Suns News

Shaq, Kobe Phil Together Again Thursday Night

Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant and Phil Jackson teamed up for three consecutive NBA titles.
(NBAE/Getty Images)
By Jerry Brown
eastvalleytribune.com,
Nov. 20, 2008

Not long ago, Shaquille O’Neal revealed after calling San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich “a coward” that much of what he says to the media is for marketing purposes — just to make sure interest stays high in the NBA, the personalities that drive it and himself (not necessarily in that order).

Well, there wasn’t much need to raise interest in tonight’s first meeting of the season between the Lakers and Suns at US Airways Center.

Will national television be on hand? Check.

Is there good old-fashioned dislike and rivalry (albeit one-sided) between the two teams, the two organizations and the two cities? Check, check and check.

Will Shaq and Kobe Bryant be on the same floor at the same time? Oh, yeah.

But it never hurts to fan the flames a little — or even douse ’em with lighter fluid — and no one understands that better than “The Big Promoter.” In a recent interview with the Sacramento Bee that was printed over the weekend, O’Neal was quoted as treading over the ol’ Lakers days one more time. Among his observations:

  • He and Bryant never had a problem with each other.

  • Lakers coach Phil Jackson could and should have done more to ease the tension between the two stars.

  • He wouldn’t rule out a return to Tinseltown when his contract expires with the Suns at the end of the 2010 season.

    But after practice Wednesday, O’Neal denied saying anything of the sort.


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    He spoke in respectful terms about the Lakers, Jackson and Bryant and said he and Kobe make contact often — though how that was done was left vague. And he hoped the two teams have a nice little game of roundball that the world enjoys.

    “Just because you guys type it and you put quotes around it... I never said that,” O’Neal said. “I’m here and I have a great relationship with (general manager) Steve (Kerr) and when I’m done here I will see what happens. But going back that way? No. It never came out of my mouth. America, don’t always believe what you read.”

    It’s been more than four years since what O’Neal called “the best 1-2 punch the game has ever seen” officially divorced. O’Neal leads the post-breakup championship count 1-0, while Kobe is up 1-0 in MVP awards and, after taking his team to the Finals last summer, has them sitting atop the league in the early going at 8-1.

    But they remain forever intertwined. And things like Shaq’s now-infamous YouTube.com rap where he invites Bryant to sample his rear end after the Celtics denied the Lakers a title only keep the estranged relationship alive.

    “To tell you the truth, me and (Kobe) really never had problems on the court or in practice,” O’Neal said.

    “It was a lot of you guys. Write a story, go to him, and go back and forth. It’s great to be watched. It’s great to be talked about. It’s great that we keep you guys guessing on how our relationship is. It’s all fun to me. ... But personally, there was nothing there between us.”

    So Wednesday, the media was to blame for the chasm between the two stars. But the Bee’s Scott Howard-Cooper, who covered the Lakers for the Los Angeles Times during the championship season, quoted O’Neal as fingering Jackson as a culprit.

    “I think it was all designed by Phil because, if you think about it, Phil never called us into the office and said, ‘Both of you, shut the heck up.’ Never did that in four years. He knew that when I read something, I was going to be upset. And he knew Kobe was always going to come out and play hard. So I think it was all done by design.”

    But Shaq denies and denounces all of that now — just as he did when the Suns pulled into San Antonio for the season opener, a few days after his “coward” comment, and he praised Popovich, calling him “my guy” who had helped him as a young player.

    Wednesday, Jackson was a “great guy who always took care of me.”

    “On the record, Phil has always done right by me and we had a pretty good relationship,” he said. “(The author of the story) was probably one of those (ESPN NBA writer) Ric Bucher-wanna-be reporters who want to be important so they make something up that sounds good to get their name out there.

    “If I did say it, I’d stand up and say I said it. I don’t hold my words. But I never said that. It just wouldn’t be right to say that now, 10 years later. ... We won championships and it would be idiotic of me to say something bad about him now.”

    O’Neal figures the Lakers would have won eight championships by now if the triangle had remained intact, but it doesn’t keep him awake at night.

    “Things happen for a reason,” he said.

    “As a businessman, you always have to take care of business, what’s best for you. I saw an opportunity to go elsewhere, so that’s what I did.”

    COPYRIGHT 2008, EAST VALLEY TRIBUNE. Used with permission.