Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant won three consecutive NBA titles together and created a dynasty when they were playing for the LA Lakers. Arguably the best duo in basketball, O’Neal, and Bryant dominated when they were on the court together.
But the two NBA greats had their differences at times, and sometimes they butted heads. There was a time early in their careers when O’Neal put his hands on Bryant.
O’Neal and Bryant had a lot of success together
The Lakers are the last team in the NBA to win three consecutive titles when they did it from 2000 to 2002. O’Neal and Bryant were the stars of those Lakers’ teams. LA owned the league during those years, and they had the two best players in the league. It was difficult for teams to stop both players. When the Lakers won the title in 2000, they finished with a 67-15 record during the regular season. There was no surprise that O’Neal and Bryant were the top scorers on the team. O’Neal averaged 29.7 points, and Bryant averaged 22.5. It was the same story in the finals as O’Neal led the team in scoring and rebounding, averaging 38 points and 16.7 rebounds, while Bryant averaged 15.6 points and 4.2 assists.
After the two won their first title together, they were determined to win more, and that’s exactly what they did. It’s not easy for a team to win an NBA title, and the Lakers won it three times in a row. You take O’Neal and Bryant off those teams, and there’s a good chance the Lakers don’t win those titles. That’s how much of an impact they had on the team.
Watching the two play together on the court, you would think that they had a great relationship off the court. But that wasn’t the case. Both players thought that the Lakers were their team, and they had every right to think that. You had two alpha males on the same team, and even though the team was having a lot of success, the question was, whose team was it. The duo split up in 2004 after the Lakers lost to the Detroit Pistons in the NBA Finals as O’Neal joined the Miami Heat. O’Neal went on to win one more title with the Heat, and Bryant won two more with the Lakers.
Why did O’Neal slap Bryant during a pick-up game?
Author Jeff Pearlman has a book coming out where he details the incident that happened when O’Neal slapped Bryant in the face during a pick-up game. According to an article from cbssports.com, Pearlman includes perspective from former NBA players Olden Polynice, who guarded O’Neal during the pick-up game, and Corie Blunt. The pick-up game happened in 1998 during the NBA lockout, and O’Neal and Bryant happened to meet up at the same gym.
As the game was going on, O’Neal was complaining about getting fouled, and Bryant did not like that. Bryant expressed his frustration to O’Neal and O’Neal’s response that he would slap Bryant. Knowing Bryant, he continued to talk to O’Neal as the game went on, and the two started going back and forth until O’Neal finally slapped Bryant.
There was an incident during the pick-up game where O’neal slapped Bryant again because he was tired of Bryant talking trash to him. “His hands are huge,” said Blount, who was playing in the game. “The noise was loud.” Luckily other players who were playing broke the two up before any punches were thrown.
O’Neal and Bryant worked on restoring their relationship when they both were retired
Before Bryant tragically passed away, he and O’Neal were working on restoring their relationship. Let’s get one thing clear; the two never hated each other; they just fell out of contact. The two always had respect for each other, and that’s something that never went away even when they were feuding.
It was a memorable moment, seeing the two together have a sit-down interview and basically restoring their relationship. Watching the two of them reminiscing about old times and laughing together was amazing to see.