Back in 2003, during Michael Jordan's final NBA season, his Wizards went into Staples Center to face Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal and the three-time defending champion L.A. Lakers. It was the last time Jordan faced off with Bryant, whom he has long been compared to, and also O'Neal. All three are widely considered to be among the 10 best players in NBA history.
It was also the final time Jordan played in a game featuring Phil Jackson. The game actually pitted Jackson against Doug Collins, another one of Jordan's coaches in Chicago.
That night all sorts of storylines. Here is a look back through a modern day lens using GIFs and screenshots to illustrate the best moments...
Kobe vs. Jordan
Bryant and Jordan's final meeting was clearly a major event at the time. Everyone knew Jordan was riding off into the sunset and everyone knew Bryant was well on his way to becoming a legend, already with three championships on his resume.
And early on, both players delivered to make for a really fun first quarter. Jordan had 13 and Bryant had 19 as they traded off buckets back-and-forth and back-and-forth. It seemed like everyone on the court knew the deal; just get out of the way and let two legends go at it.
Jordan hit his first four shots and Bryant wasn't far behind.
Jordan was too far past his prime to keep up with Bryant, but he was still very good. He poured in 23 points on 10-of-20 shooting and he still made a surprisingly big impact on defense. He didn't have the quickness of his youth, but he was a constant disruptor.
The current Wizards could use some of that.
Kobe was on one, Shaq took a backseat
There was a backstory to this game that led to Bryant going off, where Jordan reportedly told him during their last meeting "you can put the shoes on, but you ain't never gonna fill them." That set Bryant off, really in Jordan-like fashion, and inspired him to dominate the Wizards.
And dominate, he did. Bryant had a ridiculous 42 points by halftime. That included 8-for-11 from three. He made nine threes in the game, which at the time set a record for most against a Wizards/Bullets team.
Bryant was the best player on the floor that night and O'Neal sort of took a backseat. He had five points in the first half before adding 17 in the second to get to 26.
The second half was mostly O'Neal collecting points with the game out of hand. And it was a reminder how joyless it could be to watch him play in the early 2000s. He was such a physical mismatch for every defender that it almost wasn't fair. In this game, it was a ton of hack-a-Shaq trips to the free throw line. And, if you remember O'Neal at the free throw line, it wasn't exactly poetry in motion.
The fact Bryant was so assertive in taking over early made it so he sort of left O'Neal with seconds. And given this was the year the Lakers dynasty started to unravel due to their egos clashing makes this game all sorts of interesting in retrospect.
So many 🐐's
There are usually many stars in attendance at Lakers games, given it is the sports hub for Hollywood types. And often there have been great players both on the Lakers and playing for their opponents.
But this game seemed to feature more greatness in the building than usual. You had three all-time great players in Jordan, Bryant and O'Neal. You also had Jackson, arguably the best NBA coach of all-time, on the bench. And because it was Jordan's last game at the Staples Center, the crowd was loaded with famous people.
The actors there included Jack Nicholson (of course), Edward Norton, Salma Hayek, Ben Stiller and John Cusack. Steven Spielberg was there. So was Lil Bow Wow.
And sitting courtside was Larry David. He's a GOAT in his own right as a comedy writer. And him sitting in the front row may remind 'Curb Your Enthusiasm' fans of a great episode where he tripped Shaq.
Bandwagon Wiz fans
One of the most interesting parts of Jordan's tenure in Washington is how popular the Wizards became. It was arguably their peak in that regard, at least since the 1970s, and possibly in franchise history.
That dynamic was on display in this game to an ironic extreme. Nowadays, Lakers-Wizards games in D.C. are often overrun with L.A. fans. But in this game, the Staples Center was packed with bandwagon fans of the Wizards.
Imagine that. Not only did the Wizards have new and casual fans all over the country, but they made their presence known on the road at a Lakers game.
Now, a lot of it in this game dealt with Jordan saying farwell, of course. He received a standing ovation when he checked out for the last time in the fourth quarter. But still, what a wild departure from the norm.
The future was bleak for the Wizards
Jordan as a player in Washington was fun and that time gave the fanbase a nice respite from an otherwise decades-long malaise of loserdom. And if you look at their franchise history, they were actually much better with him than there were both before and after he played. But as an executive, he was objectively bad and watching this game recalled all sorts of unfulfilled promise for the franchise.
There were a lot of guys that just didn't pan out or ended up plateauing as mediocre players. But no one exemplified that more than Kwame Brown, who was in just his second season after being the No. 1 overall pick.
Brown had just turned 21 years old at the time of this game and, sure, there were flashes of potential. But there were also some plays where in hindsight you can see he just didn't have it.
There was just zero confidence in his shot, even on makes:
And this play where he and his teammates missed four straight layups was an eyesore:
In his defense, Brown carved out a long NBA career of 12 seasons, and he made nearly $64 million in contracts. But, man, was that a bad draft pick that set the franchise back.
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