Michael Jordan retired from the NBA after the 1998 NBA season, and the league was worried if they'd have enough star power to keep the fans interested.
Well, luckily for the NBA, plenty of stars stepped up to the plate. This included Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal, and Allen Iverson.
The Lakers' Stars Feud
The 2000-2001 NBA season had some interesting stories. For one, the Los Angeles Lakers after winning the championship in the previous season found themselves in a bit of turmoil.
The Lakers star players Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal got into a public battle over “whose team is it”?
The Lakers finished the season with an impressive 56-26 record, which was good enough for the second seed in the Western Conference.
If you compare this to the season before, it was a drop-off. The 1999-2000 Lakers finished with a 67-15 record, easily the best overall record in the league.
The problem was each star player on the Lakers wanted to be the bigger star, and this ego problem caused friction in the team's locker room.
The problem started in training camp before the season started. O'Neal came into camp out of shape, and Kobe made it known he wasn't happy about it.
Kobe also tried to convince the coaching staff, led by the great Phil Jackson, to change the offense. He wanted the ball to go into O'Neal less, and he wanted more control.
This caused an issue between the two stars, but Jackson said he wouldn't change the offense. He also called the two “juvenile” for their actions.
If you watched the games from the 2000-2001 season compared to the previous season, you could tell that the offense, in fact, did change.
O'Neal could certainly tell the offense had changed, and he didn't like it.
After a blowout Lakers win against the Phoenix Suns on December 28, 2000, O'Neal went to Lakers general manager, Mitch Kupchak, and demanded a trade.
The Lakers won the game 115-78, and Kobe scored 38 while O'Neal finished with only 18.
This feud would continue for the remainder of the season and had many basketball analysts wondering if the Lakers could repeat.
Allen Iverson Wins MVP Award
The Philadelphia 76ers season went a lot smoother than the Lakers. The 76ers jumped out in front of the Eastern Conference standings and their stat guard, Allen Iverson, was having a career year.
Iverson ended the season averaging, at the time, a career-best 31.1 points per game, which led the league.
The 76ers ended the season with the best record in the Eastern Conference with a 56-26 record.
In the first round of the playoffs, the 76ers would face a team that defeated them in two straight postseasons.
The Indiana Pacers, led by Reggie Miller, defeated Iverson's 76ers in both the 1999 and 2000 playoffs.
This year, things would be different. Iverson continued his dominant play, and he led his 76ers to a 3-1 series victory against the Pacers.
The 76ers would be pushed to Game 7 in both the next two series against the Toronto Raptors and the Milwaukee Bucks.
Iverson's play led his 76ers to victories in both series, and the 76ers would reach their first NBA Finals since the 1982-1983 season.
The Lakers Regain Their Dominance
After a season of fighting between Shaq and Kobe, the two seemed to come together during the NBA playoffs.
There was no instance of infighting, and their performance on the court was the best all season.
The Lakers dominated the Western Conference in the playoffs. They swept every round (3-0, 4-0, 4-0) to reach the Finals with an incredible 11-0 postseason record.
The matchup for the 2001 NBA Finals was now set between the Philadelphia 76ers and the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Lakers were the heavy favorites and were projected by many people to sweep the 76ers.
The NBA Finals And Allen Iverson's Performance For The Ages
The Lakers had 10 days off after sweeping the San Antonio Spurs, while the 76ers only received three days after their Game 7 victory against the Milwaukee Bucks.
This appeared to help the 76ers. The Lakers seemed out of sync, no rhythm whatsoever. This included Kobe, who really appeared to be out of rhythm.
The 76ers, on the other hand, came out with a lot of energy, led by their MVP, Iverson.
After the Lakers took an early 21–9 lead, Iverson took over, and he was unstoppable. The entire 76ers team looked to be unstoppable.
Iverson's 30-point first half helped give his 76ers a 56-50 first-half lead. The 76ers jumped all over the Lakers at the start of the third quarter.
The 76ers took a 15 point lead at one point against the Lakers. But just as it appeared the game was over for the defending champions, they stormed back into the game.
Shaw started to dominate and Iverson finally started to slow down, thanks to the unlikely defense from Tyronn Lue.
The two teams battled down to the wire and the game ended up going into overtime.
The Lakers appeared finally to find their rhythm, and everyone knew the Lakers would win the game in overtime.
If you know anything about Iverson, then you know the guy never quit. He was a warrior on the court, and he proved this in overtime.
The Lakers jumped all over the 76ers at the start of the overtime, scoring the first five points. The crowd was going wild, but this didn't faze the MVP.
After Iverson's teammate, Raja Bell, hit a tough layup for the 76ers, Iverson took over the game.
He scored the next seven points and hit the famous step-back jumper over Tyronn Lue, where he stepped over Lue after the shot.
The 76ers won the game 107-101, successfully ending the Lakers chance at a perfect postseason.
Iverson scored 48 points, in what was one of the greatest Finals performances in NBA history.
After Iverson's great performance and the upset of the defending champions, things went back to normal for the Lakers.
The Lakers won the next four games, winning their second straight title with their 4-1 series victory.
Shaq won the Finals MVP, his second straight, and the Lakers were back on top of the league, like everyone believed they would be.
The 76ers may have lost the title, but Iverson's performance, and especially his “step over” on Lue, would go down as one of the best moments in NBA Finals history.