The most dominant one-two punch to ever do it.
Kobe Bean Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal played together for nearly a decade in Los Angeles, stayed in headlines and won three championships in a row. But when two alpha males are together long enough, the spirit of competition can sour enough to make them want to go their own ways. O’Neal would eventually get to Miami to team up with Dwyane Wade and win another ‘chip. Bryant would stay a lifelong Laker and win two more ‘chips. It’s hard to determine what could have been if the two put their differences, pride, and egos aside for the sake of Finals appearances but the NBA legends are finally on speaking terms. For the first time ever Bryant and O’Neal sit down for TNT’s Players Only to talk about how they grew as teammates and what led to their inevitable split.
Here are the best reveals from the special interview.
How Kobe Got His Killer Instinct
Kobe got his killer instinct because of isolation. Growing up in Italy he was one of few Black kids, and being emerged in Italian culture so suddenly he felt alone. So, he gravitated towards the court, where he found solace in the game. Since the Italian kids weren’t accepting, he got his vengeance out on the court. “Throughout the course of my life it’s always been that. I’ve always been the outsider and I’m gonna come in and prove it,” he said.
How Kobe And Shaq Met
The two first met when Shaq was still with the Orlando Magic in ’94. At the time Penny Hardaway was Bryant’s role model but he brushed him off when he tried to take a picture with him. But O’Neal chopped it up with a young Bryant and took photos with him. And the first time Shaq knew of Bryant’s greatness was thanks to Jerry Buss. When trying to sign Shaq, he revealed that the Lakers had just acquired a kid out of Philly named Kobe Bryant and that if he paired up with O’Neal, he’d win “about 3 or 4 championships together.” At the time O’Neal thought nothing of it and was more concerned with getting a $150 million contract.
The Duo’s First Fight
It all started with a pickup game, during the lockout season, with the two on opposite teams. O’Neal kept calling Bryant a little bitch and once Bryant realized he was speaking to him, he got in his face. They each threw a punch before their teammates broke it up. But after several losing seasons of not making it to the finals, Bryant realized in that moment that O’Neal wanted to win just as bad as him. “It affects him, it consumes him. And from that moment on I knew we spoke the same language,” Bryant told O’Neal.
How Kobe Ultimately Outsmarted the Pacers
The season before the duo won their first ring together in 2000, Bryant was shooting a show at UCLA with Reggie Miller. Bryant knew the Pacers had a good squad that year and the chance of the Lakers seeing them in the finals was possible. So, the two played one-on-one. During that game, Bryant paid attention to Miller’s moves, saw what he liked to do defensively and what weaknesses he could exploit. “So that happened. We were in the finals and I knew what I had. I knew what I could take, I knew what he would give me. So it was a thought out attack,” Bryant explained.
When Cracks Began To Show
The Lakers were damn near swept by the Detroit Pistons in the ’04 NBA Finals and it looked like the West Coast dynasty was going to be short-lived. O’Neal was out in Hawaii during the offseason and ran into team owner Jerry Buss, to whom he said: “Pay me.” Between O’Neal being money hungry and Buss not talking to O’Neal during a team dinner after the Finals loss, the writing was on the wall. And soon as he knew that the franchise GM Mitch Kupchak was taking inquiries on trades, he drove to the practice facility but the cops were already waiting outside for him so no trouble ensued.
Kobe Bryant… the Chicago Bull?
Yup, Kobe was almost a Bull. After hearing an interview where O’Neal compared him to Hardaway, he was ready to request a trade. His wife Vanessa was on board with the move and the two had already started to look at homes and the best school districts in Chicago and were ready to meet with John Paxson. But after Bryant got a call that O’Neal requested a trade, he knew the idea of becoming a Bull was over because there’s no way the Lakers would let both of their franchise players go.
How Bryant really feels about O’Neal’s infamous rap...
The rap happened the day after Bryant lost to the Boston Celtics in the finals and O’Neal knew it would be the icing on the cake to put him in a bad mood. But in typical Bryant fashion, he loved it and used it to fuel him to want to win even more.