Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal won three championships together as teammates. Many have wondered how many they could have brought home if their relationship had not soured to the point of toxicity.
Kobe, apparently, thinks the bigger issue was the San Antonio Spurs.
"San Antonio was tough...they were tough," Bryant told Matt Barnes and Stephen Jackson on their All the Smoke podcast. "So when the playoffs came around, it wasn't like Shaq and I weren't on the same page. When the playoffs came around, we always were on the same page. We just got beat.
"The bigger question should be, 'How many would we have won if the Spurs weren't the Spurs?' Because we probably would've ran the table for a decade."
The Spurs were the only Western Conference team to defeat the Lakers with Shaq and Kobe both as Lakers starters, doing so in 1999 and 2003. The latter defeat stopped the Lakers from a potential four-peat and arguably grew the seeds of discontent that led to Shaq's abrupt departure from Los Angeles in 2004.
The Spurs won the championship in both seasons they defeated the Shaqobe Lakers.
"The talent, the coaching, everything in San Antonio was kind of a perfect storm. If they weren't in the picture, we probably would have won 10 in a row," Bryant said.
Of course, there's a level of self-mythologizing here. Shaq was out of shape and standing on his last NBA legs by the end of the 2010s. While Bryant was starring for a pair of Lakers title teams at the end of the decade, he was also getting help from Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum—two guys who probably would not have been on the roster if Shaq were still around.
That's to say nothing of the fact Shaq and Kobe could literally not stand to be in the same room as one another by the end of the former's tenure in L.A. Their polar opposite personalities probably limit their run to five or six championships under the absolute rosiest of scenarios.
As for the Spurs, it's good to hear Bryant giving them their due. Duncan is arguably the greatest player of the Duncan-Shaq-Kobe trio that handled the 2010s before the LeBron James run. Nearly every objective statistical measure ranks Duncan as the best player of his generation, and he had perhaps the greatest coach in NBA history (Gregg Popovich) captaining the ship.
While much has been made of the Lakers-Kings rivalry of that timeframe, it was the Spurs who were the Lakers' greatest challenge of the time.