The two disagreed often, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal squabbling endlessly on how they would co-exist with the Lakers.
But that tension has evaporated enough that Bryant appeared on O’Neal’s podcast set to be broadcast on Monday. According to excerpts that were played on ESPN Radio on Wednesday, both Bryant and O’Neal expressed regret over their squabbling through their eight-year tenure as teammates (1996-2004) before the Lakers traded O’Neal to the Miami Heat following the team’s NBA Finals loss to the Detroit Pistons.
Though the pair put their differences aside enough to help the Lakers to three consecutive NBA titles from 2000 to 2002, constant debate has ensued on whether Bryant and O’Neal could have won more together had their relationship improved.
“A lot of stuff was said out of the heat of the moment,” O’Neal said on “The Big Podcast With Shaq.” “I guarantee I don’t remember a lot of stuff that they said, because I changed my thought process of, you know what, we won three out of four, what the hell are you all talking about? This is not really even a story.”
It often became a story. Bryant became irritated with O’Neal’s work ethic and conditioning. O’Neal often griped at Bryant’s high-volume shooting. Speculation emerged on to what degree the two kept fighting to have the most dominant role on the team. O’Neal even threatened to kill Bryant after he publicly criticized him about reporting to training camp out of shape.
Said O’Neal: “I read an article that said you were going to kill him. I said, ya ya, I did say that.”
Said Bryant: “Of course I remember that day, you know, I was like, alright, well come on then. It couldn’t have been – dude, it was like, if you could see this [expletive], you’d be like, ‘Okay, Shaq is going to kill this [expletive] kid. Um.’ But I mean, really, his response to that and what America would think – that shows how different we are because, you know, he keeps telling people it wasn’t like that, it wasn’t like that. And my response is, [expletive] them. I don’t care what they think. That’s how we drove each other.”
Yet, both Bryant and O’Neal dismissed any notion that their poor relationship influenced the Lakers breaking up that duo.
O’Neal cited the business reasons, which included the Lakers’ resistance to meet his contract demands partly because he would soon face the downward end of his career.
“It was just two alpha males, the business aspect kicked in, and you know, I was getting older,” O’Neal said. “So, you know, management was like ‘Hey, we know you’re getting older and we know you want this, but we want to give you that.’ And in my mind, I was like, ‘I’m not getting older. I don’t want that, I don’t want that,’ and they just wanted to move in a different direction.”
Meanwhile, Bryant argued their chemistry inevitably would not have worked because of how different the two play. Bryant has admitted that O’Neal’s skepticism that Bryant could not win an NBA title without him struck a chord. Bryant eventually proved otherwise in 2009 and 2010.
“Could you imagine how many years would Michael Jordan and Will Chamberlain be playing together, you know, with Will in his prime and Michael wanting to come up and grow?” Bryant said. “How long is that going to last before Michael says, ‘You know what? It’s time for me to show.”
The two have since provided public olive branches. They shared the All-Star MVP award in 2009. Bryant recorded a video tribute for O’Neal’s No. 34 jersey retirement ceremony in 2013.
“Here’s the thing, though,” Bryant said. “When you say it at the time, you actually mean it, and then when you get older you have more perspective, and you’re like holy [bleep]. I was an idiot when I was a kid. To me, the most important thing was really, ‘just keep your mouth shut.’ You don’t need to go to the press with stuff. You keep it internal, and we have our arguments and our disagreements, but I think having our debates within the press was something I wish would’ve been avoided. But it did kind of create this whirlwind around us as a team with myself and Shaq and the press and the media that just put so much pressure on us as an organization.”