The 2003-04 season for the Los Angeles Lakers is known largely due to it being the last year of the Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal duo. The Los Angeles Lakers notably lost in 5 games to the Detroit Pistons. While the Pistons had a decent amount of talent on the roster, they were widely viewed as the underdogs to a Los Angeles team that not only featured O'Neal and Bryant but two other stars as well in Karl Malone and Gary Payton.
There's no doubt that this team had a lot of talent, even though Karl Malone and Gary Payton were not in their prime anymore. Nowadays, they'd definitely be considered a superteam. Gary Payton thinks so himself. In his recent appearance on an episode of Nothing Personal with David Samson, Payton stated his belief that the 2003-04 Los Angeles Lakers were the first-ever superteam.
That was an interesting year. When me and Karl signed with the Lakers, I was coming for Shaq, and Karl was coming for me. So we were coming together. That was probably the first superteam with the four of us.
That Los Angeles Lakers team reportedly had a lot of chemistry issues, which were part of the reason for their downfall. Notably many people stated that Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant had beef, but Payton seems to look at it from a different perspective.
When we got into the season, it was just a little bit different. I had heard about all of the tension between Shaq and Kobe. It wasn't really like that. It was just that you had two brothers -- the bigger brother and the little brother, and they were competitors. They wanted something out of the other one. The other one wanted something out of the other one and they were acting like brats. That's it. That's all it was. Just acting like brats.
It seems as though Payton is suggesting that Bryant and O'Neal's fighting was more like siblings being bratty with another, rather than any real beef. O'Neal himself has stated that he pushed the beef outside of the locker room for marketing purposes. Even when you take away their potential beef though, they were a fearsome duo.
There's no doubt that that the 2003-04 Los Angeles Lakers were a superteam, and until they faced the Detroit Pistons in the Finals, they seemed right on track to win another championship. More talent generally heightens your chance of winning rings, but it seems as though it didn't work out that season.