynastic run. "That lob, we broke through a ceiling, man. And Kobe to Shaq?! For the lob?!"

It wasn't the greatest pass. A little high, a little too far to the right. But it's a deeply poignant moment in Lakers lore—and carries even greater weight now, five months after Bryant's death.

"The defining moment of our dominant run," O'Neal says.

The play was improvised, a simple read by Bryant, who had caught a glance from O'Neal.

"It was fitting that it wasn't planned," former Laker Derek Fisher says. "It's supposed to be that way. You're not supposed to worry about who gets the credit or who has the ball or whose team it is. You're supposed to just play basketball together."

The memory still leaves the Lakers breathless. The symbolism is powerful.

And yet the moment itself was so much more complex.

The Lob was not a game-winning basket—it came with 41 seconds left. The play didn't give the Lakers the lead—they already held an 83-79 advantage. The Lob was simply the final blow, albeit a poetic one.

In the haze of history, the details often fade. And the potency of that image obscures so much of the context underlying the events of June 4, 2000: how talented and dangerous that Blazers team was. How close the Lakers were to defeat. How the dynasty itself almost didn't happen.

The Blazers held a 15-point lead that night, with 10 minutes, 28 seconds left to play. (And 15 points in that plodding era was a lot.) Reporters had begun writing the Lakers' obituary. So had Chick Hearn, the Lakers' legendary play-by-play man. "It's gonna be a lonnng offseason for the Lakers," Hearn proclaimed on the local broadcast, early in the fourth quarter.

In truth, few had expected the Lakers to win it all that season, Phil Jackson's first as head coach.

Sports Illustrated had picked the San Antonio Spurs, with Tim Duncan and David Robinson, to repeat as champions. Las Vegas also favored the Spurs, as did countless major newspapers. Several others picked the Blazers to make the Finals. The L.A. Times ranked the Lakers fifth in the West.

League insiders questioned the Lakers' maturity and chemistry (specifically, O'Neal and Bryant's), as well as the supporting cast, which was viewed as lackluster. The Lakers had been swept in two straight postseasons—by the Spurs in 1999, the Jazz in 1998.

"We were a group of guys," says Fox, "that didn't know how to win. We were just relying on our talents."

The Blazers, though combustible, were talented and ridiculously deep, with five current or future All-Stars—Scottie Pippen, Rasheed Wallace, Steve Smith, Detlef Schrempf and Jermaine O'Neal—plus potent offensive players like Damon Stoudamire and Bonzi Wells.

It was arguably the strongest team the Lakers faced in their three-peat—and one of the best ever to miss the Finals.

"It's probably the best team I've ever faced playing basketball, period," says Robert Horry, who won seven championships in his 16-year career, including three with the Lakers.

"They were the toughest team," Shaq says, "and they were the only team that wasn't scared of us."

And they came dangerously close to snuffing the Lakers dynasty before it could begin. Had the Blazers held on that night, they likely would have won the 2000 championship. Had the Lakers lost, they might have been broken up prematurely. O'Neal and Bryant might have won only two titles together, or one. It's the ultimate sliding-doors moment.

They were the toughest team, and they were the only team that wasn't scared of us.
— Shaquille O'Neal on the 1999-2000 Trail Blazers

"Changes NBA history," Smith says.

Twenty years ago today, with one furious rally, punctuated by one mighty dunk, the Lakers cemented a fragile partnership, birthed a dynasty and altered legacies.

This is the story of that moment, that game and that Lob. 


The Rivalry: "We never thought the Lakers were a championship team."

Rasheed Wallace led the Trail Blazers offense against the Lakers by averaging 23.3 points in the series, including a game-high 30 points in Game 7.
Rasheed Wallace led the Trail Blazers offense against the Lakers by averaging 23.3 points in the series, including a game-high 30 points in Game 7.Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

By the time they reached Game 7, the Lakers and Blazers had played 10 times that season, gathering a fair bit of familiarity and contempt along the way.

The ledger: five wins each. The composite score: Blazers 940, Lakers 919.

The Lakers won 67 games in the regular season, the Blazers 59, but that gap was immaterial. By the spring, each recognized the other as their greatest rival.

"We knew we had to go through the Lakers; the Lakers knew they had to go through us," former Blazers GM Bob Whitsitt says. "And one of the two of us was going to win the West."

The Lakers had the two biggest stars. But the Blazers had more overall talent, and the right players to counter them.

In Arvydas Sabonis, a 7'3", 280-pound behemoth, the Blazers had a big man with the strength to challenge Shaq in the paint, and the three-point shooting range to lure him out of it. Brian Grant, O'Neal and Wallace could all take shifts guarding him.

And in Pippen, Smith and Wells, the Blazers had three physical wings who could make the 21-year-old Bryant work at both ends.

Every member of the Blazers' second unit was a viable starter: Wells, Grant, Schrempf, Greg Anthony and Stacey Augmon.

Their conference finals clash proved as taut as expected.

Game 1 featured a Wallace ejection and an agitated O'Neal, after the Blazers resorted to hack-a-Shaq fouls in a losing effort. The Blazers pounded the Lakers in Game 2, after which Jackson derided them as "jackals," for celebrating on the bench. Game 3 featured a shoving match between Fox and Pippen, leading to a controversial Game 4 suspension for Brian Shaw (for stepping onto the court during the fracas). In Game 6, it was Fox and Blazers coach Mike Dunleavy trading profanities.

"He was talking shit," Fox said. "Like, it was crazy. And I was just like, 'Maaaan. We are in it here, man.'"

No, these teams did not much like each other. But there was a grudging respect.

Rick Fox, Lakers forward: To this day, I'm hard-pressed to find a team that was more stacked when it comes to true quality of player, over the course of their entire careers. You just felt they had an answer at every position, twice. And the bench crew would be a 50-win team in the league.

Derek Fisher, Lakers guard: They just had some guys who weren't afraid of the mystique of Phil or Shaq. And Kobe had not yet placed that level of fear in the opponent, at that time. They felt like they were capable of beating us, for sure.

Bonzi Wells, Blazers forward: We never thought the Lakers were a championship team. We thought we were the championship team, because we knew we had the most talent throughout the whole league, not just against them.

Fox: I don't think we felt like we were the favorites; I think we felt we were good.

Steve Smith, Blazers guard: I think one thing we were hoping—and I think the whole league [was hoping]—that they couldn't catch their chemistry. And I think when you look at it throughout the year, even though they ended up with the best record, there were times where you can say they were all struggling with the triangle. But they had the most immovable force in the league in Shaquille O'Neal ... and then the best wing guy in the league, in my opinion at that time, which is Kobe Bryant.

Scottie Pippen, Blazers forward: Kobe was truly coming into his own, no doubt about that. But it was the dominance of Shaquille O'Neal that we couldn't match up with. That's ultimately what beat us.

The Trail Blazers' raft of wing players were focused on tiring Kobe Bryant throughout their Western Conference Finals, during which Bryant averaged 20.4 points per game while shooting 43.9 percent.
The Trail Blazers' raft of wing players were focused on tiring Kobe Bryant throughout their Western Conference Finals, during which Bryant averaged 20.4 points per game while shooting 43.9 percent.MIKE NELSON/Getty Images

Damon Stoudamire, Blazers guard: People forget, Kobe was just evolving into Kobe. This was still the young Kobe Bryant. So in those playoffs, I would start games off guarding Kobe. We're trying to play mind games with him, because obviously I can't guard Kobe like that. We knew Kobe was so bull-headed and he was so determined, he's gonna go in the box, right? So Kobe wants the box in the triangle, but Shaq is obviously the most dominant player in the game at that time. So it's like Kobe's trying to go down to the box and post me up.

They just had some guys who weren't afraid of the mystique of Phil or Shaq.
— Lakers guard Derek Fisher

Mike Dunleavy, Blazers coach: I believe in attacking superstars. So we'd go at Kobe in the low post, like the first couple possessions of the game. And the idea was to get a foul on Kobe early so that he couldn't be as aggressive playing passing lanes and going for steals and doing some of the things that he could do. And the other thing about posting him up with Steve Smith or Bonzi was that we also now had him 94 feet away from the other basket.

Wells: We took turns on taking [Bryant's] legs. ... We just want him to be tired and worn out in the fourth quarter.

Brian Shaw, Lakers guard: The one area that we couldn't really defend against them was Rasheed Wallace. And even in that game, in Game 7, he was killing us. Until at one point, they just stopped going to him, and they started shooting a bunch of threes.  

Dunleavy: When people asked me, going into this series, "What are you worried about?" I said, "I'm worried about Brian Shaw, and I'm worried about some of their veteran guys on the bench." Everybody was like, "What are you talking about? They got Kobe and Shaq." I said, "Yeah, but I know what they're gonna do, and I know how I'm gonna play them. It's those other guys who have to step up and make those shots or make those plays, in order to get a win."


The Comeback: "It was like the world was crashing down on us."

Brian Shaw played a pivotal role in helping the Lakers overcome a 15-point fourth-quarter deficit with a three-pointer at the end of the third quarter and another two threes in the final quarter.
Brian Shaw played a pivotal role in helping the Lakers overcome a 15-point fourth-quarter deficit with a three-pointer at the end of the third quarter and another two threes in the final quarter.Tom Hauck/Getty Images

Disaster loomed at Staples Center.

The Lakers were getting bullied by Wallace and torched by Smith. Shaquille O'Neal had fallen strangely silent—just six shots and nine points through three quarters.

With 12 minutes, 20 seconds left to play, the Blazers held a 16-point lead. The arena had fallen silent.

"Their intention was stronger," Rick Fox says. "Like, they came with a thrust."

But addiction to drama had by then become a Lakers trademark.

They'd been pushed to a decisive fifth game in the first round by the Sacramento Kings, after blowing a 2-0 series lead. In the second round, they'd gone up 3-0 on the Phoenix Suns, only to get routed in Game 4, before closing out that series. And against Portland? They'd lost Game 2 (and home-court advantage), bounced back to take a 3-1 series lead, then blown two straight closeout games, including one at home.

"We got cute a lot of times," O'Neal says. "So being that we were up 3-1, we let our guards down."

For O'Neal, it was all too reminiscent of past failures, the ugly collapses and playoff sweeps.

"I was terrified," he says, "but not terrified because of the team—just terrified of losing."

Yet it was the Blazers who felt a strange sense of foreboding.

The team changed hotels for Game 7, staying in Santa Monica instead of the Beverly Wilshire, where they had been for every other L.A. trip.

"Everybody had their hands up, like, 'Oh, Lord! Why'd you change stuff!'" Wells says, laughing. "You all know we superstitious and all that."

There was more. With the Blazers leading by three at halftime, and the coaches gathered in their office, a team staffer interrupted with a brief advisory: something about distributing "Western Conference champion" T-shirts after the game.

"It'd be like an apparition walking in, or the freakin' devil, you know what I mean?" Dunleavy recalls. "It's the last, jinx thing in the world that you want to hear."

Superstitions notwithstanding, the Blazers looked primed for the victory in the third after a Pippen three-pointer made it 71-55 with 20 seconds left in the period.

"I'm from Indiana," Wells says. "I'm like, 'Ooooh, Lord, I'm gonna get a chance to go home and play for a world championship against my hometown Pacers!' I was so excited about that—which was a premature thought."

At that moment, the Lakers' win probability was 5.5 percent, according to InPredictable.com.

"There was no panic," says Fox, "but we were definitely quiet."

The comeback began in the flukiest of ways—a banked three-pointer by Shaw with four seconds left in the third.

Smith: That just took the wind out of our sails.

Fisher: I think for the fans, and I think also just the team, seeing something positive happen, I do believe it changed the momentum and the energy.

Smith: You felt the momentum and the look in Shaq's eyes, Kobe's eyes, Brian Shaw's eyes and even Phil Jackson's eyes. Even though Phil is cool, there was a point in that fourth quarter, and especially in that third quarter, where he was uncomfortable. I kept glancing over there. And you know, he was uncomfortable.

To open the fourth, Jackson starts Horry, Fox and Shaw, three trusted veterans known for ball movement and defense, alongside O'Neal and Bryant.

Shaquille O'Neal, Lakers center: Phil did something that was very vital in the fourth quarter. He just came to the bench and said, "All right, guys, I'll see you next year." Like it's over. And then Brian Shaw got up: "We've come too far." So Brian and Rick and Robert and all them guys start talking. So I knew that they wanted it. And I knew that whatever happened was gonna be because of them and probably not because of me and Kobe having a big game.

Fox: Shaq would grab you by the arm and be like: "Yo, man, I need you. Because if you get me the ball, then I can get this done." So Shaq in no way was running away from the moment. If anything, he was calling for more responsibility, trying to get through to his team. Kobe would have had the same look on his face as if we'd won the game already. He just always had that [look] like, We got this. Don't worry about this.

Shaw: We were at the bench and Phil Jackson said to us, "You guys are deferring to Shaq too much. When he kicks the ball out, when they come and double-team him, you guys got to start letting the threes fly." And so when you hear your coach say it's OK to let it fly, then that's all the confidence that you need.

O'Neal: A couple of their players were over there, acting cute. They were celebrating way too early. That was another thing that always woke us up, when we'd see teams celebrate too early.

With 10:28 left in the fourth quarter, Wells hits two free throws to give the Blazers a 15-point lead. Portland's win probability is 95 percent, per InPredictable. With Wells at the line, Dunleavy also sends back in Wallace, who had been sitting since the 1:04 mark of the third.

At 7'3" and 280 pounds, Arvydas Sabonis was one of the few centers in the NBA who could match Shaquille O'Neal's size, but foul trouble allowed O'Neal to break free offensively in the fourth quarter of Game 7.
At 7'3" and 280 pounds, Arvydas Sabonis was one of the few centers in the NBA who could match Shaquille O'Neal's size, but foul trouble allowed O'Neal to break free offensively in the fourth quarter of Game 7.SCOTT NELSON/Getty Images

Dunleavy: It was a major moment in my coaching career. Rasheed was having a great game. Do I leave him in the game, and try and just play him through and keep this thing going? Or do I put him down for his normal rest? And I make the decision to sit him. When I put him back in, we still had a double-digit lead. I feel good about that, that we won that bet.

O'Neal hits a layup, his first field goal since the 5:28 mark of the second quarter. Shaw follows with a three-pointer. Fox assists on both baskets. At the 9:11 mark, Bryant hits a free throw, cutting the deficit to single digits, 75-66.

The Blazers have missed three straight shots: a deep two by Smith, a six-footer by Wells that was blocked by Bryant and a three-point try by Pippen. Worse: Arvydas Sabonis has picked up his fourth and fifth fouls guarding O'Neal, forcing him to the bench for four minutes. He would return with 4:19 left, and foul out a minute and a half later.

Dunleavy: I thought Sabonis' fouls were a little phantom. Fouls five and six, they weren't clear fouls to me.

A couple of their players were over there, acting cute. They were celebrating way too early. 
— Shaquille O'Neal

Wells: We were worried about the league letting us win, you know what I mean? Lakers are a huge market. Portland's a small market. Could you imagine a Portland Trail Blazers-Indiana Pacers final? I'm not saying they cheated us or nothing like that. But you know how it goes sometimes. There's always conspiracy theories out there. We were just worried about that.

Dunleavy: If you go plus-minus, when [Sabonis] was on the floor, we beat them—that year when he's on the floor, we beat them. And that was the killer for us, is once we lost him.

Wallace misses two jumpers. Pippen loses the ball on a drive to the basket. A Wells three-point try rattles out. At the other end, Horry grabs an offensive rebound, dribbles out to the arc and casually hits a three. The lead is down to 75-70. The Lakers' win probability: 26 percent.

Stoudamire: We can't make a shot. So the momentum is just—you feel it swinging. And you feel the crowd kind of getting into the game.

Greg Anthony, Blazers guard: We didn't play poorly down the stretch. It's just one of those things, man, where we got great looks, we have more shots go in and out, and they just seemed to make plays after plays after plays.

Wells: We were so talented and so unselfish, we didn't understand sometimes who was gonna be the guy to finish for us. We didn't really have an identity on who was our [go-to guy] in the midst of all our great guys.

Fox: At that point, we played the basketball we had played the whole year. And they basically started to doubt that they could actually close out.

Pippen: It was nobody's fault but ours that we didn't win.

Pippen misses a 21-footer. Grant loses the ball to Shaw. Wallace misses an eight-footer in the paint. Bryant drills a tough jumper just inside the foul line. It's 75-72.

The Blazers felt they saw a sense of uncertainty on Phil Jackson's face before L.A. stormed back from a 15-point deficit in the fourth quater.
The Blazers felt they saw a sense of uncertainty on Phil Jackson's face before L.A. stormed back from a 15-point deficit in the fourth quater.VINCE BUCCI/Getty Images

Over the next two minutes, the Blazers miss four more shots: two jumpers by Wallace, one by Smith and a point-blank attempt by Grant that O'Neal slaps away. A three-pointer by Shaw ties the game at 75-75.

The Blazers' scoring drought lasts 7 minutes, 30 seconds, with 13 straight missed field goals, before Wallace finally hits a go-ahead layup, 77-75, with 2:58 to play. It's the Blazers' final lead. O'Neal and Bryant combine to score the Lakers' next eight points, for an 83-79 edge.

Pippen: It was like the world was crashing down on us, and we couldn't even get out from under it.

Dunleavy: In that fourth quarter, we had one missed assignment on a rotation, and that was when Rasheed came back into the game, and he didn't get out to the corner, and Brian Shaw hit a three-pointer from the left corner. And I think we only had one turnover in the fourth quarter. So it always irked me when somebody said, "Well, those guys [choked]."

Wells: We missed 13 shots in a row. If we hit three to five of them shots—as a matter of fact, two to three of them—it's a whole 'nother thing. Just the basketball gods chose us to make us miss 13 shots in a row after we'd played flawless basketball.

Pippen: They weren't shots that we should have been taking. When you're on the road, you gotta play smart: You gotta go to the basketyou gotta get to the foul line. We weren't mature enough.

Smith: You almost could run a shot clock out and have a better chance of winning that game.

Stoudamire: I felt like the game plan was there. That's why I can't watch it. We just didn't get it done. I can say this, though: I don't necessarily feel like it's nothing that they did.

Pippen: Yeah, we had a chance to win. But look how much we had working against us: first time together, we're not at home. It wasn't meant for us to win.

Wells: I watched it one time since it happened, and that was just recently with the passing of Kobe, and I just wanted to watch Kob play. And I smiled, actually, because I was happy for him. But that's the only time I've ever watched it. Because it hurts so bad.


The Lob: "It was over for them."

O'Neal felt the Lakers had secured a trip to the 2000 Finals with his lob dunk to put L.A. up by six points with 41.3 seconds left in Game 7.
O'Neal felt the Lakers had secured a trip to the 2000 Finals with his lob dunk to put L.A. up by six points with 41.3 seconds left in Game 7.JOHN G. MABANGLO/Getty Images

The Lakers eventually push their lead to 83-79 on a Bryant 20-footer. At the other end, Pippen misses a three-pointer, setting up the climactic moment.

Bryant, with Pippen shadowing him, dribbles swiftly across midcourt, then pauses at the "S" of the Lakers logo, sizing up the defense.

Smith initially meets O'Neal in the frontcourt, bumping him at the arc before shading toward Harper. Grant—at the foul line, facing Bryant—backpedals and drifts to his left to pick up O'Neal. Wallace is stationed on the other side of the key, eyeing Bryant while leaving Horry open in the far corner.

Bryant freezes Pippen with a hesitation move, then crosses over, right to left and bursts past Pippen. Grant steps up to challenge the shot, and the entire Blazers defense collapses, leaving O'Neal an open baseline.

Kobe Bryant, Lakers guard (from Spectrum SportsNet L.A.'s Birth of a Dynasty): I had Scottie in front of me, which was pretty cool, because I'd watched Scottie growing up and I'd learned so many different defensive things from Scottie. So to have Scottie in front of me in that moment was just awesome.

Dunleavy: He knew the spot that he wanted to get to, to create his shot. And, the situation created enough anxiety, or fear, as far as the team defense was concerned, that we overshifted to him.

Fox: He was sizing Scottie up, and I was like, He's getting ready to take the shot. And when he crossed him over and got into the middle of the lane, I'm thinking at worst he's going to the free-throw line.

Wells: You can't really give Kob room, and [Pippen] gave Kobe enough room to go left-right. You know, to manipulate him, like to make him think he's going one way.

Smith: Because I was way out [with Harper], there was no way I could get back, to get into the play.

Wells: I was like, Oh, shit, we're dead.

Shaw: From the point where he crossed Pippen over and went down the lane, I knew something good was going to happen for us, because you had your two best players [involved]. And Kobe was going to finish, or they were going to help uphill, and he was going to find Shaq.

Pippen: We didn't really step up and play the play the right way. … Kobe kind of went early, and Shaq just released to the rim. Had we stayed with Shaq, then I don't know if Kobe gets to the rim.

Wells: He penetrated our lane. That's rule No. 1—that's a no-no. Now he has two options: If nobody steps up, he has a shot. If somebody steps up, Shaq is free, lob. And if somebody come over and get Shaq, you're gonna have a corner three for [another teammate].

From the point where [Kobe} crossed Pippen over and went down the lane, I knew something good was going to happen for us, because you had your two best players [involved].
— Lakers guard Brian Shaw

Fox: I just remember [thinking], Oh, he's gonna take this shot. Damn, Scottie's guarding him. Don't take the shot. Move the ball.

O'Neal: The whole game, I'm like, "Yo, I'm open [for the alley-oop]." And he's like, "I'm gonna get it to you."

Wells: You never want to leave the body of Shaquille O'Neal in that moment.

With Grant shifting toward Bryant, it was Smith's responsibility to pick up O'Neal ("Supposed to," Smith says, "but I'm out there at the three-point line.") As Grant cuts off the drive, Bryant stops and rises, his right arm extending. For a split second, it's unclear whether he intends to pass or shoot.

Anthony: I was absolutely thinking he was gonna shoot the basketball.

Smith: He lived for those moments, and that moment is when they needed a bucket. I thought for sure he was shooting it.

Robert Horry, Lakers forward: I thought it was the pass the whole way, because I saw the big [Grant] come to him. If you look at [Bryant's arm motion], he doesn't even get it in the shot formation; he just gets it into the place where he can just lob it up to Shaq.

Bob Whitsitt, Blazers GM: The vendor in Row 28 could see it developing. And nobody was even going to get over there in time to tackle [Shaq] or stop him, to make him at least shoot free throws.

Shaw: Shaq, he gives you a look, and his eyes kind of get big. … I was probably a little more surprised that Kobe passed it to him at that moment.

O'Neal: I just threw my hand up, and then I almost didn't jump, because I didn't think he was gonna throw it.

Phil Jackson, Lakers coach: The lob was a spontaneous act. … Shaq stepped into an open space, and Kobe reacted in kind.

Bryant (via Spectrum SportsNet L.A.): So once I got around Scottie, now I'm getting to the basket, I thought about just taking off and dunking the thing. But I could feel the right thing to do was to throw the lob to Shaq. The momentum, the energy that that would give us, and that would give the city, would be so enormous.

Whitsitt: That was the in-shape Shaq, running like a two-ton truck. There was nobody who's going to have a chance to get even near. You could try to go up with him—you'd be lucky to get to his neck.

Smith: I couldn't get back, and then the lob was thrown up where no one else could get it but Shaq.

Fox: But it was off. It was off to the right. I was like, The hell?

Anthony: The pass was probably a little behind and a little high. But Shaq at that stage was still freakishly athletic.

Stoudamire: It wasn't the greatest pass in the world.

O'Neal: I was like, Oh, shit, it's a lob!

Fox: I'm looking at it from way down the court, and I couldn't see Shaq…until I saw Shaq! All of a sudden, out of this crowd of people, you've got Shaq rising above everybody, catching this ball.

O'Neal: If I'd have jumped a second later or jumped too early, I'd have missed it.

Horry: It's funny. I remember when Shaq dunked it, he looked like, Oh, shit, I made a basket finally!

O'Neal: I didn't want to take a chance being cute, so if you look at the video, I just threw it through real quick.

The author's notebook from Game 7 and his description of the celebration breaking out at the Staples Center after Bryant crossed-up Pippen and threw a lob pass to Shaq for an 85-79 lead.
The author's notebook from Game 7 and his description of the celebration breaking out at the Staples Center after Bryant crossed-up Pippen and threw a lob pass to Shaq for an 85-79 lead.Howard Beck

Fox: Shaq ran out with his fingers [pointing]. I get chills every time I think of it, man. I ran out on the court. I was so fired up!

Stoudamire: Man, that's the loudest I ever heard the Staples Center in my life. I mean, you couldn't hear nothing. It was like the building was vibrating.

Wells: It was deafening. I was like, Ohhh, Lord.

After hammering the ball home, O'Neal lands, slaps hands with a stoic Bryant and bounds toward the Lakers bench, his eyes wide, his mouth agape, pointing with both index fingers toward the section where his young son Shareef was sitting.

The Lakers hold an 85-79 lead, with 41.3 seconds to play—enough time for the Blazers to make their own comeback, if they still had the will.

Dunleavy: Ultimately it's two points, and it didn't cost us the game.

Wells: We watched the [16]-point lead go down to, you know, we're down six. We're in our feelings; we twisted.

Anthony: That play mentally and emotionally broke our team's back.

Smith: That was the death blow.

O'Neal: I knew it was over after that play. It was over for them.

Wells: It was like we went from the sickest feeling to, OK, I want to throw up now.

Fox: I remember seeing the clock, thinking, Well, they could still fucking win. But it was over. Like, I don't know how to explain it. You just knew it was over. They knew it was over, we knew it was over, and they had folded.

That play mentally and emotionally broke our team's back.
— Trail Blazers guard Greg Anthony

After a timeout, the Blazers get the ball to Wallace, who hits a deep three. Pippen quickly fouls Harper, who makes one of two from the line, making it 86-82, with 32 seconds left. The Blazers' last chance to save the game dies when Smith drives the lane and misses a runner while colliding with O'Neal. "Shaq fouled him!" Steve "Snapper" Jones says on the NBC broadcast, as the camera pans to an outraged Dunleavy. "Dunleavy's reaction not only understandable, but perfectly justified," Bob Costas says. "He was fouled."

Smith: He fouled me. No call. I hit the ground. And look up. No call.

Dunleavy: He's gonna score, and Shaq comes up and just freakin' plants him. I mean, he got hit by a Mack truck. How do you not call that? At that point, it's 32 seconds and a two-point game. So obviously, four points and they get the ball back is a different animal.

Wells: It was just over with. The bench just sat there, and we just had that mean-faced look. If they took a picture of our faces, we could have definitely been in some memes back then.

Bonzi Wells admitted a sense of despair swept across the Trail Blazers bench after Shaq completed the alley-oop from Bryant with less than a minute left in Game 7.
Bonzi Wells admitted a sense of despair swept across the Trail Blazers bench after Shaq completed the alley-oop from Bryant with less than a minute left in Game 7.Scott Nelson/Getty Images

Bryant misses two free throws, leaving the Blazers down four with 25 seconds left. But the Blazers miss two of their final three shots as the Lakers seal the victory with free throws.

Shaw: It actually felt more like the championship than the actual Finals did.

Fisher: That play was, like the realization that it's actually about to happen—that that thing that's been eluding us … we're finally going to get to experience it.

Fox: We don't have three championships if we don't beat the Portland Trail Blazers. We don't break through there, if those two don't work together in that moment. It was a legacy-defining moment for us, for sure.

Wells: That started their whole legacy right there. They start out with that lob. That's how the dynasty started for them, that play. And it killed us. It kind of made us go the opposite way.

Pippen: I'm not sure if the better team won. The team that executed best in the fourth quarter won.

Stoudamire: It was a heartbreak, man. Heartbreak game.

Smith: I was numb that whole summer. 


The Aftermath: "Things turn on a trifle." 

Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal had been stymied in their first three trips to the playoffs before reaching the Finals for the first time in 2000 at the expense of the Trail Blazers.
Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal had been stymied in their first three trips to the playoffs before reaching the Finals for the first time in 2000 at the expense of the Trail Blazers.MIKE FIALA/Getty Images

The 2000 Finals served as a coronation for the Shaq-Kobe Lakers, four years after Jerry West brought the two stars together. O'Neal dominated the series, winning the first of three straight Finals MVPs. Bryant delivered a career-defining performance in Game 4, carrying the Lakers to victory after O'Neal fouled out. The Lakers beat the Pacers in six games. 

The Blazers, reeling from the loss to the Lakers and facing salary-cap pressures, traded Jermaine O'Neal to the Pacers, for 31-year-old Dale Davis, and shipped out Brian Grant in a sign-and-trade deal that brought back a fading Shawn Kemp. O'Neal, then 21, would become a six-time All-Star. Grant averaged 15.2 points and 8.8 rebounds for Miami the next season.

The Lakers repeated as champions in 2001 and 2002—and swept the Blazers in the first round both years. Portland would not win another playoff series until 2014.

It left everyone involved wondering: What if the Blazers had held on in Game 7?

O'Neal: I know I definitely would have been the scapegoat, if we didn't win that game. I know I probably would have been gone.

Gone?!?!

O'Neal: Oh yeah, right away.

Horry: I don't think so. That was the first year under Phil's system. They had a good year. Shaq and Kobe, they weren't beefing yet. [Management would have decided] let's get some people in here around those two and go from there.

Shaw: They could have made some wholesale changes, because we didn't get over the hump.

Fox: I think they would have probably moved me, Robert and Fish to find more help for Shaq and Kobe. Because they would have said, "You guys have been together for four years, and you can't [win it]."

Horry: Phil loved Fish. It was going to be, my head would roll, Rick's head would roll. … Phil wanted to get rid of me so, so many times. Unfortunately for him, we kept winning!

Fox: Even though we'd failed before together, we were able to succeed because we'd failed together. We wanted to find our way through it. And damn, so much could be different, man. Oh, my God, my life would be so different.

Conversely, the Blazers were certain that title would have been theirs, if not for one untimely 7 ½ -minute scoring drought.

Wells: I would be a world champion talking to you right now.

Smith: We run off a three-peat. I think for sure, because Jermaine O'Neal was a youngster that will probably overtake Sabonis as the starting center. We all saw him being a future All-Star.

Anthony: They should not have gotten rid of Jermaine O'Neal. Everybody and their mother knew how special he could ultimately be. We saw it every day. … You make the commitment to allow him to transition [to starter], because Arvydas was on his last legs, literally.

Pippen: To lose Jermaine O'Neal really set that franchise back.

Stoudamire: Now you're trying to integrate two new dudes, Dale Davis and Shawn Kemp, into a situation where, quite frankly, they're not used to [playing in a crowded rotation].

Concerns over playing time and payroll spurred the breakup. Grant was seeking a seven-year deal worth nearly $90 million—which Blazers owner Paul Allen balked at. O'Neal, who had signed a four-year contract in 1999, was upset over his limited role and asked for a trade.  

Dunleavy: I didn't want to trade Brian Grant or Jermaine O'Neal. And Bob Whitsitt came to me and said he's got this deal. I'm like, "What are you, nuts? We can't do that. These two guys are energy players, and we just took these guys to seven games."

Whitsitt: When Jermaine was a free agent, I was able to get him to re-sign. And I did make a commitment that if he didn't get a fair shake … I'd try to move [him] somewhere where [he] could get some playing time.

Dunleavy: I have Arvydas Sabonis, Rasheed Wallace and Brian Grant—three guys that are right there, as far as All-Stars in this league. And I'm expected to win every single game.

Whitsitt: For whatever reason, Mike did not like Jermaine and just didn't want to play him, didn't want to develop him. He had some personality issues with him.

Pippen: At some point, I saw where he broke Jermaine's spirit.

While Trail Blazers coach Mike Dunleavy thought he had a few more seasons to develop Jermaine O'Neal into a star in Portland, the then-21-year-old big man grew frustrated at his lack of playing time and asked for a trade after the 2000 playoffs.
While Trail Blazers coach Mike Dunleavy thought he had a few more seasons to develop Jermaine O'Neal into a star in Portland, the then-21-year-old big man grew frustrated at his lack of playing time and asked for a trade after the 2000 playoffs.DAN LEVINE/Getty Images

Dunleavy: Jermaine is under contract for us for another four years. In two years, Arvydas will probably be gone. He'll be playing 40 minutes a night.

Whitsitt: I would have much preferred to keep Brian Grant over Shawn Kemp, no question about that. But there was money involved. And it's not my money.

Dunleavy: You gotta keep this group together for two or three years. You got to give them a chance.

Whitsitt: Maybe if we kept everything exactly the same, we would have won [the championship] the next year. But you can't always keep it exactly the same.

Phil Jackson is fond of saying that things "turn on a trifle." In this case, it was a floating pass, delivered at just the right moment, placing the final exclamation point on a furious comeback, forever connecting two uniquely gifted basketball souls.

Shaw: That play will always link the two of them together. It solidifies them as the best one-two punch in the game. And that vaulted their connectiveness from that point, everything that they accomplished together as teammates.

Fox: That ceiling was broken by both of them, not just one of them. Not just Kobe making a shot, not just Shaq making a shot, but them collaborating on something. And I hope when the years go by—and we look back 20 years later, and it's 40 years [later], and kids are asking about Shaq and Kobe—I'm hoping that that narrative supersedes all the rest.

Jackson: I think it just signified that when games were being played out, they would play with team play—not individual reliance. They remained two islands separate, but teammates.

Fox: With all the turmoil they went through relationship-wise, and all the angst that was there, there's not a more beautiful moment to me. When I think of Kobe and Shaq as a duo, I always think of that moment. And the fact that Kobe is not with us, I am so grateful that they had that moment together.

O'Neal: That was the beginning of our dominant run. And that solidified us being the most enigmatic, most controversial, most dominant one-two punch ever created.

Bryant (via Spectrum SportsNet L.A.): The lob to Shaq was really special, and I think it was very symbolic in our relationship, and how far our relationship had come that year, for he and I to have that connection at that moment in time. So I threw it to him. I threw it to him, and he went and got it, and the rest is history.

    

Howard Beck, a senior writer for Bleacher Report, has been covering the NBA full time since 1997, including seven years on the Laker beat for the Los Angeles Daily News and nine years as a staff writer for the New York Times. His coverage was honored by APSE in 2016 and 2017, and by the Professional Basketball Writers Association in 2018.

Beck also hosts The Full 48 podcast, available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and other platforms.

Follow him on Twitter, @HowardBeck.


The Athletic's Bill Oram joins The Full 48 with Howard Beck to breakdown the 2000 West finals between the Lakers and Trail Blazers, including the famous Kobe-Shaq Lob and the what-if situation for Rasheed Wallace. They also discuss the resumption of the current NBA season and who might be the Lakers' biggest threat.

Related

    NBA Team President: No Teams Are Likely to Be Profitable Next Season

    NBA logo
    NBA

    NBA Team President: No Teams Are Likely to Be Profitable Next Season

    Adam Wells
    via Bleacher Report

    4 Lakers That Will See an Increased Role in Bradley’s Absence

    Los Angeles Lakers logo
    Los Angeles Lakers

    4 Lakers That Will See an Increased Role in Bradley’s Absence

    Garrett Brooks
    via The Lead

    Ranking NBA's Best Centers ✍

    Jokic or Embiid? Our writers rank the top 15 centers this season as our Top 100 series continues 📲

    NBA logo
    NBA

    Ranking NBA's Best Centers ✍

    Andy Bailey and Dan Favale
    via Bleacher Report

    JR Was Told to Stop Filming Inside NBA's Restart Campus

    Los Angeles Lakers logo
    Los Angeles Lakers

    JR Was Told to Stop Filming Inside NBA's Restart Campus

    Mike Chiari
    via Bleacher Report