Here’s What Kobe Bryant Said to Shaquille O’Neal as Soon as They Met

There may not be a more volatile duo with as much success as Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal. The two were, in many ways, the face of the NBA as the new millennium began. While the two accomplished a rare threepeat together, behind the scenes they fought all the time.

Despite their inevitable divorce as teammates, the two seem to have returned to being friends since retiring. Together, Bryant and O’Neal discussed this in a special for TNT.

The beginning of Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal’s relationship

Bryant was the Lakers’ rookie the same year O’Neal came over from the Orlando Magic. Although Michael Jordan was still the face of the NBA, O’Neal was the face of the next generation. The big man had led a team to the finals already and dominated his position in ways nobody had since Chamberlain.

Bryant, on the other hand, was an 18-year-old with lots of promise, but no guarantee of a long NBA career. Although he began his career on the bench, it didn’t take long for him to become one of the great young players in the NBA.

He spent two years coming off the bench, but by the time the lockout-shortened NBA season had begun, he was the Lakers’ full-time starter at the shooting guard position. The next year, the team enticed Phil Jackson to come over following a year off after his final ring with the Bulls.

The Lakers immediately earned three rings in Jackson’s first three years, but rumblings of Bryant and O’Neal’s less-than-perfect relationship persisted. Still, with a dominant team and legendary coach, the team stuck together.

After the Spurs ended the Lakers’ dominance in 2003, Bryant was accused of sexual assault in Eagle, Colorado. During talks with the police, he dragged O’Neal’s name into the mix, and the beginning of the end was near. 

The Lakers tried to return to championship glory with aging All-Stars Karl Malone and Gary Payton. While the team ended up in the NBA Finals, they lost to the Detroit Pistons.

Reports of friction between not only Bryant and O’Neal but Bryant and Jackson and Bryant and Malone proved too much. The Lakers were given an ultimatum, which eventually saw Jackson retire and O’Neal traded to Miami. In the ensuing years, Bryant and O’Neal exchanged many potshots. 

Why didn’t Bryant and O’Neal get along? 

Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal shake hands at halftime
Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal shake hands | Harry How/Getty Images

Bryant is notoriously not an easy teammate to have. While he’s made many friends throughout his time in the spotlight, he has made plenty of enemies along the way. Bryant expected all of his teammates to play to his level of effort, while O’Neal, as good as he was, did not have a reputation as a player who went the extra mile for a win.

On top of this, Bryant has a penchant for speaking his mind about things that don’t please him. O’Neal, who does his fair share of talking, is notoriously thin-skinned when it comes to criticism. In hindsight, this was bound to be a powder keg. Even the most casual NBA fans were not shocked when it eventually exploded in the Lakers’ faces.

Both Bryant and O’Neal would see championship success without each other. But their feud lasted for several years, even as the two reunited as co-MVPs of the 2009 All-Star Game in a brief display of unity. 

Reflecting on the Lakers 

O’Neal and Bryant sat down together and discussed not only their years-long feud and historic championships but also their early days when Bryant was just a teen and O’Neal was still relatively young. They reminisced about the first time they met when Bryant told O’Neal that he was going to be the best player of all time and “the Will Smith of the NBA.”

“I’ve always had ambition,” Bryant told O’Neal, who reminded Bryant that he also said he’d be better than Michael Jordan. This was when O’Neal saw Bryant for who he would eventually become. 

“I knew that eventually drove you,” O’Neal said. “There’s always going to be those comparisons to somebody that’s come before you.” The two spoke about many issues. By traveling back to a time before the drama, they were able to discuss a time when both were young and hungry.

The two may not be best friends now, but they have clearly put aspects of the past behind them. To see them speak about the good times, too, is a sight for any NBA fan to behold.