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NBA FINALS: PERSPECTIVES

Survival Story: A 4-Corner Offense

June 06, 2004|Tim Brown

Before Kobe Bryant chose to stay or go, before Phil Jackson stood on the brink of passing Red Auerbach, before Karl Malone had brought his last flying elbow in for a landing, the Lakers played a basketball season.

They didn't ruin each other. Which, as it turned out, was good for L.A. basketball fans, not to mention TNT and ESPN.

See, before Shaquille O'Neal could do his first summer sit-up, before Gary Payton settled on the pithiest departing line -- "Hey, Phil, here's your leash back" versus "Hey, Kobe, what's this round, orange thing?" -- the Lakers survived.

Mostly.

They became the Yankees, the team America couldn't take its eyes off. Only, instead of the Yankees' 25-man roster, the Lakers had been compressed into four players, each of them a retirement party from the Hall of Fame, each strong-willed and thin-skinned and really quite skilled.

Billed as one of the great collections of talent in NBA history, the 2003-04 Lakers were great at many things. Basketball, it seemed for a while, was not one of them.

But, they were good enough to win a Pacific Division title on the last day of the regular season, good enough to have Derek Fisher save them all in four-tenths of a second against the San Antonio Spurs and then have Kareem Rush save them all again against the Minnesota Timberwolves.

So, as the Lakers prepared to line up against the Detroit Pistons, the Big Four relived their seasons together.

Before they did anything rash.

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* Bryant's turmoil, O'Neal's new philosophy, Payton's mistake and Malone's success through adversity: S10-13

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-- Tim Brown

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