It’s hard to believe we’re already 22 years removed from the summer of Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant (and Derek Fisher, if we’re keeping count). There have been other acquisitions since then, obviously, but for some reason, LeBron James feels just a little different.
“It felt like a familiar feeling. That when we got Shaquille O’Neal as a free agent in 1996, it kinda felt the same way. That is the formula, the way Dr. Buss liked to do things. To go after the best and put together the best team he can to play and represent the Lakers.”
Then, Buss spoke about how James’ decision “validates” everything the Lakers are building:
”The idea that LeBron chose to come to the Lakers, that he knows what we’re building. He knows the roster that we have, he knows that we have a lot of young players, that he wanted to be a part of what we’re doing, it validates the work that Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka have done to kind of turn the tide for the team because we haven’t made the playoffs in five years and we’re hoping that adding a player like LeBron and the veterans that we’ve added like Lance Stephenson and Rajon Rondo and JaVale McGee and Michael Beasley, that we’ll have a nice combination that will get the Lakers back into contention.”
In all likelihood, adding LeBron won’t lead to another threepeat, but still, it makes sense that Buss would make that comparison. At that time, Shaq was one of the absolute best players in the NBA and landing him was going to immediately put the Lakers back into legitimate title contention.
It certainly helped that Kobe would go on to have a historic career on his own as well, but Shaq brought legitimacy back to a Lakers franchise still reeling somewhat from losing Magic Johnson a few years prior.
James lifts the Lakers back to playoff expectations and, with the right moves around him, could very easily lead the Lakers back to the title conversation the way Shaq did a couple decades ago. It has to feel special for Jeanie to have a front row seat to all this success over the years, and it’s absolutely goosebump-inducing to imagine how she must have felt to play a key role in an acquisition that would have made her father so proud.