Shaq Thinks His Lakers Team Would’ve ‘Easily’ Beaten Michael Jordan’s Bulls
Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls are widely-acknowledge as one of the greatest basketball teams ever assembled. Yet fans and players both love to speculate about how those Bulls squads would perform against other all-time great teams.
In recent years, such comparisons have often centered around the 73-win Golden State Warriors team from 2015-2016.
Yet another team that deserves comparison with Jordan’s Bulls were the 2000-2002 Los Angeles Lakers. Those Lakers teams won three straight titles behind the superstar play of Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant.
O’Neal recently voiced his opinion that his Lakers would have “easily” beaten Jordan’s Bulls. Here we take a look at Shaq’s career, what he said, and how those two teams stack up.
A brief recap of O’Neal’s NBA career
The Orlando Magic drafted O’Neal with the first pick of the 1992 NBA draft. Right of out the gate, O’Neal established himself as one of the most dominant big men to ever hit an NBA court.
Nonetheless, O’Neal failed to win a title in his four years with the Magic. As a free agent in 1996, he announced his plans to join the Lakers.
O’Neal spent eight years with the Lakers, winning three titles in 2000, 2001, and 2002. O’Neal and Bryant proved an unstoppable combination, although differences between the two superstars ultimately led O’Neal to join the Miami Heat in 2004. He spent four years with the Heat, winning his fourth title in 2006.
Stints with the Phoenix Suns, Cleveland Cavaliers, and Boston Celtics rounded out the end of O’Neal’s career. Over the course of his time in the league, O’Neal won one MVP award and three Finals MVP awards. He was a 15-time All-Star, a three-time All-Star Game MVP, and an eight-time All-NBA First team selection. In 2016, O’Neal was inducted into the Hall of Fame.
O’Neal’s comments about the Bulls
O’Neal recently stirred controversy during an appearance on ESPN’s SportsCenter. His interviewer asked whether O’Neal thought his three-peat Lakers could have taken down Jordan’s Bulls.
“Of course,” answered O’Neal. “Yes. Easily.”
O’Neal seemed so sure about himself that he didn’t even hesitate before answering. He then went on to contextualize his position by explaining why the Lakers would have had such a huge advantage.
His answer, in a nutshell, was size — particularly his own. O’Neal easily pictured himself dominating the Bulls’ relatively small lineup. He specifically called out the Bulls centers — Luc Longley, Bill Wennington, and Bill Cartwright — saying he would have “killed them” in the post.
A more nuanced analysis
While O’Neal’s belief in himself is commendable, most analysts agree that the hypothetical match-up would never have been quite so one-sided. O’Neal himself admitted that one potential problem for the Lakers would have been his own spotty free-throw shooting. Then-Bulls coach Phil Jackson almost certainly would have employed the “hack-a-Shaq” approach against the Lakers’ big man.
O’Neal also overlooked the fact that, while a member of the Magic, he did go up against the Bulls in a 1996 playoff series. Despite his dominant performance against Bulls’ big men Longley and Wennington, O’Neal’s Magic was still swept. He would probably counter that that Magic team was nowhere near as talented as the 2000-2002 era Lakers.
And he would be right—to a degree. It’s true that the Bulls likely wouldn’t have had a way to slow down O’Neal’s individual performance. There would have been nothing surprising about O’Neal averaging 30 points and 10 rebounds over the course of a series. Yet the rest of the Lakers squad would likely be outmatched by their Bulls counterparts.
Yes, Kobe Bryant was an all-time stud. Yet he would find himself matched up against two of the all-time greatest wing defenders in Jordan and Scottie Pippen. Add defensive stalwart Dennis Rodman to the mix, and Bryant would likely have found it difficult to put up his usual sorts of numbers.
Regardless of which team would have come out on top, one thing is for certain—a matchup between O’Neal’s Lakers and Jordan’s Bulls would have ranked among the most competitive playoff series of all time.