Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal were one of the most dominant two-man tandems in both Los Angeles Lakers and NBA history, winning three-straight NBA Finals (including a 16-1 run in 2001) and making a fourth trip to the Finals in 2004. But as much success as the two found together on the court, their relationship off the court was quite possibly equally dysfunctional and chaotic, marred by constant both anonymous and public shots at each other through the press.
The relationship between the two has seemingly warmed as they have gotten older, and Bryant recently took the time to join O'Neal's "The Big Podcast with Shaq" as a guest to, as O'Neal says "clear the air." The podcast will be available to download on Monday, but Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times was able to obtain and transcribe some audio of the discussion between the two NBA legends for those who cannot wait to listen to the full version.
Bryant, on the sniping between himself and O'Neal in the press:
"When you say it at the time, you actually mean it," Bryant said. "And then when you get older, you have more perspective, you're like, 'Holy . . . I was an idiot as a kid.' To me, the most important thing is you keep your mouth shut. There's no need to go to the press. You keep it internal.
"We have our arguments and our disagreements. But I think . . . having our debates within the press was something I wished would have been avoided."
O'Neal, on why he wanted to "clear the air":
"I just want people to know that I don't hate you, I know you don't hate me. I call it today a 'work beef,' is what we had," said O'Neal, who retired after the 2010-11 season. "I was young, you was young. But then as I look at it, we won three [championships] out of four so I don't really think a lot was done wrong. So I just wanted to clear the air and let everybody 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 both."
Bryant and O'Neal did not restrict their feuding to just in the press, however. Both laughingly recalled a time when Bryant, then 21, wanted to physically brawl with O'Neal, who is listed as 7'1 and 324-pounds, nearly 120 pounds and 7 inches taller than Bryant's listed 6'6 and 212 pounds:
"In '99, I think Shaq realized that this kid is really competitive and he's a little crazy," said Bryant, who is heading into what could be his final NBA season. "And I realized that I probably had a couple of screws loose because I nearly got into a fistfight and I actually was willing to get into a fight with this man. I went home and I was like, 'Dude, I've either got to be the dumbest or the most courageous kid on the face of the Earth.'"
O'Neal viewed it then as an affront to his authority as the team leader, but these days he sees it differently.
"That just showed me, 'You know what, this kid ain't going to back down to nobody,'" O'Neal said. "Kobe seen me punk everybody in the league. So when this kid would stand up every day [to me], I'm like, 'This kid ain't going to back down.' I knew then, 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."
Both Bryant and O'Neal laughed.
"He was either going to beat the . . . out of me or I was going to get it done," Bryant said. "I was comfortable with either one."
Turner also details Bryant's comments comparing the two to a pairing of Wilt Chamberlain and Michael Jordan, as well as how O'Neal felt when Bryant won his fifth championship for one more than his own four titles. The whole thing is worth a read for any Lakers fan, especially anyone who grew up during the O'Neal-Bryant dynasty. The full podcast can be found on O'Neal's website on Monday.