In the modern NBA, few duos were more dynamic than Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant. While they didn’t always see eye-to-eye away from the court, the two stars formed an incredible partnership in Hollywood. Jerry West, however, saw that potential before they ever hit the court together.
In the summer of 1996, Shaq hit free agency and decided to leave Orlando and join the Lakers. As he was signing on the dotted line, West made a prophetic prediction. The legend apparently said that O’Neal and a young player by the name of Kobe Bryant would go on to be one of the great duos in basketball history.
Jerry West told Shaquille O’Neal that he and Kobe Bryant would thrive together
While it’s easy to associate him with Kobe Bryant, Shaq burst onto the scene before his famous running mate. The big man entered the NBA in 1992 and shone with the Magic. O’Neal, however, eventually outgrew the Orlando market and started to look for greener pastures.
The greenest turned out to be Los Angeles. While the Magic had offered Shaq a $115 million extension, that wasn’t enough to overcome some negative feelings. The Lakers were able to give him even more, and that, combined with the opportunity to take advantage of everything Hollywood had to offer, swayed the big man.
“I get to the hotel, me and Jerome [Shaq’s security coordinator], and it was Jerry West,” O’Neal explained on The Big Podcast with Shaq. “Never met Jerry West before. So we see him, and I was like, ‘Hey, what’s going on?’ Jerry West said, ‘You want the good news or the bad news?’ I said, ‘Well, what’s the bad news?’ He said, ‘The bad news is [that] I know you’ve been asking for 150, I can’t get you the 150.’ And I said, ‘Well, what’s the good news?’ And he said, ‘Well, I can get you 121.’ And I said, ‘121 what?’ He said, ‘I can get you $121 million and be the highest-paid ever.’ I said, ‘Where do I sign?'”
West, if we take Shaq at his word, was pretty pleased that he had gotten the deal over the line. In his eyes, he had just completed the Lakers’ new one-two punch.
“I signed right away. And, as I’m signing, he has the biggest smile on his face,” Shaq continued. “He really has a tear in his eye. He’s like, ‘Let me tell you something. I also acquired this kid out of high school named Kobe Bryant, and in three or four years, you guys gonna be the best duo since Magic and Kareem.’ He said that while I was signing, but I was like, ‘Yeah, OK. Whoever this kid is. Whatever.'”
Over time, O’Neal came to understand who Kobe was, and West was ultimately proven right. While the duo certainly butted heads on occasion, it’s hard to argue with three straight NBA championships and a dominant run atop the Western Conference.
Maybe this Jerry West guy knows a thing or two about basketball…