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Shaq won NBA Finals MVP each year during the Lakers’ threepeat (2000, 2001, 2002). Los Angeles returned to the Finals in 2004, but lost to the Pistons, 4-1.
In that series, Bryant had Los Angeles’ highest usage percentage (30.4%) but made just 38% of his shots and 17% of his 3-pointers.
Interviewed a Kobe teammate for my upcoming book. We talked about 2004 Finals loss to Pistons. Much blame was placed on Karl Malone injury. Guy told me, "That loss was on Kobe. He wanted to be MVP of that series, and he just … kept … shooting."
— Jeff Pearlman (@jeffpearlman) August 28, 2019
This doesn’t give the Pistons nearly enough credit. They dominated that series. Detroit’s overall performance that season is rather mediocre for an NBA champion (an obviously high standard). But once the Pistons got Rasheed Wallace at the trade deadline, they reached an incredibly high level.
Detroit – notably Tayshaun Prince – smothered Bryant. The opposition had plenty to do with Bryant’s poor shooting.
Bryant rather transparently wanted to be the Lakers’ best player. It’s easy to see how he’d get carried away gunning for Finals MVP. But it’s a wild leap to assume the Lakers would’ve won the series if Bryant had a different outlook.
Nor is it fair just to assume Bryant could just turn off the mentality that contributed so much to his greatness.
I also wonder whether this teammate’s identity will remain mysterious in the book. Perhaps, anonymity was a condition of the interview. But maybe Pearlman is just waiting to reveal that information. I’m curious, not only who felt that way, but who would say it on the record. Bryant remains revered in many corners.