It's a good thing Kobe Bryant's post-playing career interests are in the entrepreneurial arena—he'd never make it as a personal trainer.
In an interview with Ben McGrath of The New Yorker, Bryant opened up about his frustration with O'Neal during the Lakers' title runs of the early 2000s. Lakers Nation's Serena Winters provides two key excerpts below:
Ouch. But wait, there's more:
Bryant doesn't mention O'Neal's weight specifically, but it's pretty clearly implied in the jabs at the big man's work ethic. Remember, O'Neal was legendary for coming into training camp overweight. He'd typically play himself into better shape as the season progressed, but for a guy like Bryant, whose training intensity switch remains stuck on "push to brink of death" at all times, that wasn't enough.
As early as the 2002-03 season, media outlets were talking about O'Neal's issues with weight and motivation. This excerpt from ESPN's Charley Rosen shows Bryant wasn't alone in his frustration:
But in the absence of a public weighing on a cattle scale, nobody really knows how much poundage The Big Load is really carrying around. Yet the fact that Shaq not only shuns any kind of scale, but totally freezes out any media maven bold enough to bring up the subject of his weight is a strong indication that Shaq is well aware of the problem. ...
... With his size and his skills, Shaq remains the monster of the midway. At the same time, his effectiveness has diminished in direct proportion to the increase of his body mass.
If O'Neal was aware of the problem, he certainly didn't make a major effort to correct it. And the gap between Bryant's and his preparation habits was merely one more brick in the wall that eventually separated the two entirely.
The personality clash between Bryant and O'Neal ran deeper than their differing opinions on work ethic, but one can't help but wonder if a fitter Shaq might have been able to keep an all-time great one-two punch together for a few more years.
What's most important for the Lakers' future is Bryant's ability to ease his demands on accompanying stars. With the team looking for free-agent talent during the next two summers, the way Bryant treats incoming players will be important.
Bryant's criticisms of O'Neal are fair, but he'll have to dial back the intensity if L.A. is ever going to pair him with another big name.