The two who feuded for all these years suddenly have a fond heart for each other.
Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal talked. They smiled. They laughed. The scene before the Lakers’ 91-85 win Tuesday over the Phoenix Suns hinted at a surprising revelation afterwards.
“Shaq and I have a really, really good relationship now,” Bryant said. “It’s good. I think it’s a good lesson for all of us.”
And what is that lesson?
“I think we appreciate each other more now than ever,” Bryant said. “I think the further you get away from the history that you had together, the more you put perspective on it on how dominant we were.”
No one disputed that.
Bryant and O’Neal teamed up for three NBA championships from 2000 to 2002. They formed one of the NBA’s most formidable duos. Plenty of teams wondered if they could ever stop them.
They could, namely because they stopped themselves.
Bryant and O’Neal openly bickered at each other. O’Neal disliked Bryant’s shooting tendencies. Bryant couldn’t stand O’Neal’s conditioning issues. Their talent overcame that. But their pride made each year more trying. The Lakers eventually traded O’Neal in 2004 to the Miami Heat.
“The challenge for me was to show [O’Neal] and show everybody else that I could win without him,” Bryant said. “And point proven. So, I’m fine either way. I took it as an honor and as a challenge to be a player that could play a supporting role and then move from that and take the leading role and win that way as well. I took a lot of pride of that, but I also took a lot of pride in kind of being a floor general and letting [O’Neal] do his thing.”
Bryant eventually reached that goal, winning two championships in 2009 and 2010 with Pau Gasol. He even bragged after collecting his fifth ring that he surpassed Shaq’s four championships.
No such trash talking happened on Tuesday, though.
Bryant and O’Neal met before the game under the basket near the Lakers’ bench by the 40-year-old center’s baseline seats. Bryant also shot him some glances during the game, especially after O’Neal was featured on the Kiss Cam and pretended to make out with a male fan sitting next to him. O’Neal was then escorted out of Staples Center from actor Will Ferrell, who dressed as a Staples Center security guard with the red jacket and badge.
“It’s fun for us to kind of get together again and kind of reminisce on some of the old stories,” Bryant said. “It’s fun. It’s good to see him.”
Lakers center Dwight Howard didn’t feel that way.
“I didn’t really pay attention to him,” Howard said of O’Neal.
That’s because Shaq has publicly needled Howard about his play. Shaq had done the same thing with Bryant. But apparently they’ve overcome it.
Bryant said he talked with O’Neal before the Lakers’ loss Jan. 17 to the Miami Heat. He’s looking forward to when the Lakers retire O’Neal’s No. 34 jersey April 2 against Dallas. Bryant sounded eager to chat with O’Neal again.
Said Bryant: “It was good to see him.”
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org