The pair publicly buried the hatchet on Monday's The Big Podcast with Shaq, speaking candidly about the long-running issues they had with one another after being teammates on the Los Angeles Lakers and winning three NBA titles together.
O'Neal started the podcast with an olive branch, per Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times:
I just want people to know that I don't hate you, I know you don't hate me. I call it today a "work beef," is what we had. I was young, you was young. But then as I look at it, we won three [championships] out of four so I don't really think a lot was done wrong. So I just wanted to clear the air and let everybody know that, no, I don't hate you. We had a lot of disagreements, we had a lot of arguments. But I think it fueled us both.
Bryant noted the pair handled their disagreements poorly:
When you say it at the time, you actually mean it. And then when you get older, you have more perspective, you're like, "Holy... I was an idiot as a kid." To me, the most important thing is you keep your mouth shut. There's no need to go to the press. You keep it internal.
We have our arguments and our disagreements. But I think... having our debates within the press was something I wished would been avoided.
Those debates nearly caused the pair to come to blows, including in 1999, when a 21-year-old Bryant nearly got into a fistfight with the much bigger O'Neal.
"I realized that I probably had a couple of screws loose because I nearly got into a fistfight and I actually was willing to get into a fight with this man," Bryant said. "I went home and I was like, 'Dude, I've either got to be the dumbest or the most courageous kid on the face of the Earth.' "
O'Neal admitted he took Bryant's fierce challenges in practice as an affront and felt disrespected by them at the time, though in hindsight, he realized, "That just showed me, 'You know what, this kid ain't going to back down to nobody.' Kobe seen me punk everybody in the league. So when this kid would stand up every day [to me], I'm like, 'This kid ain't going to back down.' "
The two agreed the root of their issues with one another stemmed from both being alpha males who viewed themselves as team leaders who weren't going to back down from anyone. Bryant noted how rare it is on NBA teams to have two players capable of filling that role and accustomed to doing so.
The two couldn't have been much different, either. O'Neal tended to be more fun-loving and jovial, perhaps secure in the knowledge that a player of his size and strength made him truly unique—especially given the finesse and skill he possessed. Bryant was much more intense, keen on being the best player of all time and perhaps fueled by the long shadow Michael Jordan cast after his incredible career.
That combination gave the Lakers some incredible basketball before it inevitably boiled over, leading the Lakers to trade O'Neal to the Miami Heat in 2004 rather than sign him to a contract extension. O'Neal would go on to win another title with Dwyane Wade, while Bryant would win two more titles with the Lakers.
Years later, with Bryant's career likely coming to a close after 2015-16, it's nice to see the two legends able to publicly move on from the beef that, for a time, defined their careers.