Coming off a three-peat in 2000, 2001, 2002 the Los Angeles Lakers were the favorites to win an NBA championship again in 2004. Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal had two future Hall of Famers on their site in Karl Malone and Gary Payton. The Lakers reached the Finals but were beaten rather easily by the Pistons.
Kareem Rush, who was on the Lakers team that season, remembered the loss to Detroit and gave his own view on why it happened. One reason was injuries – Malone was injured during the series. Another one, according to him, was Kobe selfishly wanting to win a Finals MVP as Shaq got that title during the three-peat.
“I mean, they simply outplayed us. Karl [Malone] was hurt in that series. And I think Kobe selfishly wanted MVP. I think that we were favored by everybody to win the series you know, and at the time Shaq had the first three Finals MVP’s. So I think Kobe had the mindset with that as the primary focus, but I think he was really itching to get that MVP – and we got caught off guard by a better team.”
However, Rush also acknowledged the talent of the Pistons, calling them a better team at the time.
“The Pistons were — they went on to do seven straight in the Conference Finals so that team was a winning team for the ages and they had a starting five that was very formidable. Those were all All Star caliber. They had a couple of Hall of Famers in Ben Wallace and Chauncey – and maybe even Rip. So they were definitely a formidable team and they were BETTER than us at the time.”
Listen to the full episode of Scoop B Radio podcast with Kareem Rush:
Re-watch the Game 5 of the 2004 NBA Finals between the Lakers and Pistons: