The Lakers were coming off two championships over the Indiana Pacers (2000), and Philadelphia 76ers (2001).
They found themselves in the NBA finals once again against the 1st seeded New Jersey Nets. Kobe Bryant was an emerging superstar in the league, playing alongside one of the best players in the league and undoubtedly the most dominant big in the game Shaquille O’Neal.
The Los Angeles Lakers came up with a huge win in this series, sweeping the Nets with ease. Bryant averaged 26.8 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 5.3 assists but couldn’t manage to grab the finals MVP as he was out shined by Shaq who put up numbers of 36.3 points, 12.3 rebounds, and 2.8 blocks.
A writer for the New York Times Steve Springer published a story after the 2002 NBA finals suggesting that Kobe Bryant was poisoned by the New Jersey mafia during the middle of the series (Game 2)
General Manager of the hotel denies all claims that Bryant’s hamburger was poisoned, and suggests that it was a flu bug, or prior existing sickness.
“If there is a problem, it’s usually not just one person [getting sick]… We served 1,700 meals that night, including 300 hamburgers, and nobody else reported a bad reaction”
Lakers trainer at the time, Gary Vitti, said that it was a “no-brainer” that Kobe Bryant was poisoned that night.
“To me, it’s almost a no-brainer… he ate and five to six hours later, he had vomiting, diarrhea, and all the other symptoms”. In the article, it also mentioned that Bryant was telling Vitti that he had an urge for Mexican food at practice that day, but said that wouldn’t be a good idea because he said it might mess up his stomach.