During the 1996-97 NBA season, the Los Angeles Lakers traded Vlade Divac for the 13th pick in the 1996 NBA Draft, Kobe Bryant, and signed Shaquille O’Neal to a huge contract worth $120 million over seven years. It was the exact moment that NBA fans knew the Lakers were preparing to compete against the Chicago Bulls and attempt to overtake them as the best team in the league.
They ended up finishing the season 56-26, losing in the Western Conference Semifinals.
Over the next two seasons, they would acquire players like Derek Fisher, Rick Fox, Glen Rice, Brian Shaw, John Salley, Ron Harper, and A.C. Green to help complement the one-two-punch of Kobe and Shaq leading to their incredible run in the 1999-00 NBA season.
But it takes more than just a talented lineup to win an NBA title, just ask the Miami Heat or the 1998-99 Lakers team, who were probably the best roster in the NBA that season and who finished 31-19 during the strike shortened NBA season before being swept by the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Semifinals. That was the moment they realized they needed a head coach if they wanted to mold this talent into a champion.
So Jerry Buss and Jerry West went out and signed Phil Jackson, who after sitting out one season after an ugly public fight with Chicago Bulls GM Jerry Krause, he decided to make his return to the NBA. The return proved to be a wise decision as the 1999-00 Lakers team completely dominated the NBA finishing with 67 wins, the second most in franchise history, and battling through the playoffs before finally winning the NBA Championship over the Indiana Pacers in six games.
That was 16 years ago and all of the players have since retired, moved on to other teams, or switched over to coaching. So let’s rank the 12-man playoff roster (and notable staff members) and take a look at what they are up to today.
15. Jerry Buss (Owner)
The idea that basketball should be fun and entertaining, not just screens and free throws, came from Jerry Buss. He created that run-and-gun style of play known as the Showtime Era and it all started with two players, Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
He also added the infamous Laker Girls and eventually got some celebrities to start showing up to add that Hollywood fan base we all know and love. (You know, the bandwagon fans.)
Following his successful transformation of the sport of basketball, the Lakers would go on to win nine NBA titles and make the playoffs almost every year until his death in 2013. He started battling cancer in 2012 and ended up missing the 2012-13 season. Since his death, the Lakers have struggled and have not made the playoffs, contended for a title, or even been able to lure the league’s top free agents to come play in Los Angeles. His death has hurt the organization that is desperately trying to come back.
14. Jerry West (General Manager)
From 1982 until 2002, Jerry West was the General Manager of the Los Angeles Lakers. The man, whose silhouette is used as the NBA’s logo, was a huge part of the success that the Lakers had during the ’80s, ’90s, and ’00s.
He was the genius that made the decision to trade Vlade Divac to Charlotte for Kobe Bryant during the 1996 NBA Draft. He was the person who got Shaquille O’Neal to sign in LA. He was the one who rebuilt the Lakers after they struggled in the early ’90s. He worked alongside Jerry Buss and the two of them created a dynasty.
After the 2001-02 season, West ended up leaving Los Angeles to take on the role of becoming the new General Manager of the Memphis Grizzlies. Although they never would win a title, he did turn them into a playoff contender without having the money or ability to sign elite talent. He was able to build on what was existing and helped Hubie Brown win the 2004 NBA Coach of the Year award in the process.
He is now an executive board member of the Golden State Warriors, whom he joined in 2011. Their NBA title was the first in 40 years and you can easily credit that to the man that success followed, West.
13. Phil Jackson (Head Coach)
Besides Red Auerbach, who has nine NBA titles as a coach and another seven as an executive, Phil Jackson owns 13 NBA rings, two as a player and 11 as a head coach. He is the only person that can say they coached Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Shaquille O’Neal, and Kobe Bryant to 11 NBA titles over the course of 20 years of coaching.
After being convinced to return to coaching from both Jerry West and Jerry Buss, Phil Jackson took over the talented lineup that featured two of the all-time greatest players in league history. All it took was a little bit of coaching and the Lakers went on to win an NBA Championship for three straight seasons. He would end up winning another two in 2008-09 and 2009-10.
Phil is now the President of Basketball Operations for the New York Knicks where he has recently come under fire for taking over the head coaching duties by implementing his legendary triangle offense. Instead of complaining about it, Byron Scott should keep his mouth closed and let the man help the Knicks win something for a change.
12. John Salley (C)
Throughout his entire career, John Salley was never an elite talent. He was simply a role player and minute muncher wherever he would go. As a 6’11” Center, he has backed up some of the leagues greatest big men like Bill Laimbeer, Darryl Dawkins, and Shaquille O’Neal.
He is a four-time NBA champion thanks to some of the most intelligent self-promoting the league has ever seen. After being traded to Miami in 1992 and then taken by Toronto in 1995, he was unhappy about his playing time and convinced the front office to buyout his contract. He would then go on to sign with the Chicago Bulls in the same season they won an NBA title and finished with 72 wins. He retired only to return three years later to play hardly any minutes for the 1999-00 NBA Champion Lakers to claim his fourth ring.
He loves the fact that he has, in his words, “four championship rings, with three different teams, in three different decades and two different millenniums.”
11. Travis Knight (C)
Who? No, this isn’t the animator that created Coraline, ParaNorman, or The Boxtrolls. But they do share the same name.
We are talking about the 7’0″ monster out of UConn that was drafted by the Chicago Bulls in the same draft where his teammate, Kobe Bryant, was also selected in the first round. But by July of 1996, he was kicked to the curb by the Bulls who renounced their rights to sign the rookie. He would not wait long before signing with the Lakers and even ended up playing in 71 games in his first season, started 14 of them.
For someone that most people don’t remember, Knight did a pretty good job of playing backup center for the Lakers. He ended up going to Boston the next year before returning in 1999 to LA. He finished his career with the New York Knicks making him one of the only people in NBA history to play for Los Angeles, Boston, and New York only.
10. Devean George (SF)
Prior to the 1999-00 season, the Lakers drafted Devean George out of Augsburg College in the first round of the NBA Draft, 23rd overall. He quickly became a fan favorite because he worked as hard as anyone else on the roster, doing his job, playing his role, and serving the head coaches with respect by doing whatever was asked of him. That is just something that does not happen much anymore.
His defensive ability and potential upside earned him a contract extension for the 2002-03 season that kept him around until the 2005-06 season. He was there for the three titles and then for the eventual decline in production before leaving for the Dallas Mavericks. He retired after the 2009-10 season with Golden State.
He has since returned to his hometown of Minneapolis where he helps build affordable housing complexes so that people can worry about affording an education and eating healthy rather than worry about a mortgage when things are tough.
9. Rick Fox (SF)
By the time Rick Fox signed with the Los Angeles Lakers, he had established himself as a legit starting Small Forward averaging 15.4 points, 5.2 rebounds, 3.8 assists, and 2.2 steals per game in his final season in Boston, 1996-97.
After signing with LA, Rick spent the 1997-98 season as their starting SF before the team went out and signed Glen Rice the following season which put him on the bench as a backup.
His biggest highlight remains the three-point shot he sank during Game 6 of the 1999-00 NBA Finals in the fourth quarter which began a rally that eventually led the Lakers to the championship.
The three-time NBA Champion is now running his very own E-Sports team called Echo Fox, which he purchased for roughly $1 million in 2015. Echo Fox is a competitive computer gaming team that specializes in League of Legends, Call of Duty: Black Ops 3, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Street Fighter V, and Super Smash Bros. He has also showed up on various television shows, like Showtime’s Shameless, and on reality tv.
8. A.C. Green (PF)
For 1,192 consecutive games, A.C. Green was available to play. The league’s first “Iron Man” only missed three games during his entire 16-year career which sent him to the Los Angeles Lakers (twice), Phoenix Suns, Dallas Mavericks, and Miami Heat.
Overall, he played in 1,278 of 1,281 NBA games making him one of the most efficient Power Forwards in the NBA. If you wanted to go one step further and include his time in college at Oregon State, then you can tack on another 115 games played out of a possible 121. So from 1981 until 2001, A.C. Green missed nine games. Nine!
He was featured on ESPN’s 30 for 30 shorts earlier this year in a video called A.C. Green: Iron Virgin making a reference to the fact that he remained a virgin until he was 38-years old. His ability to remain celibate has become legendary among professional athletes.
7. Brian Shaw (SG)
For 14 seasons, Brian Shaw became one of the league’s most notable role playing guards. He played for seven different teams including the Boston Celtics, Miami Heat, Orlando Magic, Golden State Warriors, Philadelphia 76ers, Portland Trail Blazers, and Los Angeles Lakers. He was always one of the most respected players for working hard and not complaining about anything, just playing when he had his shot.
But it wasn’t just his respect for the game that made him so popular among his teammates. He was a good assistant coach while he was still playing and he even helped many players change their style or ways to help them become who they are today.
Paul George just recently thanked Brian Shaw for helping him develop into the All-Star he has become by sharing with him the different things Kobe Bryant used to do to prepare. Now that Shaw is an associate head coach in LA, he has to be careful about helping his opponents but he just can’t help it. He is a good person that wants to see others succeed.
6. Derek Fisher (PG)
Very few players had the ability to affect an NBA Championship team like Derek Fisher did when he was on the Los Angeles Lakers. His defense was key to his value for the Lakers and it was most evident during the 2000-01 season when he missed 62 games with a stress fracture in his right foot. His return came at the perfect time, in March, and he helped lead them to another title, their second in a row.
His most memorable moment came during the 2004 Western Conference Semifinals when he hit the game-winning shot with only 0.4 seconds left in the game. It was the moment the NBA considered changing the rule and eventually would add a rule clarifying that if the clock is under 0.4 seconds, you can’t physically get a shot off in that time.
He recently got fired from his job as the head coach of the New York Knicks after just a year and a half and only a 40-96 record and just about three months ago, he came out and said he was willing to return to the league, one more time.
5. Ron Harper (PG)
Ron Harper is a five-time NBA Champion and one of the most underrated assets during the Chicago Bulls amazing title run and the Lakers 1999-00 season. He was one of those annoying defenders that, at 6’6″ tall, would get in your pocket and stay there.
He had the size and speed to be tough to defend and eventually teams would have to start keeping an eye on him leaving players like Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan wide open or in one-on-one coverage.
He spends his time voicing his opinions these days, having said on Twitter how the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls would have swept the Golden State Warriors from 2015-16, who at the time were 11-0 and coming off a NBA Title the year before.
4. Robert Horry (PF)
Of all the amazingly talented players in NBA history, not a single one of them have won two or more titles with three different teams. That’s right, Robert Horry has seven NBA rings that he has earned throughout his career winning two in Houston, three in Los Angeles, and two more in San Antonio.
The King of Clutch has become synonymous with clutch playoff performances having been a key to several of his seven championships. He scored 21 points in the final 17 minutes of the 2005 NBA Finals Game 5 including a three-pointer with 5.8 seconds left in OT. He hit a buzzer beater during the 2002 Western Conference Finals Game 4 to tie the series between the Kings and Rockets at 2-2. He landed a huge three with 14 seconds remaining in Game 3 of the 1995 NBA Finals. He also dropped a three from the corner to take the lead of Game 3 in the 2002 Western Conference 1first round game against Portland with only two seconds remaining.
3. Glen Rice (SF)
If there was one thing Glen Rice was known for, it would be his ability to score from outside the three-point line. He spent most of his career shooting three’s and it was part of the reason he was such a dominate starting Small Forward that averaged 15-20 points per game.
When he got to Los Angeles, he spent two seasons there before they finally won a NBA title. After the title run, he ended up in New York, Houston, and back in Los Angeles only this time for the Clippers before retiring. But his time in LA was anything but fun as he was seen as a problem instead of a solution that would always complain about his contract. He apparently wanted to be a free agent before the 1999-00 season but it was Shaq that convinced the Lakers to keep him around.
2. Kobe Bryant (SG)
Kobe Bryant is one of the greatest NBA players of all-time and people either love him or hate him, there is no in-between with Kobe. And that is OK because he has never let the fans or critics define him. He just worked harder and tried to prove them wrong, which he did, time and time again.
Known as a selfish player, Kobe has dealt with being blamed for the current downfall of the Lakers organization because no one wants to play with him. But what they don’t realize is that Kobe deserved better treatment before he retired because he should not be penalized for scoring. He lead the NBA in field goal attempts per game six times between 2004-05 and 2012-13. Michael Jordan lead the league nine times.
So whether you hate him or not, you should respect what the six-time NBA Champion has done for the city of Los Angeles, literally bringing them back to prominence during the 1999-00 season.
1. Shaquille O’Neal (C)
In 19 NBA seasons, Shaquille O’Neal dominated at the Center position unlike anything we had ever seen before. He was a monster in the paint, a force to be reckoned with, and, as he grew up, he started to get even stronger. The Shaq from LSU was nothing like the Shaq that won all those titles in LA, in size and strength.
Shaq spent his career between Orlando and Los Angeles before moving around to Miami, Phoenix, Cleveland, and Boston. He showed up ready to ball and averaged 23.4 points, 13.9 rebounds, 3.5 blocks per game in his rookie season. He continued to put up at least 20 points and 10 rebounds per game every single season until he moved to Miami. No one has ever dominated at the center position like that for as long as he did in NBA history.
It would equate to a career where he won the MVP during the 1999-00 season, four NBA titles, 15 All-Star appearances, 15 All-NBA selections, three All-Defensive team selections, and a spot in the Hall of Fame.
He is now working for TNT as an analyst while continuing to field new streams of revenue including owning his very own Krispy Kreme store in downtown Atlanta while also becoming the companies global spokesperson.
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