Shaquille O’Neal Says Kobe Bryant Sacrificed Finals MVP for Lakers Titles


Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant are legendary figures in NBA history, especially for their dominant run with the Los Angeles Lakers from 2000 to 2002. During those years, the Lakers secured three consecutive NBA championships, a feat that remains etched in basketball lore. While O’Neal received much of the credit and deservedly won Finals MVP honors in all three championship runs, there was an intriguing dynamic at play—one that involved Kobe Bryant’s selflessness.

In a candid conversation on *The Draymond Green Show*, Shaquille O’Neal opened up about how Bryant willingly sacrificed individual accolades for the sake of team success.


“He (Bryant) sacrificed, he did,” O’Neal emphasized. “All those Finals where he helped me win a championship, he damn sure could have easily gotten Finals MVP, but that was our plan. ‘Big dog, you for the first three (quarters), and the fourth, I take over.'”



At the time, O’Neal was undoubtedly the alpha dog of the Lakers. However, Bryant was steadily emerging as a superstar in his own right. Despite this, both players understood that pursuing titles was more critical than individual glory. Head coach Phil Jackson devised a game plan that played to their strengths. O’Neal would dominate the first three quarters, imposing his will in the paint. Then, in the crucial fourth quarter, Bryant would take over, showcasing his scoring prowess.

The strategy was cleverly designed. In the NBA of that era, teams often employed the “Hack-a-Shaq” tactic in the fourth quarter, intentionally fouling O’Neal to send him to the free-throw line. By allowing Bryant to shine in the final period, the Lakers maximized their efficiency. Bryant accepted this role without protest, recognizing that it was a collective effort to secure championships.

Let’s take a closer look at the numbers from those championship runs:

2000 NBA Finals vs. Indiana Pacers
– Shaquille O’Neal: 38.0 points, 16.7 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.0 steals, 2.7 blocks per game
– Kobe Bryant: 15.6 points, 4.6 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 1.0 steals, 1.4 blocks per game

2001 NBA Finals vs. Philadelphia 76ers
– Shaquille O’Neal: 33.0 points, 15.8 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 0.4 steals, 3.4 blocks per game
– Kobe Bryant: 24.6 points, 7.8 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 1.4 steals, 1.4 blocks per game

2002 NBA Finals vs. New Jersey Nets
– Shaquille O’Neal: 36.3 points, 12.3 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 0.5 steals, 2.8 blocks per game
– Kobe Bryant: 26.8 points, 5.8 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.8 blocks per game

Notably, Bryant had favorable matchups against the San Antonio Spurs during those title runs, allowing him to put up impressive scoring numbers. However, in the NBA Finals, O’Neal faced opponents like the Indiana Pacers and the New Jersey Nets, where his dominance was crucial. The offense revolved around O’Neal early in games, setting the stage for Bryant’s late-game heroics.

Shaquille O’Neal also shared a memorable moment from their first championship in Indiana. After O’Neal fouled out, he looked at Bryant, realizing that the outcome rested on his shoulders. Bryant’s killer mentality kicked in, and he delivered an incredible performance down the stretch. O’Neal knew then that they were destined to win their first title.

In retrospect, Bryant’s sacrifice for team success elevated their legacy. While he could have easily claimed Finals MVP honors, he prioritized winning championships over personal accolades. The Lakers’ three-peat remains a testament to their collective greatness, with both O’Neal and Bryant playing pivotal roles in shaping NBA history.

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