DALLAS — Let’s take things back to the summer of 2001 this week.
Philadelphia 76ers guard Allen Iverson was the newly-crowned MVP and Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant, despite often fighting with each other, were busy trying to lead the Los Angeles Lakers to back-to-back championships.
Unfortunately for Iverson and Co., they were facing prime Shaq, who was coming off a dominant regular season in which he averaged 28.7 points and 12.7 rebounds, and a blossoming Bryant who averaged 28.5 points as the second option.
With that as the backdrop, Shaq entered the 2001 Finals looking for a little extra motivation. Since the “Big Diesel” had a ton of respect for Iverson, 76ers head coach Larry Brown and star center Dikembe Mutombo, getting that extra motivation was hard to come by until he figured out Brown planned on Mutombo covering him one-on-one.
“Larry Brown was smart,” Shaq said during a recent interview. “He was going to exploit the weakest part of your defense. I thought he made a mistake though when he thought Dikembe could play me straight up. Because Dikembe was a nice guy, I liked him. Usually I had to go into the Finals very upset to dominate, but I couldn’t find any motivation to get upset until my uncle Jerome brings me an article with a DVD. Someone asked Dikembe, ‘Are you going to play Shaq one-on-one?’ (Shaq in Dikembe voice) ‘I’m the Defensive Player of the Year. I don’t need a double.’ I told my uncle to rewind that back. (Shaq in Dikembe voice) ‘I’m the Defensive Player of the Year I don’t need a double.'”
A ticked-off Shaq made Mutombo eat his words by coming out of the shoot in Game 1 to register 44 points and 20 rebounds along with five assists. Although Allen Iverson scored 48 to lead the 76ers to a 107-101 Game 1 upset, the tone for the series was set in Shaq and the Lakers’ favor.
A lot of people forget that if it wasn’t for this game, the 2001 Shaq and Kobe-led Lakers would’ve went an unprecedented 16-0 by sweeping every one of their opponents in the playoffs.
When the dust settled, Shaq averaged 33 points, 15 rebounds and 4.8 assists to win his second consecutive Finals MVP to go along with his second championship ring.
Since it clearly wasn’t Mutombo, just who was Shaq’s kryptonite throughout his Hall of Fame career? The big man’s answer might surprise some.
“I could never really guard (David) Robinson. H was fast and could shoot the jumper; he’d pump fake and everybody loved him because he was the All-America guy. ” Shaq went on to name a non-high-profile player who gave him fits in his career. “I always got killed by “Big Country” Reeves; he used to kill me and destroy me.”
Shaq might have had problems with the “Admiral” and “Big Country,” but at the end of the day, the rest of the Association was BBQ Chicken for Shaq. That’s why he’ll be a no-doubt first ballot Hall of Famer when his name comes up.