The Black Mamba vs. The Big Daddy. Kobe Won Kenobi vs. The Big Aristotle. The Eigth Wonder of the World vs. The Real Deal. Two MVPs. Two sure-fire Hall-of-Famers (O’Neal, in fact, was inducted this year.) Two champions. Two GOATs (greatest of all time). Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal truly need no introduction. They were two immovable forces in their own rights, or as Bryant put it, “two alpha males playing together on one team.”
“How many years would Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain be playing together with Wilt in his prime and Michael wanting to come up and grow?”, Bryant recently asked. And he has a point. Still, the break-up of the first NBA super team of the 21st century continues to befuddle us to this day, nearly 15 years later. With O’Neal’s recent Hall of Fame induction and Bryant’s year long retirement celebration, the pair of superstars have done a lot of looking back recently and much, long hidden, has finally been revealed.
With that in mind, here are… 15 Things You Didn’t Know About Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal’s Relationship
15 It got so bad, Shaq said he want to “murder” Kobe
While there were a lot of verbal jabs through the media over the years, Shaq and Kobe mostly kept things civil in person. Early in their careers however, O’Neal and Bryant got into it to the point where teammate Brian Shaw had to pull them apart, leading to Shaq threatening to murder Kobe. Recently, O’Neal recalled in typical “Big Aristotle” fashion, “I probably told him I was going to kill him, and I’m sure everyday people say all the time ‘oh my God he didn’t send me the email I’m going to kill him.’” Of course, usually, said people don’t need to be physically separated from the writer of said email. We can at least be assured that Shaq was not willing to go as far as actual murder. “So did I say I was going to kill him?,” O’Neal added. “Yeah. Did I really want to kill him. No.” Bryant, for his part, recalls it slightly differently. He recounted that “if you could have seen this ... [then] you'd be like, 'OK, Shaq is going to kill this f---ing kid and this kid is crazier than bat s---.’”
While Shaq and Kobe can laugh about it now, however…
14 Former Laker teammates admit that the rivalry had a negative impact on their success
O’Neal doesn’t mince words when describing the Kobe/Shaq era, saying “we were the most dominant one-two punch in Lakers history. I said it. Write it down. Take a picture. Fax it to all the retired Lakers.” However, former teammates agree that the results could have been even better if the two stars had learned to play together. “If they could have just found a way to coexist a little damned bit, just a little bit, they could have won five championships on the same team,” said former guard Ron Harper. “Their egos killed that team,” he added. “Neither one of them realized the effect that it had on the rest of us,” another ex-teammate, Brian Shaw, added. Former forward Rick Fox won three titles with Kobe and Shaq but still saw the challenges they created. “They were 1A and 1A,” he said. “That’s what created all the anxiety… it’s hard to have two alphas.”
Despite evidence to the contrary however…
13 O’Neal and Bryant themselves believe their “work beef” didn’t harm the team
On a 2015 episode of “The Big Podcast with Shaq,” the moment everyone had been waiting for arrived, and the two stars discussed their history. O’Neal started it off by stating “it’s time to clear the air” and noting that “I don’t hate you and I know you don’t hate me. I called it…. a ‘work beef,’ is what we had.” Kobe then praised Shaq and himself for not going “behind each other’s back” and talking bad about each other to their teammates. He said “that does nothing but create friction and its cancerous to the team.” However, when asked if he and Bryant missed out on a chance to be the all-time best, O’Neal admitted “yeah, we did.” He also copped to believing they would have had at least six titles had they stayed together, in a 2015 interview on the Rich Eisen Show. “But if ‘if’ was a fifth, we’d all be drunk,” he joked.
Indeed, some of the Kobe/Shaq rivalry is just plain funny such as when…
12 Bryant tried to exchange shoes for more looks than Shaq
O’Neal famously ticked Bryant off for, in his eyes, waiting too long to return from a toe injury in 2002-03, the season following their three straight championships. In response, former Lakers forward Robert Horry recalled that Kobe told his teammates he’d give them Adidas, to whom he was signed to at the time, if they kept getting him the ball. Bryant went on to average 5.4 more field-goal attempts than Shaq that year, the biggest difference of their careers. Despite living up to their end of their bargain however, Kobe’s teammates never got their new kicks. According to Horry, Kobe still hasn’t paid up, and has used the fact that he is now signed with Nike as an excuse.
There was little reasoning with Bryant and O’Neal, but one particular “Zen Master” tried to use a literary approach as…
11 Phil Jackson gave them both books to read to encourage them to find peace within themselves
Ever the eccentric, and not nicknamed “The Zen Master” for nothing, coach Phil Jackson famously gave his players books to read each year that would help them find their inner peace. “The thought behind it is that I want to assign a book that will engage each player’s unique personality”, Jackson wrote in a piece he did for The Players’ Tribune in 2016 to honor O’Neal’s hall-of-fame induction. “I think Shaq liked the philosophical stuff… after all, this was the man who had already named himself the Big Aristotle.” In Shaq’s second year with the team, Jackson jokingly told the players that he expected a book report at the end of a road trip, and gave Shaq a novel called Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse “about a man on a journey to find himself… loosely based on the life of Buddha.” To this day, Jackson remarks that O’Neal’s report was the only one he ever received. Bryant, for his part, trashed the first five books Jackson gave him, because, not surprisingly, he generally reads more to learn than to relax. He did however start reading them once Jackson turned to giving him leadership books, including Malcolm Gladwell’s “Blink,” in 2006.
Kobe should have probably read the books offered, for he committed the ultimate crime to his teammates in the final year of his alliance with O’Neal, and not the one you are thinking of, when…
10 Kobe ratted on Shaq while being interviewed by the police
There are many reasons O’Neal left the Lakers, but one specifically re-surfaced in the news recently. Apparently, while he was questioned for his infamous rape charges in 2003, Kobe told officers that “I should have done what Shaq does… [he] gives [mistresses] money or buys them cars, he has already spent one million dollars.” Bryant’s police file also included a note that “Kobe stated that Shaq does this to keep the girls quiet.” O’Neal’s response came years later in a very Shaq-like manner, freestyle rapping his feelings in a New York club in 2008. “I’m a horse/Kobe ratted me out, that’s why I’m gettin’ divorced/He said Shaq gave a b-tch a mil/I don’t do that, because my name’s Shaquille,” he rhymed.
Unfortunately, Bryant’s actions resonated around the league, and have resurfaced recently as…
9 Free agents may have avoided joining the Lakers because of the Shaq-Kobe feud
According to Sam Amick of USA Today, Bryant’s “snitching” on O’Neal regarding alleged extra-marital affairs during his police interviews for his rape case, may have played a role in keeping free agents from joining the Lakers after Shaq’s departure at the end of the season. “Years later,” he noted, “agents of prominent NBA players would still cite the O’Neal subplot as the sort of sin that inspired their clients to steer clear of Laker Land.” History repeated itself last year when Lakers forward Nick “Swaggy P” Young secretly recorded teammate D’Angelo Russell admitting to cheating on his famous fiancée, Iggy Azalea, and it was mistakenly released. Let’s hope the same fate won’t befall the current incarnation of the purple and gold as a result.
The current Lakers aren’t the only ballers reliving the details of the Shaq-Kobe feud, however. Even amateurs are getting into the act as…
8 The Shaq/Kobe feud has been passed on to the next generation
Shareef O’Neal, Shaq’s 6’9” son, was recently ranked the No. 16 player in the amateur class of 2018, and has been recruited by several top Division-1 schools, including USC. He was supposed to train with Kobe Bryant this past summer, but O’Neal said that it ended up not happening, adding “[Shareef] don’t need to [train with Kobe]. He’s good.” In fact, Shaq praises his son for being “way better than I was [at his age],” which, considering he led his team to a 68-1 record in high school is certainly saying something. According to the younger O’Neal, Bryant mentioned that he should train with him during the 2016 All-Star weekend in Toronto. Shareef even stepped a toe into the O’Neal-Bryant rivalry, proclaiming “if we play one-on-one, I’mma try to win.” Like father, like son.
Of course, the younger O’Neal probably actually looks up to Bryant, or else he wouldn’t want to train with him. And truthfully, his father and Kobe may have dissed on each other a lot but…
7 Shaq and Kobe actually admired certain aspects of each other’s play
“Shaq taught me how to lead, because he’s amazing,” Bryant said. “You can see how he is now, right? He’s really outgoing, he’s very gregarious, he puts his arm around guys, he always checks in with guys, always makes sure that they’re good. So I learned that from him, because I naturally wasn’t like that.” For his part, Shaq admired Kobe’s fearlessness, recalling him air-balling shots as an 18-year-old rookie in the final minutes of a season ending playoff game in Utah in 1997. He said that he knew then that “this guy is not afraid. He’s going to be the man.” Even their fighting brought out admiration for the Big Aristotle. He recalled on “The Big Podcast with Shaq" that “this kid would stand up every day [to me], I'm like, 'S---, this kid ain't going to back down.' I knew then, that if I'm down by one and I kick it out to someone, he's going to shoot it and he's going to make it.”
This trust in each other was rarely stated out loud but there were moments including…
6 O’Neal and Bryant even gave each other pre-game motivational pep-talks
They weren’t exactly the type of words of inspiration that belonged in a great sports movie, but Kobe and Shaq would pump each other up just a bit before a game. “I said, ‘Kobe, you ready?" O’Neal recalled. “He’ll be like, ‘Hell yeah I’m ready. You ready to hit them free throws?’ I’ll be like, ‘Yeah, I’m gonna be ready." The two dominant players would often offer each other the gift of being able to dominate a certain game or play, taking turns destroying an opponent. “Shaq used to come up and tell me, ‘Kobe, this series, we’ll take turns,’” Bryant reminisced. “‘You get them this series, I’ll get them the next series, you get them the next series.’… We used to literally alternate who dominates what series.”
That said, it was clearly O’Neal who got the lion’s share of opportunities and success during their championship run as…
5 Shaq won his only MVP with Bryant as his “Robin”
While Shaquille O’Neal and Penny Hardaway were the first to be referred to as Batman and Robin during their playing days together for the Orlando Magic in the 1990s, Kobe Bryant wouldn’t admit he deserved that nickname until a 2013 interview. The numbers agree with his recent assessment. In their three-peat of 99-00, 00-01, and 01-02, O’Neal averaged a team leading 29.7, 28.7, and 27.2 points per game respectively to Bryant’s runner-up 22.5, 28.5, and 25.2. Shaq lead the league in field goal percentage each season, and his career high 29.7 points per game led the league in 99-00, earning him the Most Valuable Player award. Additionally, O’Neal earned Finals MVP in each of the three seasons, scoring an astounding 38 points per game in 2000, 33 in 2001, and 36.3 in 2002, with Bryant once again as the runner-up each time.
Still, Bryant ended up being the true Lakers star, which O’Neal even acknowledged when…
4 Shaq said Kobe was the “greatest Laker player ever.”
O’Neal certainly made Bryant wait to hear the words “greatest Laker ever.” On the eve of Bryant’s final professional game, he finally gifted the label from behind the desk of “NBA on TNT,” commenting that “he accomplished everything he wanted to accomplish… They got Kareem. They got Wilt. They got Magic. So, I think him going out as the greatest Laker ever, going out the way he did, I think it’s remarkable.” He fell short of labeling Kobe the best basketball player of all time however, recalling “he said he wanted to be better than Michael Jordan” but ended with “one championship less than what Mike has.” For his part, Bryant took to Instagram just a few months earlier to celebrate O’Neal’s Hall of Fame election by labeling him the “most dominant big of all time.”
That wasn’t all Bryant gifted O’Neal though because…
3 Shaq challenged Kobe to score 50 in his final game, and then Kobe delivered 60
O’Neal used his position as analyst on TNT only days before the final game to put Bryant on notice for what he expected. “Kobe, they’re doing a big celebration for you the last game”, Shaq said. “A lot of us are going to be there. Can you promise me one thing? I need 50 that night. Can you do it.” Kobe gave what seemed like a pretty realistic answer at the time, replying simply “uh, no,” before expanding his response with “absolutely not, man, but I’m looking forward to seeing you there.” Bryant dropped 60 on the Utah Jazz to end the season and his career, by far the largest point total on a final NBA game by a player, ever.
Perhaps, however, the greatest impact Shaq had on Kobe was leaving the Lakers, because…
2 Draw a line from the trade that broke up the O’Neal/Bryant for the Lakers and you get fascinating results
O’Neal was traded in the offseason of 2004 to the Miami Heat for Caron Butler, Brian Grant, and Lamar Odom. As a result, The Heat immediately rose to the best record in the East and got within a game of the NBA Finals, falling to the Detroit Pistons in 7. Bryant’s Lakers, on the other hand, missed the playoffs. But here’s where it gets interesting. Because they missed the playoffs, the Lakers ended up with the 10th pick of the draft, and chose Andrew Bynum. In 05-06, they traded Butler for Kwame Brown, certainly one of their worst deals in history, but in the 07-08 deadline they used Brown’s expiring contract to acquire Pau Gasol. Odom, Bynum, and Gasol went on to be the key supporting pieces in Kobe’s fourth and fifth NBA titles. Not bad return for the Big Aristotle.
All of this is to say…
1 While they may look back fondly on their playing days now, both Kobe and Shaq are glad they parted ways.
Bryant credits O’Neal leaving the Lakers for giving him the opportunity to showcase what he could really do. “It was always the challenge of, ‘Kobe can’t win without Shaq,' right?”, he told USA Today. “If I had went my whole career and we had won championships, God bless you guys, but guys would be saying at the Hall of Fame, ‘He won with Shaq.’ I didn’t want to hear that. I didn’t want to hear it,” Bryant said. “Because I knew I had the determination to do it and it was either sink or swim. At some point I was going to take that challenge, and it was either you guys are right or I’m right. I had to take that challenge.”
For his part, Shaq called out Kobe in his hall-of-fame acceptance speech for being “a guy that would push me, and help me win three titles in a row...but also help me get pushed off the team and traded to Miami.” O’Neal would however, go on to be out-numbered by Bryant in championships five to four. Not that they’re counting.