Memory Lane Monday: “Challenge Accepted”

Shaquille O'Neal delivered the knockout punch to the Portland Trail Blazers in 2000 on the way to his second Finals appearance. (Getty Images)
Shaquille O’Neal delivered the knockout punch to the Portland Trail Blazers in 2000 on the way to his second Finals appearance. (Getty Images)

Today, our trip down memory lane takes us to the beginning of the new millennium, where Western Conference behemoths, Los Angeles and Portland, squared off for a trip to the NBA Finals. The 2000 Western Conference Finals are best remembered as Kobe Bryant & Shaquille O’Neal’s first crack at making an indelible impact on the league’s biggest stage.

After a tough first round tilt versus Chris Webber and the Sacramento Kings, MVP Shaquille O’Neal led the Lakers to an easy series victory over the Phoenix Suns in the Semifinals (4-1). Next up, the powerful Portland Trail Blazers stood in LA’s way of returning to the Finals.

Let’s remember for a second, the Blazers were LOADED back in the early 2000s. Their main rotation featured Damon “Mighty Mouse” Stoudamire at point, smooth-scoring Steve Smith at the two, future Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen at the three, multi-talented forward Rasheed Wallace at power forward and highly skilled pivot Arvydas Sabonis in the middle.

Bryant and Pippen battled each other all series long. (Photo by Tom Hauck/Getty Images)
Bryant and Pippen battled each other all series long. (Photo by Tom Hauck/Getty Images)

And off the bench, Greg Anthony, Brian Grant, Detlef Schrempf & Bonzi Wells provided excellent relief as well (along with a perfect balance of “everyday” names & “creative?” ones).

Led by the exploits of Shaq, Kobe and sweet-shooting Glen Rice, however, LA jumped out to a 3-1 series lead and were poised to close it out early. With their backs against the wall, Portland capitalized on a balanced effort to capture Game 5 and received huge boosts from Steve Smith (26 points) and Bonzi Wells (20 points off the bench) to force Game 7.

The stage was set: 48 minutes to determine who would advance to face the Indiana Pacers for the trophy. Portland came out like gangbusters, controlling the tempo and rolling to a 15-POINT LEAD with 10 minutes to go in the 4th quarter. Just when it seemed the Lakers were finished, the unthinkable occurred:

*WARNING* – ANY BLAZER FAN WHO VIVIDLY REMEMBERS OR IS AWARE OF THE EVENT THAT HAPPENED ON JUNE 4, 2000 SHOULD TURN AWAY IMMEDIATELY!



So close to glory. So close to knocking off the top-seeded Lakers and a prime version of one of the most unstoppable duos (Shaq & Kobe) in league history. Yeah…Robert Horry, Rick Fox & Brian Shaw (of all people!) were having none of it.

What’s that you ask? There’s a chance for redemption, 15 years later? There’s actually an extremely slim silver lining to be found?

Blazer fans are finally awarded the opportunity for some comeuppance in the form of NBA 2K16. The 1999-2000 Trail Blazers are a playable team in 2K16 and can face off against either the 1997-1998 Lakers or 2000-2001 Lakers for revenge.

Sure, the 1999-2000 squad won’t be available but TWO chances to slay the mighty Lakers is better than nothing, right??

The legend of Shaq & Kobe began with their improbable comeback victory in the Western Conference Finals. And while the ’99-00 Trail Blazers could not get over the hump, their place as one of the most impressive teams in that era is not forgotten.

#DOFGAME #DOG #MLM

-Jabari J.

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