Colleague Charles Barkley posed the question on TNT’s Inside the NBA and received a very candid answer—even though O’Neal dodged it at first.
“We didn’t have a bad relationship, because we won three out of four championships,” O’Neal said of his time with Bryant. “That’s not a bad relationship at all.”
“The Big Aristotle” went on to explain that there was a “money situation” in Lakerland. He says that the Lakers wanted him to take a pay cut, but he wasn’t willing to do so. As a result, they traded the big man to the Miami Heat, where he won his fourth championship in 2006 beside Dwyane Wade.
After pulling off a three-peat in 2000, 2001 and 2002 with the Shaq/Kobe twosome, the Lakers reached the NBA Finals again during the 2003-04 season when Gary Payton and Karl Malone hopped on board. However, they lost to the Detroit Pistons 4-1 despite their stacked lineup.
O’Neal was traded to the Heat soon afterward, and the Lakers struggled to find their groove without him.
They missed the playoffs entirely in 2004-05 and lost two consecutive first-round series against the Phoenix Suns in 2006 and 2007.
The Lakeshow added All-Star big man Pau Gasol for the 2007-08 season and made the NBA Finals in three straight years. Los Angeles won back-to-back titles with the Spaniard in 2009 and 2010.
Considering that Shaq won a ring without Kobe and Kobe won two championships without Shaq, it’s fair to say the historically great pair would have won “five or six” had they stayed together.
O’Neal was still playing at a high level in 2008-09 with the Phoenix Suns, as he made his final All-Star appearance while averaging 17.8 points and 8.4 rebounds per game. Give the Suns’ training staff credit, though, because the big man’s body broke down the following year when he was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
He retired after the 2010-11 season.
NBA fans will never know how many additional rings the two would have won if they stayed together, but now they have O’Neal’s take on the situation thanks to Barkley’s curiosity.