It used to be “Kobe would have never won a title without Shaq.” Now what you hear is “Kobe would have never won three of his five championships without Shaq so him winning six is invalid.” Jordan fans really don’t like him to be compared to anybody especially Kobe and I agree that Jordan was better than Kobe (see Kobe vs. Jordan). But to say that the only reason the Lakers ever won a title was solely because of Shaq is just plain false. That’s not to say the big fella wasn’t a driving force behind those early 2000s Lakers teams but Kobe Bryant was no slouch either. I swear that some people are convinced that MJ himself played with a bunch of third graders and he single handedly carried them to six championships, never mind Pippen, Grant, Harper, Paxson, Kerr, Rodman, Kukoc etc. Basketball games are never won or lost by one single player and the Kobe and Shaq tandem was no different. Let’s take a look at the three championship seasons and see what the contributions of both men were and put to rest this Kobe vs. Shaq business.
In 1999-2000 it was definitely Shaq’s team and Kobe was a second option. Shaq averaged 29.2 points per game that season versus Kobe’s 22.5 and took 24.4% (1665/6836) of the team’s shots compared to Kobe’s 17.3% (1183/6836). This was an interesting season because the Lakers had a legitimate third scoring option in Glen Rice who averaged 15.9 points per game and Kobe at 21 years old was beginning his ascent to superstardom. During the playoffs Shaq was dominant averaging 30.7 points per game and of course won Finals MVP. The 2000 Finals the Lakers took on the Pacers and Kobe hurt his ankle in game 2. Kobe sat game 3 and the Lakers lost and still hobbled during game 4 the Pacers forced overtime. Now if Kobe is healthy do the Pacers still steal game 3 to keep the series alive? I don’t know but it at least demonstrates his importance to the team.
The 2000-2001 season saw the departure of Glen Rice and an expanded role for Kobe Bryant who now averaged 28.5 points per game and Shaq still a fantastic 28.7 per game. Kobe actually took a higher percentage of the team’s shots starting in this season 22.6% against Shaq’s 21.2%. Both guys were simply incredible this year and if you think that either was dispensable you may be delusional. The playoffs saw an actual increase in both men’s averages and the Lakers cruised to the title with their only loss coming in game 1 of the finals when Allen Iverson went off.
During the 2001-2002 season both players saw a regression in their points per game with Shaq at 27.2 and Kobe falling all the way to 25.2. Kobe did see a further expansion in the percentage of the team’s shots at 23.3% and Shaq at 18% though he did miss plenty of starts due to injury. Shaq still outpaced Kobe during the playoffs and the Lakers beat the Nets easily in a four game sweep.
The point is that if you took either guy away from the team it would fall apart. The Lakers before the title runs weren’t much of a match for the Jazz and the Spurs of those days and it wasn’t until Kobe matured that they made an impact. Similarly after Shaq left we saw Kobe struggle to get the team anywhere on his own while Shaq got to team up with Wade in Miami. You could say that Kobe wasn’t the man on those teams like Jordan was for his teams, well no shit. Shaq is a freak of nature and the most dominant physical specimen since Wilt Chamberlain. You have a top 10 all-time player and a center that nobody can stop in his prime are you really not going to feed him the ball? If 21-23 year old Jordan was on a team with Shaq in his prime do you honestly believe Shaq wouldn’t have been the go to guy? All three players are top ten all time but when you have a dominant big man you let him get the ball. Kobe clearly contributed his fair share during the championship days and Shaq was always the MVP, that’s how it worked so well. Championships are won by teams not individuals so no, Kobe wouldn’t have won without Shaq and vice versa but Jordan wouldn’t have won without Pippen either and he never did.