Pistons beat the Lakers in the 2004 NBA Finals, the first championship of the post -Jordan era and year one of the Lebron James era. Even though Michael Jordan had nothing to do with this NBA season or this Finals series, it feels like he is completely connected to many aspects of the two teams.
That Lakers team, in addition to Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal, included Gary Payton and Karl Malone, who both joined the Lakers in hopes of winning a title. Jordan returned from baseball in 1995. During that season, the Bulls lost to Shaq and the Magic in the Eastern Conference Finals. That was the only playoff series Jordan lost between 1991-1998.
His second three-peat began in 1996 with a Finals win over Payton and the Sonics. And won the next two years in ’97 and ’98 over Malone and the Jazz. Them failing against Jordan and then teaming up years later with Kobe to do what Jordan prevented them from doing, was quite fascinating.
Lakers, of course, were coached by Phil Jackson, who coached the Bulls from 1989-1998, winning 6 NBA titles with Jordan. Following both of their departures from Chicago, Phil would win 5 titles with Kobe in LA
Before the Bulls finally broke through and got to the Finals in 1991, Jordan lost to the Pistons three consecutive seasons (1988-1990) in the Playoffs, twice in the Eastern Conference Finals. Joe Dumars, the exec that put the 2004 Pistons team together, was a key member of those late ’80s Pistons teams.
When the Bulls did break through, their first NBA Finals victory was against the Lakers.
This Pistons team was led by Richard Hamilton, whom the Wizards traded away before the 2002 season, for Jerry Stackhouse. Stackhouse led MJ’s Wizards in scoring during Jordan’s final NBA season (the only teammate of Jordan’s to own that distinction). Hamilton averaged 20 ppg as Jordan’s teammate in 2001-02, his third year in the league.
Hubert Davis was also part of that trade, going from Washington to Detroit, after playing with Jordan in 2001-02. Davis was a member of the Knicks in the 90s, losing 2 out of 4 seasons in the playoffs to Jordan, before he was his teammate.
Horace Grant played 55 games for this Lakers team. Grant was with the Bulls from 1987-1994. He left Chicago after that and signed with the Magic, where he and Shaq beat the Bulls in 1995 to advance to the Finals.
Luke Walton was a rookie on this Lakers team. Walton was the 32nd pick in the 2003 Draft, months after Jordan retired (and the same draft Lebron went #1). Luke is the son of legendary Hall of Famer and current commentator Bill Walton. Bill ended his NBA career on the Celtics from 1985-1987. In both of his seasons in Boston, the Celtics swept Jordan’s Bulls 3-0 in the first round (’86 and ’87 playoffs). In addition to playing with Kobe in LA, Walton coached Lebron in LA for one season in 2018-19.
Byron Russell might be the most famous guy from the 1998 Jazz Finals team, if only because it was him guarding Jordan on the final, game/series-clinching shot. Russell teamed up with Jordan in Washington in 2002-03, before joining this Lakers team, reuniting with Karl Malone, in hopes of winning a title.