NBA Rumor: Bryant-Shaq Dynamic

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Speaking on TheCoachesNetwork Podcast, O’Neal went into further detail about his relationship with Bryant, and noted he they were still able to find success amid major differences. “I was playing with a younger version of myself. Somebody that had the same mentality. A lot of times guys worry about titles instead of worrying about certain things. We were both about whose team it is, who’s the best player on the team? We had a job to do… [indiscernible] won three championships in a row.”

Pearlman on the relationship of Shaq and Kobe: “When I went to Atlanta and interviewed Shaq, he said something that really stuck with me, and I thought about a ton. It was near the end of the interview, and I said to him, “One thing that I find interesting is Kobe sort of nicknamed himself the Black Mamba. He took it very seriously.” Whenever Shaq gave himself a nickname, Shaq Diesel or the Big Aristotle, Superman, it was always with a wink and laugh. It was never too serious. It was kind of a joke to him. I said that to Shaq, and he said to me, “Now you know what I was dealing with.” I just think he was so lighthearted and just wanted people to need him.”

The tears streamed down Shaquille O’Neal’s face when he reflected on Kobe Bryant both a day after his death and nearly a month later at his memorial. Nearly seven months later after sharing his initial thoughts about Bryant on TNT, the tears have not fully dried. “I don’t want to see anybody go out like that and never to be able to talk to him again,” O’Neal told USA TODAY Sports about Bryant, who would have turned 42 on Sunday. “The thing that hurt me was all the stuff that I wanted to say, I hadn’t said it. I never said it.”

Years later, however, O’Neal and Bryant often credited each other for being friendly with each other’s kids. Shortly before Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven others died on a helicopter crash on Jan. 26, Bryant had traded messages with O’Neal’s son, Shareef. “You never know what stuff is going to happen. So you shouldn’t let stuff linger,” O’Neal said. “Were we best friends? No. Did we respect the hell out of each other? 1,000%. Do I wish we could’ve talked every day and hung out every day. Yes.”

What is your fondest memory of Kobe Bryant? Shaquille O’Neal: I really cherish the time I had with Kobe. We helped each other win the championship for the first time. That says it all. Without Kobe I would have never maximized my true potential. I like to think the same for him. But if I had to choose one moment it would be Kobe’s final game at the Staples Center. He looked so at peace while on the court. He was a free man with no pressure at all to score or deliver. He dropped 60 that game and I was there courtside to cheer him on.

The Players’ Tribune: @KobeBryant and @SHAQ. Forces of nature, whether playing together or not. Full episode: http://playerstribu.ne/knuckleheadspod. In partnership with @HennessyUS. “Here is the thing. I get chastised a lot for being selfish, saying we just got to fit into a team, it’s about winning championships. I get it, I’m doing it, right? We won three straight. I got it. But I also knew that when my career is over they’re going to chastise me for the same thing: ‘Oh well, you’re only great because you played with Shaq.’ I’m like, ‘Whoa, hold up. You can’t have it both ways, bro?’ You know?”

Although they’ve since patched things up, things flared up when Kobe’s recent comments about Shaq ignited a Twitter feud between the two. On Tuesday, Bryant stopped by Jimmy Kimmel Live to explain the remarks. “I think he did,” Kobe said at the interview’s 4-minute mark when asked if he thought Shaq took objection to his comments. “But here’s the thing: it was really a compliment. People missed the first whole half of that in which I said he was the most dominant player I’ve ever seen and I felt like he could’ve been the greatest of all time. So people kind of missed that part of it. They kind of caught on to the ‘lazy’ part. But I said that kind of like tongue-in-cheek.”

The good vibes culminated into a TNT segment Saturday night during All-Star Weekend with O’Neal interviewing Bryant. There were a lot of good moments during the piece, but one part got a little emotional. O’Neal blamed himself for their partnership dissolving. Their time with the Lakers lasted eight years and included three straight NBA titles. It could have been better and O’Neal said he had a moment of realization after they were named co-MVPs of the 2009 All-Star Game.

“You told me to take the trophy home and I took it home and gave it to Shareef. And I realized I may have messed something up,” O’Neal said. “A lot of times that our beef was going on, you know me. I’m the master marketer. I would just say it to keep it going. But when you did that when you didn’t have to do that, I said to myself, ‘Luckily, I won three out of four with this guy. But I was an [expletive] to this guy.’ “So, I owe you an apology. I’m going to give you an apology, but we don’t need to be doing all of that crying like Magic [Johnson] and Isiah [Thomas]. But thank you for that moment. Shareef loved that moment. I was going through a lot at the time. He loves you for it, and I love you for that moment. So thank you.”

The evening is intended to put a commemorative bow on a future Hall of Famer’s career, but when it comes to Bryant, some of us can’t help but rewind to the beginning. It’s an unavoidable instinct for me, because my last N.B.A. season as a full-time Southern California resident was Bryant’s rookie season with the Lakers, when a supersized teammate named Shaquille O’Neal nicknamed the teenager “Showboat.” The moniker was not a term of endearment. Even at 18, Bryant’s best-of-all-time aspirations were apparent to everyone. “Showboat” was O’Neal’s way of trying to keep Bryant humble — and letting the youngster know who was the team’s actual focal point. Instead, it just fueled Bryant even more. He was determined to prove to O’Neal and every other doubter that he would ultimately surpass all of the game’s greats.

“I did tell Kobe there would be a time when there would be some competition between him and Shaq,” Harris said. “People asking, ‘Whose team is it?’ and all that. I told him that he had an opportunity to make it work just like Magic Johnson did with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar; Magic publicly deferred to ‘Cap’ every chance he got. ”I told Kobe: ‘I don’t know if Magic believed that, but he knew it was good for the team and good for Kareem to say that. And I think it’ll work for you as well. You don’t have to mean it. You don’t have to believe it. Just say it.’ ” Harris added: “Kobe didn’t resist. He just never did it. It’s not a criticism of him, but just an observation of how deadly competitive he was. To ask him to do something like that just violated his focus.”
4 years ago via ESPN

Irving counts Bryant as a mentor and has talked to him about O’Neal in order to avoid the same mistakes with James. “It’s a tough balance,” Irving told ESPN. “Because everyone knows, Shaq was really dominant and [had] a lot of the individual accolades … unbelievable. And that’s who he was. And Kobe was just consistently working on his game and consistently trying to prove everyone all the time. And you got to commend somebody for that. That just shows the true testament of their will and what they’re willing to do and what they’re willing to sacrifice, but I know I don’t want to look back and say that I let my selfishness get in the way of us winning championships, because we have unbelievable talent on this team and unbelievable players, and so I don’t want to ever take that for granted.

He used to be close to Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss. They’d meet for lunches at California Pizza Kitchen or this Italian restaurant in Marina Del Rey. Before Buss passed away in 2013, he told Kobe he hoped he’d be a Laker for life. I ask what it meant to him that Buss chose him over Shaquille O’Neal in 2004. “Shaq demanded the trade first,” he says. “Right, but he actually traded him. He wouldn’t trade you.” “I look at it from a business perspective,” he says. “I would have made the same call. If you’re going to bet, you got to bet on the horse that you know is obsessive about what they do, day in and day out, and is going to be hell bent on trying to win a championship. If you’re going to bet on a horse, you always bet on the one that eats, sleeps and breathes the craft.”

I ask Shaq how he really felt about getting “ratted out by Kobe,” and if they ever really buried the hatchet. After all, less than a year after Kobe’s betrayal, Shaq had orchestrated a trade to the Miami Heat, where he won a championship opposite Dwyane Wade. “There never was a hatchet. I’m not worried about that,” responds Shaq. “That’s something that happened and I didn’t think it would’ve gone on, but there was never a hatchet. As a leader, sometimes you gotta do certain things, like, if I owned The Daily Beast and you came back with a bad article and I know your potential, I’d be like, ‘That’s some bullshit,’ and you’d either punk up and quit, or say, ‘Oh, it’s bullshit?’ and write a better piece. It was my job to get everyone to play at a high level. People want things to go perfectly, and if you really look at it, three out of four championships is pretty perfect. I’m glad and honored to be the most enigmatic, controversial, and dynamic one-two punch in Lakers and NBA history.”
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March 7, 2021 | 7:13 pm EST Update