Can Kobe Bryant’s 2011 LA Lakers Rival Shaquille O’Neal’s 2001 Team?

Until the end of the 2009 NBA season, the Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard Kobe Bryant had always existed in the shadow of Shaquille O'Neal's championship teams of 2000-02, but Bryant's fourth title captured in Orlando ended that.

The 2010-11 season is an opportunity to stake Bryant's own claim as the leader of a dominant Laker era, and to finally stand on equal footing with Shaq's three championships as the conductor of the train.

Bryant surpassed O'Neal in career championships with the Lakers' Game Seven victory over the Boston Celtics in last season's Finals, and he let the world know how he felt about that in an interview after the game.

I suspect a third consecutive championship in the same manner as Shaq's Lakers teams of 2000-02 would end the ridiculous debate of which team had the better era.

The debate is ridiculous because Bryant was a member of all of the teams that Shaq led to the championship, and his numbers in each postseason suggest he was a primary piece of the puzzle.

When Shaq departed Los Angeles, he forfeited the right to ever lead a team again, and the championship he captured in 2006 with the Miami Heat was gained on Dwyane Wade's coattails.

But Bryant and the Lakers have transformed themselves into a team that is capable of matching O'Neal's in championships, and Bryant's career as a Laker will already be held in a much more favorable light than O'Neal's.

The only thing missing from Bryant's postseason resume is a signature period similar to the one the Lakers had in 2000-01, when they raced through the playoffs with a NBA best 15-1 mark.

That may have been the best championship run in the history of the league, and O'Neal averaged an astounding 33 points and 15.8 rebounds for the postseason, while Bryant chipped in with 24.6 points per game and 5.8 assists.

The Lakers ran through Portland, Sacramento, ...

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