It is often said that while reaching the top is extremely difficult, staying at the top is an even more daunting proposition. There’s a reason we don’t see too many teams defending their title and although it’s been done by some great teams lately, there’s one achievement that tends to be difficult even for the big ones, which is to score a hat-trick.
Many have tried, not only in the NBA but also in other major American professional sports, but none of them have succeeded in doing so for 20 years, since the Lakers led by Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant the did from 2000 to 2002.
Last to go is the Tampa Bay Lightning, who lost in the Stanley Cup Finals in 6 games to the Colorado Avalanche. It just goes to show what a special accomplishment these Lakers were and how great they really were. At the forefront of this Lakers team was Shaquille O’Neal who recorded stunning numbers in these 3 finals, averaging 35.8 points, 15.2 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 2.9 blocks per game.
O’Neal was league MVP in 2000 as he led them past the Indiana Pacers in 6 games and the Lakers may have reached their all time high the following year in 2001. They went through the playoffs of the Western Conference sweeping the Blazers, the Kings and the No. 1 seeded Les Spurs were led by Tim Duncan. 2001 league MVP Allen Iverson finally snapped that 11-game winning streak in Game 1 of the Finals, but he was powerless to stop the Lakers juggernaut from winning the next 4 games. By now Kobe Bryant had also become one of the NBA’s leading guards and the two were nearly unstoppable in the 2002 Finals as they swept the Nets to clinch their historic three-peat.
It was only the 5th time in league history that a team won 3 in a row, after the Minneapolis Lakers (1952 to 1954), the Dynastic Celtics who won 8 in a row (1959 to 1966) and Michael Jordan’s Bulls in the 1990s who accomplished it twice, from 1991 to 1993 and from 1996 to 1998.
Since then, a few teams have come close, but winning the third title was a step too far each time. Bryant won back-to-back titles in 2009 and 2010 but was swept out of the playoffs in 2011 while LeBron James’ Miami Heat, who won in 2012 and 2013, was beaten in 5 games in the 2014 Finals by Spurs . The Stephen Curry-led Golden State Warriors were the last to attempt an NBA hat-trick, but injuries were the spoilsport when they lost to the Raptors in 2019. Injuries are a big part of the game and it shows just how bad it is. ‘is difficult. win 3 times in a row.
It’s even harder to achieve success in modern times and it’s a testament to the greatness of these Lakers teams that they managed to accomplish it. It’s just a shame that Kobe and Shaq couldn’t get along off the court or who knows what those guys would have accomplished together. O’Neal called them the most dominant duo in NBA history and it’s one of the biggest storylines of recent times.