Every NBA season has its own set of memories that last forever. In 2002, it was a special season for the western part of the United States. The conclusion of the last three-peat was done. It featured a different era where big men like Tim Duncan and Shaquille O’Neal were considered the true playmakers of their respective teams. In terms of players in the paint, the year 2002 ruled.
Here are the most important player facts that happened in 2002, starting with the dominance of players patrolling the paint.
Jermaine O’Neal Wins Most Improved Player Of The Year
O’Neal is an all-time favorite by Indiana Pacers fans but he rose to fame during the 2001-2002 season. O’Neal won the NBA Most Improved Player of the Year Award, qualified for the All-Star Game, and made All-NBA Third Team, which was the first time a Pacer had done so since Reggie Miller.
O’Neal led the Pacers in scoring (19.0) and rebounds (10.5). His 39 double-doubles were the third-best in the East and eight-best in the NBA. The Pacers qualified for the playoffs as the No. 8 seed and battled the New Jersey Nets to a five-game series, which featured two overtimes. A team that featured Brad Miller, Ron Artest, Al Harrington, and Jamaal Tinsley eventually rose to a threat in the East thanks to O’Neal’s turnaround.
Corliss Williamson Wins Sixth Man Of The Year
The common theme is size but what about the undersized? Williamson was considered an undersized power forward that had to shift to small forward a plethora of times. During the 2001-2002 season, Williamson won the Sixth Man of the Year Award while averaging 13.6 points and 4.1 rebounds.
He was often looked at when the Pistons needed a low-post basket. He was a difficult matchup for teams because he was too big for small forwards to guard. Williamson eventually won an NBA championship with the 2003-2004 team and eventually became an NBA coach.
Pau Gasol Wins Rookie Of The Year
Getting back to size, the tall, lanky Spanish Paul Gasol became the first foreign player to win the Rookie of the Year Award this season. Gasol averaged 17.6 points and 8.9 rebounds that season.
He was the only player of the Memphis Grizzlies to play in all 82 games. Gasol eventually became a fan-favorite in Memphis and was the core piece of the 2009 and 2010 championship runs with the Lakers when he was eventually traded.
Ben Wallace Wins Defensive Player Of The Year
The 2001-2002 season was a great season for the Detroit Pistons center. He averaged his most points per game for a season up to date at 7.6 points. While that may not be a lot, if you ever followed Wallace’s game, you would know he had a different reason being on the floor. Wallace led the league in rebounding with 13.0 per game, as well as blocked shots per game with 3.5. Due to his strong defensive play, he won Defensive Player of the Year and was named to the All-Defensive First Team, as well as the All-NBA Third Team.
The Pistons won 50 games and won the Central Division. The Pistons would defeat the Toronto Raptors in the first round, but fall to the Boston Celtics in the second round. Most Pistons fans will remember Wallace’s Game 1 performance against Toronto where he scored 19 points and recorded 20 rebounds. He managed to secure 20 or more rebounds in two of the 10 games that playoff series.
Allen Iverson Wins Scoring Title
Undersized doesn’t get any better when it comes to Iverson winning the scoring title at 6-foot-0. Fresh off their trip to the NBA Finals, Iverson and the 76ers had high expectations. However, the team was decimated with injuries. Still, Iverson played at a high level, averaging 31.4 points per game to lead the 76ers to a 43-39 record and a playoff berth.
The 76ers lost in the first round of the playoffs but it was his second straight scoring title. By the end of the season, head coach Larry Brown criticized Iverson for missing practice, and it was the year that Iverson went on his epic “practice” rant, which included 14 instances of using the word.
Tim Duncan Wins MVP
After two disappointing seasons that featured the San Antonio Spurs bowing out of the playoffs early, Duncan had one of his best statistical seasons. The 2001-2002 season was the first of back-to-back MVP campaigns for Duncan. At the time, Duncan averaged career-highs in scoring (25.5 PPG) and led the league in field goals and attempted free throws.
His 12.7 rebounds per game, combined with his 3.7 assists and 2.5 blocks, were enough to gain attention from the league for a center. Duncan joined David Robinson as the only two players to win an MVP while wearing a Spurs uniform. In the playoffs, the Spurs were ousted by the Los Angeles Lakers and another eventual MVP.
Shaq O’Neal Wins NBA Finals MVP
The 2002 Western Conference Finals featured one of the most controversial games in NBA history. Numerous calls against the Kings in the fourth quarter, highlighted by the allegations set forth to the Tim Donaghy scandal, have lingered to this day. Needless to say, the Lakers were led by Shaq’s 41 points and 17 rebounds to lead the Lakers to the NBA Finals.
When Shaq got to the grand stage for the third straight year, Shaq led the complete 4-0 sweep over the Nets. Shaq had scoring outputs of 36, 40, and 34 points in three of the wins. The Nets had no answer for the all-time great as Shaq helped lead the Lakers to a three-peat.
Los Angeles Lakers Win Three-Peat
The Lakers defeated the Nets 4-0 in the Finals in a close-knit series. In three of the wins, the Nets lost by six or fewer points. In Game 1, Shaq led the Lakers with 36 points and 16 rebounds. The following game, the Lakers were blown out by 23 points thanks to Shaq’s 40-point, 12-rebond performance. He was just two assists away from a triple-double.
In Game 3, the combination of Jason Kidd and Kenyon Martin played exceptionally, but Kobe Bryant outplayed both by scoring 36 points. Shaq added 35 points as the combined 71 points were too much for New Jersey. In the final game, the Lakers accomplished the league’s second three-peat in seven years, following the 1996-1998 three-peat set forth by the Chicago Bulls and Michael Jordan. Despite the Celtics, Heat, and Warriors getting close to accomplishing this feat, the 2000-2002 Lakers remain the last ever three-peat in NBA history.