Unsung Lakers heroes of the past: Horace Grant

In this ongoing series, we will take a trip to yesteryear to highlight some Los Angeles Lakers players whom some fans may have forgotten. These players didn’t get the billing that some others enjoyed, but they were very instrumental to the Lakers’ success.

In the totality of NBA history, Horace Grant isn’t really remembered as a Laker. He is mostly thought of as a member of the great Chicago Bulls teams of the 1990s, and for good reason, since he played as many seasons with the Bulls as he would with any other team.

However, for one season, he was with the Los Angeles Lakers, and the power forward played a key role in helping them get to the mountaintop, even if many fans don’t remember him or even know he played for them.

Grant was instrumental to the rise of the Bulls

In 1984, Chicago had the great fortune of drafting a University of North Carolina star named Michael Jordan. But even though Jordan was annihilating teams in the mid-1980s, the team had little around him in terms of support or structure, and therefore it lost in the first round of the playoffs in each of his first three pro seasons.

The Bulls took Grant with the No. 10 pick in the 1987 draft. He took a couple of years to develop, but once he did, he, along with Scottie Pippen, gave them the look of a team that was destined to win the NBA championship.

They did just that in the 1990-91 season with Grant averaging 12.8 points and 8.4 rebounds a game. He wasn’t a very gifted scorer, but he could run the floor and finish in transition very well, and he was also a consistent shooter from 15-20 feet.

Even better, Grant developed a reputation as one of the better interior defenders in the league. Those Bulls won with defense, and they would keep winning big, as they ran off three straight titles through the 1992-93 campaign.

For a team that accomplished that rare feat, they weren’t that talented. Grant was their third-best player, but his defense, rebounding and hard work made them the formidable foe they were.

When Jordan took his baseball sabbatical in the fall of 1993, Grant played one more season in Chicago, making the All-Star team, then moved on to join the rising Orlando Magic. Orlando had a young Shaquille O’Neal and Penny Hardaway, and he would be that wily veteran they needed to take the next step.

It would defeat the Bulls (after Jordan returned) in the second round of the 1995 playoffs before getting swept in the NBA Finals by the Houston Rockets. Although it was expected to become the league’s next great team, that was as good as it got for Orlando.

Grant spent the 1999-2000 season with the Seattle SuperSonics, and just when it looked like his career was waning, he would reunite with two old cohorts.

Grant helped the Lakers go from champions to transcendent

Although the Lakers won the 2000 NBA championship, their roster was flawed and had several needs. One of them was a strong, defensive-minded power forward who could neutralize the cluster of star big forwards in the Western Conference such as Tim Duncan, Rasheed Wallace, Chris Webber and Kevin Garnett.

They ended up procuring the right man for the job when they sent out ultra-skilled shooter Glen Rice, who had never really fit in, in a monster four-team trade that netted them Grant.

Although the power forward was now 35 years of age, he had enough left in the tank to be a role player alongside O’Neal and Kobe Bryant, rather than a main cog as he had been in Chicago. It was also a great move for him, as he got to play alongside O’Neal again, as well as for Lakers head coach Phil Jackson, who had guided those Bulls teams of the 1990s.

Despite struggling a bit during the regular season due to injuries and infighting, L.A. won its final eight games of the schedule to finish with the second-best record in the Western Conference. But they faced a gauntlet in the playoffs, as they would have to go through the Portland Trail Blazers, Sacramento Kings and San Antonio Spurs just to reach the NBA Finals.

However, with Grant neutralizing Wallace, Webber and Duncan in that order, the Lakers swept all three teams. They dropped Game 1 of the championship series to the under-manned but gutsy Philadelphia 76ers before winning the next four to claim another Larry O’Brien Trophy, which was Grant’s fourth.

While his numbers weren’t exactly impressive (he never scored as many as 20 points all season), he was the power player the Lakers needed next to O’Neal. Their 15-1 playoff mark was an all-time record until the 2017 Golden State Warriors went 16-1. However, those Warriors had a much easier path to the title than those Lakers did.

Grant left that summer in free agency to go back to the Orlando Magic before ending his career with the Lakers for one more go-around in the 2003-04 campaign. It is possible that had it not been for him, L.A. wouldn’t have won it all during that magical 2000-01 season.

Story originally appeared on LeBron Wire