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Former teammate, reportedly: Lakers lost in 2004 because Kobe Bryant wanted to be NBA Finals MVP

Kobe Bryant (C) of the Los Angeles Laker

AUBURN HILLS, UNITED STATES: Kobe Bryant (C) of the Los Angeles Lakers drives to the basket between Tayshaun Prince (L) and Richard Hamilton (R) of the Detroit Pistons during the first half of game three of the NBA Finals, 10 June 2004, at The Palace in Auburn Hills, MI. The best-of-seven game series is tied 1-1. AFP PHOTO/Jeff HAYNES (Photo credit should read JEFF HAYNES/AFP/Getty Images)

AFP/Getty Images

Kobe Bryant’s recent comments about Shaquille O’Neal have given us a chance to relitigate their breakup. (They insist they’re not feuding.)

Shaq won NBA Finals MVP each year during the Lakers’ threepeat (2000, 2001, 2002). Los Angeles returned to the Finals in 2004, but lost to the Pistons, 4-1.

In that series, Bryant had Los Angeles’ highest usage percentage (30.4%) but made just 38% of his shots and 17% of his 3-pointers.

Jeff Pearlman:

This doesn’t give the Pistons nearly enough credit. They dominated that series. Detroit’s overall performance that season is rather mediocre for an NBA champion (an obviously high standard). But once the Pistons got Rasheed Wallace at the trade deadline, they reached an incredibly high level.

Especially defensively.

Detroit – notably Tayshaun Prince – smothered Bryant. The opposition had plenty to do with Bryant’s poor shooting.

Bryant rather transparently wanted to be the Lakers’ best player. It’s easy to see how he’d get carried away gunning for Finals MVP. But it’s a wild leap to assume the Lakers would’ve won the series if Bryant had a different outlook.

Nor is it fair just to assume Bryant could just turn off the mentality that contributed so much to his greatness.

I also wonder whether this teammate’s identity will remain mysterious in the book. Perhaps, anonymity was a condition of the interview. But maybe Pearlman is just waiting to reveal that information. I’m curious, not only who felt that way, but who would say it on the record. Bryant remains revered in many corners.