The last few seconds ticked off the scoreboard as the Los Angeles Lakers wrapped up an anticlimactic sweep of the New Jersey Nets in the NBA Finals. When the final buzzer sounded, the Lakers did something unusual for a championship team: absolutely nothing. Sure, there were some hugs and some high-fives. But the Lakers generally reacted as though they had just won a December game in Atlanta. Then again, the Lakers' winning has become as much a part of the L.A. landscape as smog, traffic and surgically enhanced physiques. For three years running, the Lakers have ended the season with a victory parade. The rap on this team, of course, is that it ought to be winning titles, given that its roster includes basketball's most dominant center, Shaquille O'Neal as well as Kobe Bryant, the best backcourt player since Michael Jordan. But in 2002, L.A. showed mettle to match its talent. Twice facing elimination against the Sacramento Kings, the Lakers played their best when the stakes were highest and stole both games. O'Neal and Bryant were typically outstanding, but the biggest plays were made by lesser lights such as Rick Fox, Derek Fisher and Robert Horry. "Maybe this will finally show that it's not a two-man show," O'Neal said. "We're a great team." Yet the fulcrum of the Lakers' current dynasty is coach Phil Jackson. Two stars, a phalanx of castmates who know their roles, a triangle offense and Supersized portion of will: it's the formula that served Jackson so well in Chicago. Perhaps he should patent it. The Lakers' latest championship delivered Jackson his ninth ring, tying him with Red Auerbach for most titles as an NBA coach. As O'Neal put it: "I realize that if it wasn't for Phil, I wouldn't have any championships. Hopefully [in 2003] we can make him the greatest ever."
Sports Illustrated, June 26, 2002: Just too good
Sports Illustrated, June 17, 2002: The Shaq factor
Jack McCallum: Don't ignore Shaq's skills
Sports Illustrated Scrapbook: Shaquille O'Neal
Sports Illustrated Scrapbook: Kobe Bryant
Photograph by Catherine Steenkeste/NBAE/Getty Images