Kobe Bryant Almost Went to Bulls Before Shaquille O'Neal Requested Trade in 2004

Timothy Rapp@@TRappaRTFeatured ColumnistFebruary 18, 2018

Shaquille O'Neal, left, and Kobe Bryant chat at the unveiling of his statue in front of Staples Center, Friday, March 24, 2017, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

Former NBA superstar Kobe Bryant revealed to Shaquille O'Neal during their hourlong TNT special amid the All-Star Weekend festivities that he was ready to go to the Chicago Bulls in 2004 before the Los Angeles Lakers traded O'Neal to the Miami Heat.

"We were looking for places in Chicago, man, we were flying up there to meet with [Bulls owner Jerry] Reinsdorf and [vice president of basketball operations John] Paxson," Bryant acknowledged. "Vanessa [Bryant's wife] signed off on moving to Lake Forest, I think it was."

"We were looking for homes in Chicago," Bryant added. "Researching schools, places to live."

Rumors surfaced Kobe demanded a trade to Chicago in 2007, a deal that never went through. The Lakers eventually added Pau Gasol in 2008—and Bryant added two more titles. But the prevailing belief before he re-signed with the Lakers in the summer of 2004 was that he might sign with the Los Angeles Clippers

Instead, Bryant was ready to depart to join the Bulls, though the trade of O'Neal changed things.

"We went on vacation to Italy. I got a phone call, [agent] Rob Pelinka called me. He said, 'Shaq just requested a trade,'" Bryant recalled. "I was like, 'Well, there goes Chicago. There's no way the Lakers are going to lose me and Shaq in the same year.'"

The NBA on TNT shared the entire exchange: 


.@kobebryant and @SHAQ talk details about their eventual break up from the @Lakers. #PlayersOnly https://t.co/J8Wqygzx0V

The pair touched on a number of topics about their time together with the Lakers, including the first instance they fought:


"I think I can remember the first time we had our first fight..." - @kobebryant #PlayersOnly https://t.co/IOS6FTjREt

They also touched on their place in NBA history:


"The most dominant one-two punch ever." Where do @Shaq & @kobebryant rank among the great duos in @NBA history? https://t.co/cf3Vs7njo7

Their partnership led to three straight NBA championships for the Lakers and one of the most memorable beefs in league history as well, though both men seem to have put any disagreements from the past well behind them, even acknowledging that they played up the rivalry somewhat for the cameras. 

There was a definite rivalry between the two, however, especially when they parted ways. Each wanted to finish with more championships than the other—Bryant won that competition, 5-4—and Bryant also spoke about his desire to win outside of O'Neal's shadow, per Josh Eberley of Hoop

Josh Eberley 🇨🇦 @JoshEberley

Kobe then noted, “Magic didn’t win without Kareem, Jordan didn’t win without Pippen.” Players 110% think about these things. They hear the noise. (Pau is getting forgotten here but I appreciate Kobe closing on that goal.)

Finally, one of the most interesting aspects of the conversation between the two was hearing each acknowledge that they may have misunderstood the motivations and mindset of the other during their time together. O'Neal, for instance, said he leaned on Bryant to lead the team earlier in the season to preserve his body, often coming into the season out of shape, a fact that drove Bryant nuts. 

O'Neal believed it helped elongate his prime, however. 

And Bryant said that he often had a hard time scaling back his edge and desire to be the alpha dog once O'Neal played himself back into the shape since he carried the bigger load earlier in the season, causing its own form of conflict between the two. Hearing each man's perspective on how they fueled the beef was fascinating and gave a lot of perspective to the issues they had with one another.