Kobe and Shaq saw unprecedented success in their time together. Winning three straight titles in the early 2000s, they were (undoubtedly) one of the best duos in NBA history.
Unfortunately, the relationship between Bryant and O’Neal wasn’t able to hold up, and it all came tumbling down after the Lakers lost to the Pistons in the ’04 Finals.
Was part of the reason for their loss, and Shaq’s subsequent departure, Bryant’s mission to win Finals MVP? According to what Brandon Rush said to Brandon “Scoop B” Robinson, that may very well be the case.
“I mean, they simply outplayed us,” Rush said. “Karl was hurt in that series. And I think Kobe selfishly wanted MVP.
“I think that we were favored by everybody to win the series you know, and at the time Shaq had the first three Finals MVPs. So I think Kobe had the mindset with that as the primary focus, but I think he was really itching to get that MVP — and we got caught off guard by a better team.
“The Pistons were — they went on to do seven straight in the [Eastern] Conference Finals so that team was a winning team for the ages and they had a starting five that was very formidable. Those were all All-Star caliber.
“They had a couple of Hall of Famers in Ben Wallace and Chauncey [Billups] – and maybe even Rip (Richard Hamilton). So they were definitely a formidable team and they were better than us at the time.”
It is true that the Pistons had some really good talent back then, but the Lakers were overwhelming favorites — and for a good reason. Kobe, Shaq, and the crew were just one year removed their dominating three-peat. Beyond the two, they had Divac, Lamar Odom, and Rick Fox.
For the Lakers to lose, especially in the fashion that they did, really speaks volumes to how broken they were that summer. And Bryant, for as good as he was, may have let it all get to his head.