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Kobe and Shaq Reflect on Playing Days
It's been 11 years since Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal last played together in Lakers uniforms, and there has been plenty of drama since. Despite the well documented clashing between the two future Hall of Famers, they both maintain that they currently have an amicable relationship.
Bryant joined O'Neal's podcast "The Big Podcast With Shaq" on Monday to look back on their time as teammates and clear the air on what their time as teammates was actually like.
Below is a full transcription of the podcast, which also featured O'Neal's cohost, John Kincade:
O’Neal: Ladies and gentleman, the greatest Laker ever: Mr. Kobe Bryant. What’s up, Kobe?
Bryant: What’s up, my man? How you feeling?
O’Neal: I’m doing good. Listen, I think right now it’s time to clear the air, because I’ve said many times that we were the most enigmatic, controversial, most talked about, dominant one-two punch. I just want people to know that I don’t hate. I know you don’t hate me. I called it today a “work beef” is what we had. I was young. You were young. But as I look at it, we won three out of four (championships), so I don’t really think a lot was done wrong. I just want to clear the air and let everyone know that: No, I don’t hate you. We had a lot of disagreements. We had a lot of arguments. But I think it fueled us. I was thinking the other day about why Phil Jackson never jumped in: He knew that when you said something about me, I’d get pissed off. I’d say something about you and (you’d) get pissed off. Again, it worked. Thanks for coming on the show. I just wanted to clear the air. I know we said a lot of crazy stuff, but I had fun doing it. Did you have fun back in those days?
Bryant: You know what’s funny? I did. But here’s the thing: What made our disagreements special was that we said them to each other’s face. We didn’t go behind each other’s back and whisper to our teammates about this, that and the other. That could do nothing but create friction and it’s cancerous to the team. When you get things out right in front of each other, say what you’re thinking and have those disagreements — you agree to disagree, move on and all of a sudden the integrity of the team is preserved. And then when you come out of that, the team is all the better for it, because now you have more momentum, and I think that’s what catapulted us, especially for that second championship.
Kincade: When was the last time that you guys had a conversation where you really sat down and talked and maybe discussed some of the things. I’ve learned, Kobe, that Shaq isn’t a man to really talk about the past. What about yourself?
Bryant: I’m not a very nostalgic person either, to be honest with you. Shaq and I are much of the same in that we look at the jewelry that we’ve won. You can’t argue that.
O’Neal: You know what’s funny to me? When was the last time we played, Kobe — 2004? It’s 2015. Eleven years and they’re still talking about it. That’s kind of funny to me, but again I’m here to say that no, I don’t hate you. Did we have disagreements? Yeah, we always had disagreements, but it worked for us. I’ve got to ask you a funny question right now. Did your wife have a typo last night, or is your nickname really Bay-Boo?
Bryant: (Laughs) Yeah, I got all kinds of (nicknames). … I’m supposed to be the Black Mamba, man. What are you trying to do?
Kincade: But Kobe, if you’re Bay-Boo now, you know that maybe LeBron (James) or some other players going to be whispering that in your ear.
Bryant: I’ll tell you what: I do not care what they whisper. Bay-Boo will still drop 60.
O’Neal: But Kobe, I am mad at you about one thing? How the hell did you pass me up in points? How’d you do that? You want to know what’s crazy? I didn’t even know where you were at until I come to TNT and fata— (Charles) Barkley says, “You know your boy’s about to pass you up?” I’m like, “Pass me up in what?” “Points.” So I went to look, and I’m like, “Damn, this dude’s got a lot of points.” You passed up the great Michael Jordan last year. What’s next for you. Is this your last year? What are you doing? You’ve got five rings. You passed up Michael Jordan in points. You told me (you’d do) that when you were 18 years old. I was like, “Whatever you say, little homie.” But you did everything you said you were going to do. What’s next for you?
Bryant: I’m training and getting ready for this season. I’m really excited about it. This is my 20th (season), and I’m closer to the end. Twenty years, that’s nuts. I couldn’t imagine playing for 20 years back in the day. So I’m just getting ready, and I’m really excited for this year.
Kincade: I head a story about the 2002 Western Conference Finals that before Game 7 with Sacramento there was a phone call that Shaq called Kobe at 3 in the morning because neither one of you could sleep before Game 7. Is that a true story, and if so, can you tell us what you talked about?
Bryant: That is true. Shaq used to be up all the time. We used to do that all the time. We used to hit each other up at random hours because we understood that we were the engine that was driving the team. So we had to make sure that we were connected at that level to push everybody else.
Kincade: What was said before Game 7?
O’Neal: I said, “Kobe, you ready?” He said, “Hell yeah, I’m ready. You ready to hit them free throws?” I’m like, “Yeah, I’m gonna be ready.” It was a lot of just joking, having fun. That’s all. Just checking in with each other.
Bryant: Yeah, he used to be like, “Kobe, this series we’ll take turns. You get them this series. I’ll get them next series. You get them next.” We used to do that type of stuff. He’d be like, “Kobe, go kill ‘em. Go get them this series.” I’d say, “Shaq, this is on you now. You got it now.” We used to literally alternate who dominates what series.
Kincade: Was the 2004 team the most talented team even though you didn’t win a championship that year?
O’Neal: I don’t know, but the most fun we had to me was our first championship (against) Indiana in the Finals. I can remember one game I fouled out. I looked up at Kobe, who gave me the: “Don’t worry about it, Big Dog. I got you.” And he came down and hit three, four shots in a row, and I was like, “Damn.” And then after that game, that’s when I said, “This guy’s the best player in the world.” Because he told me exactly what he was going to do. I was like, “S—, I just fouled out. We’re going to lose. It’s going to be my fault again.” But Kobe looked at me and said, “Don’t worry, I got it.”
Bryant: I remember the moment that was probably the most important for me and Shaq was when he had a really tough game in Dallas and missed like eight free throws down the stretch.
O’Neal: Don’t lie. I missed 13 (laughs).
Bryant: Most players would hide from that. They would look to blame somebody else or say, “No, that’s not what caused us the loss.” What Shaq did was crazy. He came in the locker room and tore the locker room to pieces, because he was pissed at himself, and he accepted the fact that that lost us a ballgame. He didn’t hide from it, and he used that to fuel him to become better and lead us to winning championships. That’s something that sat with me, because I said, “OK, he really, really cares about this team. He’s not just going to sit back and brush it under the rug.”
Kincade: Do you think you guys missed an opportunity to be the all-time best because you went separate ways?
O’Neal: Yes, we did. … I’m about to speak for me, Kobe. I don’t know how you feel. It was just two alpha males, and then the business aspect kicked in and a lot of people don’t know about that. But the business aspect kicked in. And I was getting older, so management was like, “Hey, you’re getting older. 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.” And they just wanted to move in a new direction. The good thing about Dr. (Jerry) Buss (is that) Dr. Buss would say it to your face. Dr. Buss called me and said, “This is what we’re going to do, and this is what we’re not going to do. If you’re not going to accept, we’re going to trade you.” And I always respected Dr. Buss for that. I have no problems or quarrels with his family, because that’s how you do business.
Bryant: The business aspect kind of is what it is. The organization wants to go a different direction, but I think philosophically, just imagine: How many years would Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain be playing together with Wilt in his prime and Michael wanting to come up? How long is that going to last until Michael says, “You know what? It’s time to show what I can do.” That’s why (O’Neal) and I are one of a kind when it comes to tandems, because you literally had two alpha males playing together on one team, and that normally does not happen.
Kincade: What did you learn about your game playing with Shaq? And conversely, Shaq, what was the part of your game that got better because you were playing with a talent like Kobe Bryant?
Bryant: Shaq taught me how to lead. He’s amazing. You can see now how he’s really outgoing, very caring. He puts his arm around guys. He always checks in on guys and makes sure they’re good. I learned that from him, because I wasn’t like that.
O’Neal: And I learned from Kobe that Kobe was a guy that whatever he said he was going to do. From age 18, he was going to do it. I learned that from Kobe, because when Kobe and I came into (Los Angeles) together, we had a team with a lot of up-and-coming superstars, but we were in Utah (and) Utah used to kill us all the time. Only one guy wanted to take the shot. I didn’t want to take the shot. Nobody wanted to take the shot. (Bryant) took three major shots. He shot airballs. I knew then: “This guy’s not afraid. He’s going to be next.” I knew that, when I got in trouble and wasn’t playing well, he was going to say to himself, “Shaq’s not playing well. I need to step up my game.” He’s the only guy besides Jordan I’ve seen do that.
Bryant: In ’99, two things happened. I think Shaq realized that: “This kid’s really competitive and he’s a little crazy.” And then I realized that I probably had a couple screws loose, because I nearly got in a fistfight, and I was willing to get in a fistfight with this man. I went home and was like, “Man, I’ve got to be the dumbest or the most courageous kid on the face of the earth.”
Kincade: That hasn’t been well documented. You guys almost went at it a couple times?
O’Neal: We did it all the time. That just showed me: “This kid ain’t gonna back down.” Kobe’s seen me punk everyone in the league. So when this kid would stand up every day, I’d be like, “S—, this kid ain’t gonna back down. I knew then if I’m down by one and I’m kicking out to somebody, he’s gonna shoot it and he’s gonna make it.”
Kincade: Is there anything that you, Shaq, would want to take back that you said in the give and take over the years?
O’Neal: A lot of things. … You just played the clip where I said I wanted to be traded. I definitely did not want to leave L.A. But that’s how you have to talk when you’re in business, especially when you think you’re in control. I definitely didn’t want to leave L.A. A lot of stuff was said out of the heat of the moment. I definitely guarantee that I don’t remember a lot of the stuff that was said, because I changed my thought process (to): “You know what? We won three out of four? What the hell are you all talking about? This is not really a story.” We won three out of four. Don’t forget we have the NBA record 15-1 (playoff record in 2001). We should’ve went 16-0, but your man (Allen) Iverson hit us with 55 (points in Game 1 of the NBA Finals). We have the NBA record. Do you think a team with beef is going to go 15-1 to the championship. That’s never been heard of, and I guarantee that record won’t be broken for the next 30 years. Guarantee it. Nobody will ever get to 15-1 ever again for the next 30 years. I promise that.
Bryant: Here’s the thing: When you say it at the time, you actually mean it. Then when you get older, you have more perspective, and you’re like, “Holy s—, I was an idiot as a kid.” To me, the most important thing was really to just keep your mouth shut. You don’t need to go to the press with stuff. You keep it internal. We have our arguments and our disagreements, but I think having our debates within the press was something I wish would have been avoided. But it did kind of create this whirlwind around us as a team with myself and Shaq and the press that just put so much pressure on us as an organization. But I enjoyed playing with him. I had a great, great, great time playing with him, and I appreciate it to this day. I learned so many lessons from this guy, like I alluded to earlier, in terms of leadership, community and camaraderie and things like that. I will say, Shaq was a beast, man. He’s smiling all the time. He’s on TV and TNT and you see his personality, but this dude will rip your heart out. And that’s what I admired the most: that he was as nasty as I was on that court.
O’Neal: Kobe, I’ve got to ask you this one question, because they tried to do it to me before I left and definitely now. Do you see the next Kobe in the league now?
Bryant: No, I’m kind of old school. You have certain players with that aggressiveness and that mentality. It’s tough to tell. It’s a different generation. I grew up playing against Michael and (Gary Payton) and all these stone-cold assassins, (like) John Stockton and all these guys. So I had that mentality. You don’t really see that mentality around the league these days. Everybody’s buddy-buddy.
Kincade: Kobe, Shaq’s told us that the NBA today is a lot softer than in his day. Do you agree with that?
Bryant: One hundred percent. I’ve said that before, too. When we play in the Olympics, the physicality in the Olympics is more physical than the NBA is. The NBA used to be the toughest, strongest team in the world, and now it’s not that. And I don’t know what happened to all the seven-footers.
O’Neal: You know what happened, baby. We killed them all off.
Bryant: Think about it. It’s crazy. When you go back to when you played, you can name off five or six seven-footers off the top of your head. Try doing it now.
Kincade: Did Phil Jackson play favorites at all?
O’Neal: No, never.
Kincade: A lot of the press coverage said he catered to you, Shaq, mainly because Jerry West was once (quoted) as saying that’s what you needed (that) psychologically (Jackson) catered to you.
O’Neal: No, he was really fair. He only got fed up one time, and he came in and (said), “Both of y’all need to cut it out!” That’s the only thing he said. It wasn’t like a catering situation. … You know what? Robert Horry was the whipping boy.
Bryant: Yeah, he used to pick on Robert all the time.
Kincade: Which one of you would make the better team executive?
Bryant: Don’t look at me. I would fire somebody in a second. No way.
Kincade: Kobe, you’re heading toward the end of your career here. What does the future hold for Kobe Bryant after basketball? What are you going to do?
Bryant: I’m going to continue to build this company, man. Our first project was the Muse film and writing that and editing and producing. I (enjoy) storytelling that inspires people and challenges the normal line of thinking of how to accomplish something. How to help them reach their highest potential. That’s what really intrigues me. How do you put those pieces of the puzzle together. Like I said, our first project was the Muse film.
Kincade: What do you think was the best team you played on?
O’Neal: The 15-1.
Bryant: Yeah, the 2001 team was lights out, man.
O’Neal: Kobe, I need you to do me one favor. I need you to apologize to your lovely wife (Vanessa Bryant) for me, because every time I see her and the kids, I’m like, “Hello, Vanessa. Hello kids, I’m Uncle Shaq.” She says, “You say that to us every time!” I just want them to know Uncle Shaq. … Tell her next time I see her I promise I won’t say that.
O’Neal: I got you, man. No problem.
Kincade: Do you know how shocked America is going to be by this?
O’Neal: No, they’re not going to be shocked. I tell you all the time, it’s like a locker room disagreement. I say, “Listen, if I see Kobe and his lovely live and his beautiful kids in a restaurant, I’m not going to throw water in his face. I’m going to be like, ‘Hey, Kobe. Hey, Vanessa. Hey, babies.’ And then we just move on. (People say), ‘I read an article where you said you’re gonna kill him!’ Yeah, I did see that, but I didn’t mean it.
Kincade: Do you remember that day, Kobe?
Bryant: Of course I remember that day, and I was like, “Well come on then.” … But his response and what America thinks shows how different we really are. He keeps telling people, “Listen, it wasn’t like that,” and my response is, “F— them. I don’t care what they say (laughs). That’s how we drove each other.
Kincade: Shaq, when you saw Kobe when a title —
O’Neal: Oh, I was pissed. I got four (titles) first, and then I threw a little jab. And then he had a couple years. Then they somehow got Pau Gasol and (Andrew) Bynum, and they got four. I was like, “OK, we’re tied. I’m cool for awhile.” Then he gets No. 5 and a reporter (asks), “You feel good you got one more than Shaq?” And Kobe’s like, “Yeah, I got one more than Shaq.” I’m like, “Ah s—, they got me.”
Kincade: Kobe, were you happy for him when they won in Miami?
Bryant: Honestly, yeah I did because I knew it was going to push me to win more. I always wanted to get where Magic (Johnson) and Michael were. So four wasn’t something that was really on my radar, but it pushed me even more. It drove me even more. When I got got five, I couldn’t help but turning the knife a little bit.
O’Neal: Kobe, I just want to say I love you, brother, and I miss you. I enjoyed the times we played together. I wish we could’ve got the seven championships, but it is what it is. We’re still the most respected, most dominant one-two punch in Laker history, and I know they’re going to be talking about this. … I love you, brother, and I miss you and good luck this year.
Bryant: Thank you, my man. I appreciate that, brother.
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