Kobe Bryant vs. Shaq Feud: Was Phil Jackson to Blame?

Joshua SextonSenior Analyst IIJanuary 30, 2012

Kobe Bryant vs. Shaq Feud: Was Phil Jackson to Blame?

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    It was reported last week that Robert Horry, who helped the Los Angeles Lakers win three championships, believed it was coach Phil Jackson who started the famous feud between Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant.

    Here is what Horry had to say, courtesy of usatoday.com:

    I think Phil Jackson started that feud. It happened many times that after team practice he would say, "Kobe said this about Shaq, and Shaq said that about Kobe."… We couldn't believe how could that happen, because just the day before we saw them together, jumping on one another. Phil liked it when there was conflict of some sort.

    For me, it’s hard to believe Jackson started the feud between Bryant and O’Neal. I am certainly not calling Horry a liar. After all, he was much closer to the situation than I was.

    And we all know Jackson was the master of mind games throughout his career, often cajoling his players in both Chicago and Los Angeles through the media. But for Horry to say he completely started the feud is an awfully bold statement.

    Could Jackson have stirred the drink or antagonized the situation a little? Sure. But to say he started it, like I said above, is a pretty bold statement.

    Let’s take a trip down memory lane and look at some of the more prominent moments of the Kobe-Shaq feud, and see whether it's fact or fiction as to whether Phil Jackson played a substantial role in each of them.

The Slap Heard Around the World

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    According to an excerpt from Roland Lazenby’s book The Show, during the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season, Shaquille O’Neal slapped Kobe Bryant in the face during a pickup game at the team’s practice facility.

    This was the first official documented “tiff” I could find between the two players. Assuming this slap was the start of the feud between Kobe and Shaq, Phil Jackson was temporarily retired and likely miles away from the sunny confines of Southern California.

    Final Verdict: Fiction

First Season Blues

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    In Phil Jackson’s first season as coach, the Los Angeles Lakers won a league-best 67 games and captured their first championship since 1988. But there were still hints of tension between Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal.

    According to a 2001 report, during the 1999-2000 season, Shaq expressed his displeasure about Kobe’s play during a team meeting, saying he thought Kobe was playing too selfishly for the team to win.

    I suppose Phil Jackson could have started the minor disagreements that transpired between Kobe and Shaq during his first season as coach, but isn’t it more believable that it was just two great players—with great egos for that matter—fighting for control of one of the most successful franchises in all of sports?

    Final Verdict: Fiction

The Feud's Fever Pitch

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    In 2000-2001, Phil Jackson’s second season with the team, the Kobe-Shaq feud arguably reached its all-time low.

    It all started when Shaq came to training camp out of shape, still basking in the glory of his first championship.

    Conversely, Bryant came into camp in the best shape of his life, ready to prove to the world he was capable of being the team’s No. 1 scoring option.

    Kobe started the season as one of the league’s top scorers, while Shaq struggled to regain his MVP form. Not to mention the team was not dominating on the court the way it had the previous season.

    In a 2001 report, Shaq expressed his thoughts on who he thought was the team’s alpha dog:

    When it was clear that everything went through me, the outcome of it was (a record of) 67-15, playing with enthusiasm, the city jumping up and down and a parade. And now we're 23-11. You figure it out ... I don't know why anybody else would want to change—other than selfish reasons.

    The same report had Kobe’s take on the issue: It was a different year and the roster had undergone some changes, and Kobe said, "Things change, things evolve, and you just have to grow with that change.”

    There were more instances as the season progressed where Kobe forced action on the offensive end, seemingly refusing to run the triangle offense.

    In the midst of Kobe trying to further establish himself as the team’s go-to superstar, Shaq would provide one of the more entertaining (selfish?) quotes of the season: "If the big dog ain’t me, then the house won’t get guarded—period.”

    Despite Kobe and Shaq’s feud reaching its peak and the team failing to play like the defending champions for the majority of the season, the Lakers managed to catch fire at the right time.

    The Lakers would use the momentum of winning their last eight regular-season games to go 15-1 in the playoffs, capturing their second consecutive championship.

    For things to have gotten this heated between the two, Phil would have been doing some serious pot-stirring when he wasn’t focused on the team’s business on the hardwood.

    I know he liked mind games, but for him to have harbored a feud until it escalated the way this one did in 2001…

    Final Verdict: Fiction

Old Habits Are Hard to Break

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    After a couple of somewhat amicable seasons together, one of which included the Los Angeles Lakers winning their third straight championship, things began to get testy again for the team during the tumultuous 2003-04 season.

    During the summer of 2003, Kobe was arrested for allegedly sexually assaulting a 19-year-old hotel employee while staying in Eagle, Colorado. The charges were eventually dropped after the defendant refused to testify.

    The same month Kobe Bryant was arrested, the Los Angeles Lakers signed both Gary Payton and Karl Malone.

    Due to his courtroom obligations, Kobe was forced to miss time at training camp.

    In a 2003 report, Shaq said the Lakers were his team and suggested the entire team was present, even though Kobe was away in Colorado.

    Later on, in an interview with Jim Gray, Bryant would question Shaq’s leadership and his lack of support during his legal battle.

    Bryant was eventually fined by Phil Jackson for his comments to Gray after agreeing not to air any more dirty laundry through the media.

    Despite the resurgence of their feud, Kobe and Shaq led the Lakers to their fourth NBA Finals appearance in five years before losing to the Detroit Pistons in five games.

    If there is one moment during the Kobe-Shaq feud where I believe Phil may have stirred the drink a little more than usual, the raucous to start the 2003-04 season is it.

    As I mentioned above, the two players had went two full seasons without a major blow-up. Maybe Phil thought the two needed an extra edge to keep their minds off of Kobe’s courtroom drama and the pressure of just having signed Malone and Payton.

    Also, doesn’t it seem like classic scenario of Phil telling Kobe and Shaq if they talked about one another again through the media they would be fined?

    In other words, Phil told them not to touch the proverbial red button, almost planting a seed, knowing full well one of them would probably give in.

    Final Verdict: Fact

Courtroom Drama

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    According to a 2004 report, in the midst of being charged with sexual assault, Kobe Bryant didn’t forget to throw his seven-foot, 300-pound teammate under the bus.

    Here is what Kobe had to say about Shaquille O’Neal’s supposed extramarital affairs: "He (Bryant) should have done what Shaq does ... that Shaq would pay his women not to say anything and already had paid up to $1 million 'for situations like this.'"

    In the same report, Shaq had this to say in his defense to Kobe’s bold statements:

    I never hang out with Kobe, I never hung around him. In the seven or eight years we were together, we were never together. So how this guy can think he knows anything about me or my business is funny. And one last thing—I'm not the one buying love. He's the one buying love.

    While Phil may have possibly started the rivalry back in 1999, both Kobe and Shaq’s comments in 2004 were 100 percent out of bitterness and self-defense, respectively.

    Final Verdict: Fiction

The Feud Continues...

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    The previous slides have included highlights of the feud when Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal and Phil Jackson were working together for the Los Angeles Lakers.

    The moments you will see in the following slides highlighting the Kobe/Shaq feud happened after Shaquille O’Neal was traded to the Miami Heat in the summer of 2004. Therefore, the incidents in the next slides are moot (concerning the role Phil Jackson played in the entire Kobe/Shaq feud), given the fact the three men were no longer employed by the same franchise.

    But nonetheless, I thought it would be fun to keep looking back at the feud’s most memorable moments.

Shaquille O'Neal Leaves Los Angeles

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    After the Los Angeles Lakers lost to the Detroit Pistons in the 2004 finals, the duo of Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant was officially broken up.

    Phil Jackson was not offered a new contract, which prompted Shaq to demand a trade. Shaq was eventually dealt to the Miami Heat in exchange for Lamar Odom, Brian Grant and Caron Butler.

    Many people believed Jackson not being offered a new contract and Shaq being traded to the Heat were signs Kobe was influencing management's decisions, given his rocky relationship with both men.

Yuletide Showdowns

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    Shortly after Shaquille O’Neal was traded from the Los Angeles Lakers to the Miami Heat in the summer of 2004, the NBA did all of its fans a favor by scheduling the Lakers to play the Heat on Christmas Day.

    The game itself was more or less uneventful. Kobe and Shaq did not talk or embrace before the game but rather bumped fists in acknowledgment. The Heat would defeat the Lakers in overtime, 104-102.

    The following season, the Lakers and Heat faced off again on Christmas, with the Heat winning once again. Before the game, the two players avoided one another completely.

Shaquille O'Neal'S Rap

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    After the Los Angeles Lakers were embarrassingly defeated by the Boston Celtics in the 2008 finals, Shaquille O’Neal reminded everyone how truly petty he could be.

    O'Neal did a rap expressing how Kobe Bryant couldn’t do it (win a championship) without him, in addition to a few more choice words for his former teammate.

    Check out the famous rap above.

Was It All Just Fun and Games?

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    According to a January 2009 report, Shaquille O’Neal told ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith all of his feuding with Kobe Bryant throughout the years had to do more with marketing than the two superstars actually disliking one another.

    Shaq would go on to say he always loved Kobe.

    Later in 2009, Kobe and Shaq were teammates on the Western Conference All-Star team. The former teammates were named co-MVPs of the game.

Kobe Bryant Has a Memory Like an Elephant

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    After the Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Boston Celtics in Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals, Kobe Bryant couldn’t resist throwing one more barb at Shaquille O’Neal.

    When asked what winning his fifth career championship meant to him, one of the first responses out of Kobe’s mouth was he now had one more championship than Shaq did.

    Old habits die hard, I suppose.

Shaquille O'Neal Tells All in His New Autobiography

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    According to an excerpt from his new autobiography, Shaq Uncut, O'Neal talks about a time in 2003, following Kobe Bryant's sexual assault charge.

    He told Kobe if he ever talked about him again the way he did in his interview with Jim Gray, in which Kobe questioned Shaq's leadership, he would kill him.