76ers Legend Reveals How Philly Could’ve Beaten Lakers in NBA Finals

Shaq Kobe Feud

Getty Shaq and Kobe reconciled their differences prior to his death.

Remember the 2001 NBA Finals?

Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant‘s Los Angeles Lakers beat Allen Iverson and Dikembe Mutombo’s Philadelphia 76ers 4-1.

What some forget: Philly made headlines at the NBA trading deadline in February 2001 when they acquired Mutombo from the Atlanta Hawks in a six-player deal that sent Theo Ratliff and Toni Kukoc to Atlanta. In the move, Philadelphia also got Roshown McLeod and the Hawks got Nazr Mohammed and Pepe Sanchez.

Philly made the move because Ratliff broke his wrist and had it surgically repaired. The surgery would’ve kept him out 2-4 weeks or longer.

Ratliff said he heard he got traded on TV and was shocked. “I was like, ‘Oh s—t! I just got traded,'” Ratliff recounted on the Scoop B Radio Podcast.

The Atlanta Hawks Dikembe Mutombo (C) tries to hang onto the ball as he is trapped between the Detroit Pistons’ Michael Curry (L) and Theo Ratliff (R) in the fourth quarter 02 May at the Palace in Auburn Hills, Michigan. The Hawks beat the Pistons 94-82, evening the first round playoff series at 2-2. AFP PHOTO/Kim CHAPIN (Photo by KIM CHAPIN / AFP) (Photo by KIM CHAPIN/AFP via Getty Images)

“I just went from the No. 1 team in the league to the worst team in the league. Just like that. In an instant. All-Star, top team in the league, one of the top centers in the league, top centers in the East; and just like that, I get demoted to the Hawks. The bottom of the barrel. So yeah, that was a tough one. Definitely a tough move and all the guys I appreciated it because they took it hard and they didn’t want it to happen. You know so, all the guys spoke up and said they really didn’t want it to happen because they saw where we were going and we felt we would’ve been those teams that would’ve been playing for a championship. I mean, they ended up going but they felt that I probably wouldn’t be able to come back and heal within that time by having a screw in my wrist for the rest of the season by the time the playoffs hit.

“They did manage to go to the Finals and the guys having that great Game One against the Lakers and getting that win and surprised everybody. And then the Lakers woke up.

“Larry doesn’t stay in places for more than three years so he’s going to give them their best chance and he ALWAYS felt that Dikembe could defend Shaq with his height and his size and build. And you can’t have two 7-footers in the paint, so the driving lanes would change and I knew what happened because I know basketball and when the team changed up, they didn’t gel so well. So the rest of that season the record wasn’t as good as it was when it was going in the beginning.”

Ratliff came to the NBA Finals to support his old crew. “Those are my guys man,” he told the Scoop B Radio Podcast.

“We had been grinding together for a minute you know? We basically grew up together. So you know, those are my guys and I came back to the locker room and hugged everybody and everything. So it was kind of bittersweet to see that happen, and I think that year.”

What if he hadn’t have gotten hurt?

“I think we beat the Lakers in that same year,” he told me.

“I had kind of figured out how not to just to play against Shaq, but realized my quickness and my athletic ability to put him in position that he doesn’t want to be in. Especially when I’m bringing him up in that pick-and-roll. He knew he didn’t want to have to guard that. That was big. I knew once they had Dikembe, he’s not that athletic. He’s another anchor that’s going to sitting in that middle with another big so the lanes are not going to be as open as they were with the nucleus that we had where I could step outside and I could move around outside and do a bit more than he could to provide some open lanes them and also run the break and things of that nature.”