In the midst of Lakers fans reeling over the loss of Shaq, many were blaming the departure on Kobe Bryant, thinking he played the role of “puppet master” in getting the organization to keep him instead of his teammate of eight seasons.
Was the theory that Kobe was responsible for Shaq being traded ever 100 percent proven? No. But for the sake of this article, we are going to assume that it’s true.
So, if Kobe really did play a hand in exiling Shaq, did he ruin or improve his legacy by doing so?
If one was to answer that question based on the first three years Kobe played without Shaq, then it’s easy to say Kobe ruined his legacy. Not only did Kobe receive criticism for Shaq being traded but also during those first three seasons, the Lakers struggled to stay relevant.
With Kobe playing with an underwhelming supporting cast, the team never won more than 45 games in a season and failed to make it out of the first round of the playoffs. While Kobe was putting up the best numbers of his career, many wondered if he had what it took to lead a team to a championship.
Meanwhile, Shaq was in Miami thriving, helping the team win the 2006 title.
But all of that’s ancient history. If one was to answer the question based on the entire time Kobe has played without Shaq , it’s hard to argue Kobe hasn’t improved his overall legacy.
Let’s say best case scenario, Shaq had stayed in Los Angeles for three and a half more seasons, which is the amount of time he played with the Heat, and the Lakers won the 2006 title instead of Miami.
Now, let’s pretend this theoretical championship would have been Kobe’s last, giving him four career championships. Four championships is nothing to sneeze at. But they all would have come with Shaq as his teammate, fueling the argument Kobe couldn’t win the big one without him.
Had Shaq not left in 2004, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum likely never would been Lakers, meaning Kobe Bryant would not have won two championships as the undisputed leader of the Lakers.
And believe me, those last two championships are massively important to Kobe’s legacy. If Kobe had retired only winning championships as a “sidekick,” it would be hard to consider him one of the greatest of all-time.
Not only did Shaq leaving allow Kobe to win meaningful hardware, but it allowed him to become his own man, so to speak. After Shaq left, the Lakers were Kobe’s team and while there were some aforementioned lean seasons, Kobe proved he ultimately had what it took to lead the Lakers to multiple championships.
Playing alongside Shaq will now be remembered as a period of Kobe’s career, instead of being the definition.
It was a sad day for all Lakers fans when Shaq left in 2004. But I am convinced him leaving, whether it was orchestrated by Kobe or not, has improved Kobe’s overall legacy.