Kobe Bryant finally got the monkey off his back. The Monkey being the “Shaq-less” title that eluded him since the Lakers last title in 2002 and Shaq departing in 2004. But Kobe Bryant isn’t the first to take such a load off his shoulder, and we take a look at Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson, Shaquille O’neal and Michael Jordan who didn’t have such an easy time getting to their first. Just remember, Kobe won his first title in his fourth season and yesterday’s win made him a four time NBA champ. Other NBA Legends didn’t have it that easy.
Hakeem Olajuwon – 1994 NBA Finals
Hakeem arrived in the famous 1984 draft and was the no.1 pick in that draft. His arrival at Houston after enjoying a great career at the University of Houston and teaming up with Ralph Sampson made the Rockets immediate contenders for the NBA title.
In 1985-1986 Houston reached the finals, led by the “twin towers” only to lose to a Boston Celtics team that is considered by many as the best in history. Olajuwon continued improving, but Sampson was missing more and more games and never lived up to the hopes put on his shoulders.
It was Olajuwon’s show and he led his team to the playoffs six times in the next seven seasons but never made it past the Conference Semi Final. The Lakers and the Sonics were always there to stop him. But then, in 1993, after Michael Jordan won his third straight title with the Chicago Bulls, beating another title-less legend in the finals, Charles Barkley, something happened. Michael Jordan announced his retirement from basketball, and it seemed that almost every team in the league had a shot at the title.
Hakeem had his best season of his career in 1993-1994, winning Defensive Player of the Year a year after winning his only MVP award while averaging 27.3 points, 11.9 rebounds and 3.7 blocks per game. The Rockets knocked out the aging Portland Blazers in the first round and Shocked the Phoenix Suns in the Conference Semi Finals, coming back from 3-1 down. They made easy work of the conference Finals, beating Utah 4-1. And then came the Knicks.
Pat Riley built the Knicks as the new “Bad Boys”, led by Patrick Ewing and a bunch of hard fighting players and one crazy gunslinger, John Starks. The series was an ugly 7 game physical battle, that the Rockets eventually won. Olajuwon won the Finals MVP. Olajuwon averaged 28.9 points with 11 rebounds in the playoffs and finally won the title in his 10th season in the league. A year later he won it again, teaming up with Clyde Drexler who came from Portland to beat the Orlando Magic in the finals 4-0, giving Drexler his first NBA title after 12 seasons in the league.
That year Michael Jordan returned, but the real no.23 came back only in the 1995-1996 season, and Olajuwon didn’t win another title again. Two aren’t too bad.
David Robinson – 1999 and 2003 NBA Finals
Same era as Olajuwon more or less, but it took David Robinson to get a twin tower teammate who actually became the main man on the team to win a title, even two.
Robinson was picked by San Antonio Spurs in the 1987 draft by the had to wait two more years for him to join them as he had to finish his commitment with the Navy.
Robinson was a star in the league from day one, winning Rookie of the year award for the 1989-1990 season and the MVP in the 1994-1995 season but the Spurs never got passed the Conference Finals.
David Robinson missing most of the season in 1996-97 due to an injury resulted in a horrible season for San Antonio, which resulted in them winning the draft lottery and picking first. They picked Tim Duncan, and David Robinson finally had the partner he always wanted.
In Duncan’s second season in the league the NBA suffered from a lockout which resulted in a shortened season. The Spurs cruised into the Finals and beat the New York Knicks 4-1, winning the franchise first title. Robinson finally got the title in his 10th season taking a secondary offensive role and complementing Tim Duncan on both sides of the court.
That Championship was always criticized for being in a lockout season, so Robinson had to wait another three seasons, seeing the Los Angeles Lakers beat him twice in the playoffs and winning three straight NBA titles before winning a “real” title in the 2002-03 season, with Robinson being pretty much a role player and supplying rebounds, defense and leadership while Duncan did most of the damage to opponents.
Robinson retired after the second title and will be inducted into the hall of fame in 3 months.
Shaquille O’neal – 2000 NBA Finals
Shaq was probably the most hyped college prospect since Kareem Abdul Jabbar and he made a huge impact on the league immediately, including breaking the basket twice in his rookie season, forcing the NBA to change some rules and builds but a title didn’t come easy.
He didn’t make the playoffs his first season, was swept in the finals by Olajuwon and the Houston Rockets in his third and swept by the Chicago Bulls in the next season in the Eastern Finals.
Shaq moved to LA but only in his fourth season there, after being beaten by the Utah Jazz (Twice) and the San Antonio Spurs did Shaq win his first NBA title. He won the MVP for the 2000 season, his only MVP award. That season also marked a transition in the league , as the Western Conference became the dominant and quality conference. Kobe Bryant evolving into a superstar player was a big factor to the Lakers 2000-2002 dynasty.
In the 2000 Finals the Lakers faced the Indiana Pacers, beating them 4-2 with Shaquille winning the finals MVP, an award he would also win in the next two titles for the Lakers.
It took Shaq 8 seasons to get one monkey off his back, and it took him a couple more to get another one. After the ugly split with the Lakers after the 2004 finals, Shaq won it with the Miami Heat in 2006, with Dwayne Wade playing the Kobe Bryant part as Shaq won a title without Kobe very quickly, a feat that took Kobe 7 seasons to accomplish.
Michael Jordan – 1991 NBA Finals
People tend to forget that the greatest basketball player to ever play the game didn’t have it easy before winning his first title. He had a crappy team his first three years with the Bulls, never making it passed the first round in the playoffs. Then as the pieces started falling around him, he had the Detroit Pistons to face.
The Pistons beat the Bulls in the playoffs for three straight years from 1988-1990, winning the NBA title in 1989 and 1990. In 1991 that streak stopped, as the Bulls swept the Pistons in the Conference Finals, with Isiah Thomas memorably marching his team off the court so he won’t need to shake hands with Jordan and co.
Michael Jordan was already a two time MVP and a five time scoring title winner before the 1991 NBA Finals. Only after that series with the Lakers that ended in a 4-1 victory for the Bulls did Jordan finally step out of the Bird-Magic shadow and evolve into the best there is, best there was and best there ever will be (???)… Six titles in the form of two three-peats were the end result, but it started in 1991 after game 5 in LA.
Even though it was Jordan, he had Phil Jackson, Scottie Pippen, Horace Grant and later Toni Kukoc and Dennis Rodman. Even he didn’t do it by himself.