The “Black Mamba” spent his entire 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers. In the 2000s, he was a four-time NBA champion and Finals MVP in 2009. He was league MVP in 2008 and won scoring titles in 2006 and 2007. He scored 81 points in a 2006 game against Toronto -- the second-most ever. He was a four-time All-Star Game MVP and a nine-time All-Defense first-team selection. The Lakers have retired both his jersey numbers -- 8 and 24. Bryant died in a helicopter crash in 2020 at age 41. He was elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2020.
Duncan teamed up with Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and coach Gregg Popovich to lift the San Antonio Spurs to their greatest heights during this decade. The power forward was league MVP in 2002 and 2003. He won three of his five NBA titles in the 2000s, with two Finals MVP awards. He was an All-Defense first-team choice seven times in the decade. “The Big Fundamental” used exceptional footwork and an accurate bank shot to separate himself from the pack. He was the All-Star Game MVP in 2000. He was elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2020.
“The Answer” had significant impacts on the court and in popular culture. As a player, the 6-foot guard was a scoring machine who was NBA Rookie of the Year in 1997. He was league MVP in 2001, when he led the Philadelphia 76ers to the NBA Finals. He won three of his four scoring titles in the 2000s and led the league in steals three straight years from 2001 to 2003. He was the All-Star Game MVP in 2001 and 2005. He was a fashion icon, with his cornrows, tattoos, headband and sleeve over his right arm. He was elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2016.
The hype behind James’ entry straight from high school into the pros was unmatched. And somehow, the dynamic 6-foot-8 forward lived up to it. He was the first pick in the 2003 draft, and he played for the Cleveland Cavaliers throughout the decade. He entered the league at age 18 with the size and strength of a power forward and the skill and basketball IQ of a veteran point guard. He was the NBA Rookie of the Year in 2004, All-Star MVP in 2006 and 2008 and scoring champion in 2008. He got the Cavaliers to the Finals in 2007 -- a first in franchise history. He won the first of his four league MVP awards in 2009.
O'Neal won four NBA titles between 2000 and 2006 -- three with the Los Angeles Lakers and one with the Miami Heat. The 7-foot-1, 325-pound center was league MVP in 2000 and Finals MVP each year of the Lakers’ three-peat from 2000 to 2002. He was the scoring champion in 2000 and All-Star Game MVP in 2000, 2004 and 2009. His No. 34 is retired by the Lakers and No. 32 is retired by the Heat. He was elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2016.
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