Shaq Vs. Kobe: Top 10 Rivalry Moments Between the L.A. Lakers Stars
Rivalry Noun /ˈrīvəlrē/ Competition for the same objective or for superiority in the same field.
To compete is to know rivalry. From the beginning of time, rivalries have existed for war, for sport and for survival. They exist over borders between nations as well battles for supremacy between teams.
Our forebears, the Romans, reveled in it for much the same reasons we do today—a deep seeded desire to choose sides and live vicariously through the exploits of the gladiators on display before us.
Anyone who loves sport knows the pleasure and the pain that rivalry can bring.
In basketball, rivalries between teams and players are the stuff of legend. The greatest rivalries, Lakers vs. Celtics, Magic vs. Bird, stir unimaginable excitement within us.
But, what happens when that rivalry hits home?
When the Los Angeles Lakers acquired Shaquille O’Neal and placed Kobe Bryant alongside him, a messy inter-team rivalry began that continues to this day.
With that in mind, I present you with…Shaq vs. Kobe—The Top 10 Rivalry Moments
10. A Clash of Egos
From the very beginning, Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant were at odds. Despite winning their first championship as complements to each other, at the start of the 2001 season, they were again at each other’s throats.
O’Neal felt Bryant was trying to usurp his power. Said Shaq in the San Francisco Chronicle “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.”
While Bryant tired of being treated like the little brother “He obviously wants to go back to having (A.C. Green) here and (Glen Rice) here,” Bryant said of O’Neal. “Things change, things evolve, and you just have to grow with that change.”
There were reports of O’Neal and the team using hand signals to keep the ball away from Bryant. And after a blowout victory against the Suns, in which Bryant scored 38 to O’Neal’s 18, reports surfaced of O’Neal’s request for a trade.
Through it all coach Phil Jackson was charged with managing the already out of control egos of his two stars. “This is juvenile stuff, really juvenile stuff,” Jackson acknowledged. “Sandbox stuff. ‘You have my truck and I want it back or I’m going to throw sand in your face.’ They have to be men about it and appreciate the talent we have here and play ball together.”
Jackson’s deft hand and psychological mastery of difficult personalities would yield several more titles, but the feud would continue...
9. Kobe Rats Out Shaq
After having unannounced knee surgery in Denver, Colorado, in the summer of 2003, news surfaced of a forced intimacy between Bryant and a young woman. Though the charges were later dropped, he compounded the matter by ratting out O’Neal while interrogated by the local authorities.
The LA Times quoted Bryant as saying, “He should have done what Shaq does...that Shaq would pay his women not to say anything.” Among other things, Bryant allegedly stated that Shaq paid up to $1 million for potential issues to go away.
After Colorado, the court of public opinion would never be the same. Bryant was vilified. In the NBA, he became something of a pariah. His man card revoked, having violated an unspoken but holy rule among men, almost all of his peers turned on him.
8. My Team
Though tensions had seemingly cooled, they were about to heat up again. In the fall of 2003, Bryant missed the beginning of training camp to deal with legal issues. O'Neal wasted no time letting everyone know his feelings about it. As reported by ESPN’s Marc Stein, when a reporter asked Shaq about the entire team not being present, O’Neal responded “I can’t answer that, the full team is here.”
And shortly after one of the early exhibition games in which they appeared to be playing nicely, the verbal jousting ensued with a vengeance. O’Neal said of Bryant, “Should probably look to be more of a passer until he gets his legs strong.”
Bryant unwilling to back down responded in kind “I definitely don’t need advice on how to play my game. I know how to play my guard spot. He can worry about the low post, and I’ll worry about the [perimeter].”
O’Neal, of course, bristled at Bryant’s remarks and said “If you don’t like it, then you can opt out next year. As long as it’s my team, then I’ll voice my opinion. If you don’t like it, then opt out. Everybody knows... You [media] guys may give it to [Bryant] like you’ve given him everything else his whole lifetime, but this is the Diesel’s ship.”
Perhaps unbeknownst to O’Neal, Bryant privately remarked to Coach Jackson “If (O’Neal) starts saying (unreasonable) things in the press, I’ll fire back ... I’ve had it.” And he did…
7. The Interview
Stung by O’Neal’s lack of support during his legal ordeal and the subsequent war of words in preseason, Bryant really had “had it.” Despite strict instructions from Coach Jackson to keep matters in house, Kobe aired his grievances about Shaq in kind. He arranged an interview with Jim (“The Decision”) Gray and bit his tongue no more.
“It doesn’t matter whose team it is. Nobody cares. I don’t, Karl [Malone] doesn’t, Gary [Payton] doesn’t, and our teammates and the fans don’t either. There’s more to life than whose team this is. But this is his team,…That means no more coming into camp fat and out of shape,…no more blaming others for our team’s failure,…'my team' doesn’t mean only when we win; it means carrying the burden of defeat just as gracefully as you carry a championship trophy.”
As neither would give ground, the back and forth continued full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Or did it? This disruptive constant, along with a debilitating injury to the newly-acquired Malone, foreshadowed a powerful storm looming in the months ahead.
6. The Rap
No, not that one. The first one. The one, unless you’re a hip hop fanatic, you probably know nothing about.
In 2004, on a little known CD collaboration between O’Neal and DJ Vlad, Shaq blasts Bryant on the track “You Not the Fightin Type.” Although much of the rap is directed at DJ Skills, a Cincinnati based DJ; the lyrics in question surprisingly didn’t garner much attention...
“Even with wings you never as fly as me...you remind me of Kobe Bryant trying to be as high as me...but you can’t...even if you get me traded...wherever I’m at, I’m Puffy; you Mase and you’re still hated.”
Perhaps the world wasn’t ready to decide whose side they were on just yet. Or perhaps it was the lack of video to lend this more credence. Either way it was merely a blip in the showdown between Shaq and Kobe that would elevate to new heights in just a few short months...
5. The Divorce
After the debacle that was the defeat to the Detroit Pistons, things in Lakerland came to a head. “This summer is going to be a different summer for a lot of people,” O’Neal said. “Everyone is going to take care of their own business and everyone is going to do what’s best for them, including me.” He was right. O'Neal’s words developed an eerie prescience as things quickly begin to change.
First, Phil Jackson’s contract was not renewed. Then, Shaq seemingly frustrated by the Lakers efforts to placate Bryant, demanded a trade and got it. He was shipped off to South Beach, and he along with many others blamed Bryant for the unraveling of the team.
While there is no denying that rising tension between the players and their egos deserve the bulk of the blame, perhaps finances and a number of epithets thrust in the direction of owner Dr. Jerry Buss contributed as well.
Although O'Neal was still a physical force to be reckoned with, he was perpetually out of shape, and owed nearly $30 million. Dr. Buss, ever the savvy business man, has a long memory and no doubt remembered Shaq’s refrains of “I got hurt on company time. I’ll heal on company time.” and “Pay me,” among others.
It appeared, Kobe was the darling of Dr. Buss, and the epitome of all that Hollywood stands for. His ability to dazzle was eye candy to the Hollywood crowd. Not only used to winning, they wanted to win with style and Bryant represented that. This was a battle that Shaq possibly couldn’t win and Dr. Buss chose Kobe.
4. X-Mas Day Showdown
Miami vs. Lakers Christmas Day—After the trades were completed and the dust settled, many circled their calendars for perhaps the most anticipated meeting of the 04-05 NBA season taking place on Christmas Day. Much in the way you either love Tupac or Biggie, you either sided with Kobe or Shaq – there was no in-between.
This was an epic battle taking on almost biblical proportions. The off-court exchanges between Bryant and O’Neal played out in the media only amplified anticipation of the coming event.
“If you’ve got a Corvette that runs into a brick wall, you know what’s going to happen,” O’Neal told ABC. “I’m so far from a Corvette, it’s not even funny,” Bryant told LA reporters, suggesting he was really a Lamborghini. “No, he’s not,” O’Neal told Miami reporters. “He’s a Corvette.”
Predictably, ratings for this game were at an all-time high. Not so predictable was that they would become the NBA’s highest regular season numbers since 1998.
From moments before the tip, it was evident that there was no love lost between them as they didn’t shake hands, merely exchanging dueling nods. Thereafter it was a dogfight, Bryant and O'Neal fighting tooth and nail for supremacy—to win was to claim victory, proof that you sided with the righteous side. To lose, proof that you made the wrong choice, sided with a loser.
Rising superstar Dwyane Wade even got into it with Bryant. Bryant fired back wagging his finger in Wade’s face, a physical ultimatum for him, O'Neal and the Heat to back down.
The Lakers would go on to lose that game in overtime as Bryant’s three-point attempt hit the front of the rim at the buzzer. Miami and O'Neal had emerged with bragging rights and the victory. A short time later while the Lakers and Bryant were getting bounced from the playoffs, O'Neal and the Heat would win a championship.
3. Rap Part Deux
The Rap heard around the world. After Bryant and the Lakers lost in the '08 Finals to the Boston Celtics, TMZ released a video revealing Shaq’s freestyling dis of Kobe’s failure to win without him.
The infamous refrain, “Kobe how’s my ass taste?” quickly became a viral sensation and also lived on as a ringtone (link: Ringtone).
Everyone who thought the feud was over got a rude awakening or at least a laugh. Bryant was at his lowest point, his team having suffered a 39-point blowout in the Finals and O'Neal was having fun at Bryant’s expense.
Never mind that earlier in the year O'Neal was in a purgatory all his own with the crumbling Heat, he reviled in Bryant’s defeat. It cemented the belief that Bryant rode his coattails, and couldn’t win a title without him.
2. I Got Five On It
After winning his fifth ring Bryant promptly reminded a room full of reporters “I got one more than Shaq. You can take that to bank. You know how I am. I don’t forget anything.”
To channel the immortal, if not sometimes buffoonish, words of Charles Barkley—Shaq’s got to be rolling over in his grave.
By winning consecutive titles and NBA Finals MVP awards, Bryant finally shook free of the stench that followed him after the departure of O’Neal. He’d grown up a bit in the years since, suffered, and ultimately triumphed. The reward for Bryant’s patience came in a larger than life acknowledgement courtesy of Shaq, “if he wins this championship, he will go down as the greatest Laker ever.”
Nothing however, could have been as sweet as Shaq’s Tweeted remix of his infamous rap lyrics saying about Bryant “I know what ur sayin…Shaq how my ass taste.”
1. To Be Continued…
Shaq vs. Kobe is about to take on a whole new level of relevance. By joining the Celtics, O'Neal’s message to Bryant is game on. Not only has he turned his back on his relevance as a Laker by signing with the franchise’s most hated rival in green and white; but, he’s stated, albeit indirectly, that he believes the Lakers shouldn’t have won ring No. 5, and that he’s the difference-maker.
At the end of the day, Shaq, now the humbling age of 38, is nothing if not a big body. His presence in the middle may pay dividends in a potential war waging between franchise rivals for the ages.
Not to be upstaged of course, a rivalry which has been playing out between two of the NBA’s best players for the better part of 10 years, will reach its inevitable denouement.
The winning side will rejoice, while the losing side will mourn. That’s the way it’s always been right? Maybe, just maybe, a few of us will take a moment to reflect on all that’s transpired, what it says about us and how we feel about our heroes and wonder—did it really have to be this way?