Purchasing the Los Angeles Lakers franchise in 1979, last season marked the 25th year of Dr. Jerry Buss’ ownership of the Los Angeles Lakers, a season falling just three wins shy of the perfect anniversary gift. Losing in five games to the Detroit Pistons in the NBA Finals, the 2003-04 Los Angeles Lakers enjoyed their share of spectacular highlights despite battling both injury and the treacherous Western Conference night in and night out.
Teaming future Hall-of-Famers Gary Payton and Karl Malone along with perennial All-Stars Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant gave the Los Angeles Lakers one of the most decorated starting line-ups in league history. Starting the regular season as winners of 20 of their first 25 games, Los Angeles entered a December 21st meeting with the Phoenix Suns as the most dangerous team in basketball. The Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Suns that night but lost Karl Malone to a sprained right knee, an injury that would keep him out of the next 39 games. The Los Angeles Lakers could not rid themselves of the injury bug as players seemed to fall nightly over the next few months of the NBA schedule.
Following the All-Star break, the Los Angeles Lakers entered the second half of the season poised to regain their championship luster of prior years, winning seven of their first eight games after the layoff. During that stretch, Kobe Bryant recorded his ninth career triple-double with 25 points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists in a 122-110 win over the Washington Wizards.
The Los Angeles Lakers entered the playoffs as winners in 14 of their final 17 regular season games and with a great deal of momentum thanks in large part to the heroics of Kobe Bryant on April 14th in Portland. Behind a pair of Bryant buzzer-beating three-pointers, the first to send it to overtime and the second for the win in double-overtime, the Los Angeles Lakers clinched their 18th Pacific Division Championship with a 105-104 victory over the Trailblazers, finishing the season with a record of 56-26.
After recording their 27th 50-win season in Los Angeles, the Lakers defeated the Houston Rockets (4-1), San Antonio Spurs (4-2), and Minnesota Timberwolves (4-2) before falling to the Detroit Pistons in the NBA Finals. Although falling three games shy of their ultimate goal, this team for the ages left us with the memory of Karl Malone and a torn jersey in Houston, of Kobe Bryant posting 42 points against San Antonio after arriving at the arena late and of 0.4 seconds and Derek Fisher answering Tim Duncan’s improbable buzzer beater with one of his own. While the ending was indeed disappointing, the ride was one basketball fans will remember for years to come.