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In the world of sports, historical debates are always going to crop up. It’s simply in fans’ collective nature to create hypothetical matchups and argue about which player or team would be better. It seems like that reality extends to the guys on the floor, too. Just ask Stephen Curry and Shaquille O’Neal about that.

Ahead of his gig hosting the 2022 ESPYs, Curry said that the 2017 Golden State Warriors squad wouldn’t have had any problem beating the 2001 Los Angles Lakers. While his logic was sound — he cited three-point shooting as the deciding factor — Shaq wasn’t having any of it.

Unsurprisingly, the big man took to the airwaves and offered his rebuttal to Steph’s take. Let’s break down both sides of the debate.

Stephen Curry thinks his 2017 Warriors would have outshot the 2001 LA Lakers

NBA legend Shaquille O'Neal (L) and current star Steph Curry (R).
NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal (L) and current star Steph Curry (R). | Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images, Elsa/Getty Images

Whether you like it or not, the Golden State Warriors are as close to a modern NBA dynasty as we have, even if there was a bit of a hiccup during their reign. While every championship ring counts equally, the 2017 squad will go down in history as one of the best we’ve seen.

Ahead of the 2022 ESPYs, Steph Curry sat down with Zion Olojede of Complex and was asked about how that Warriors team would stack up against the 2001 Lakers. While the guard acknowledged that hypothetical ‘who’s better’ conversations are always a bit silly, he did stand behind his own team.

“Between the ‘96 Bulls and the hypotheticals of a 7-game series, the 2001 Lakers and that hypothetical series, or every other hypothetical series that people say we should’ve lost because of an injury or because of whatever the case may be, those conversations are trivial,” Steph explained. “But at the end of the day, if you could match up in some alternate universe, us versus the 2001 Lakers, obviously we feel like we can win. I don’t know who would guard Shaq, but I don’t know who would guard me and Klay either. We rockin’ with that. And three is better than two.”

Shaquille O’Neal believes that his physicality would change the series


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Shaq, as you might imagine, wasn’t able to ignore those comments. For all of his success, the big man can sometimes have a bit of a thin skin, and, in this case, he needed to defend his own squad.

“I say we can win that because who’s gonna guard me and Kobe, right,” O’Neal said on a recent episode of The Big Podcast With Shaq. “They say, OK, ‘Obviously we feel like we can win. I don’t know who can guard Shaq, but I don’t know who will guard me [Curry] and Klay either, and three is better than two.’ Here’s my rebuttal. Once they get hot, ‘D-Fisch, send them to the hole. I’mma lay they ass out. Now, what’s gonna happen after I lay you out? You still gonna be hitting them threes? And every time we up on your threes, you’re gonna have to drive. And when you have to drive, you gonna have to worry about me laying your ass out. And I’mma lay all of them out. Steph, Klay, and KD. I’mma touch they ass all the way up.”

Spice Adams then tried to play the voice of reason, saying that Golden State would simply drive and kick the ball to a three-point shooter. Shaq countered by saying that the Lakers would refuse to leave any shooters unguarded on the perimeter, relying on his interior presence to avoid having to double-team any one Warrior. The big man also backed his own offensive ability as a potential difference-maker.

“They’re gonna have to double me,” O’Neal added. “They’re gonna have to double me. If they don’t double me, I’m going for 60 without the free throws. … If JaVale McGee’s guarding me, 70.”

While Shaq is right about being a matchup nightmare — the Warriors had Draymond Green at center in 2017, who would probably struggle to contain the Diesel — he did overlook two things.

First, every team in the NBA knows that they shouldn’t leave the Warriors’ shooters open, but that hasn’t stopped their success. It’s not like O’Neal is the first one who ever came up with the idea to force Golden State into the paint.

Secondly, the center can only lay someone out a maximum of six times per game. At a certain point, he’d have to play “normal” basketball or find himself sitting on the bench. The Warriors would probably realize that and absorb a few body blows to remove one of the Lakers’ biggest advantages.

With all of that being said, though, we’ll never get to see the prime versions of these two teams meet, so things will have to remain a hypothetical.

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