It took nearly 17 years but Kobe Bryant has finally been let off the hook for being the reason Shaquille O’Neal was traded from the Los Angeles Lakers to the Miami Heat back in 2004 as current Lakers owner Jeanie Buss has revealed the official reason Shaq was shipped out of Hollywood.
Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal led the Lakers to three straight NBA titles
Nine days after the Lakers officially completed the trade with the Charlotte Hornets to acquire 17-year-old Kobe Bryant in the summer of 1996, the team announced the signing of Shaquille O’Neal, officially beginning what would come to be known as the Shaq & Kobe era in LA. It took a couple of years for the dynamic duo to become one of the best 1-2 punches in NBA history but once they did, the Lakers were essentially unstoppable…at least for a while.
In 1999-2000, the first full season in which Shaq and Kobe were both in the starting lineup (Bryant had cracked the starting lineup on a full-time basis in the lockout-shortened 1999 season), the Lakers had a 67-15 record, the second-best mark in franchise history, with O’Neal winning NBA MVP and Bryant earning All-NBA Second Team and First Team All-Defensive honors.
The duo then led the Lakers to their first NBA title in a dozen years, the first of three consecutive championships the pair would win together. But as we all know, the Shaq & Kobe era ended in dramatic fashion.
Shaq was traded soon after the Lakers lost to the Pistons in the 2004 NBA Finals
Despite the Lakers’ success in the early 2000s, the relationship between Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant was rapidly deteriorating, the details of which have been shared countless times over the years so there’s no need to get into all of that again here. The Shaq & Kobe era in LA officially ended on July 14, 2004, about a month after the Lakers lost to the Pistons in the NBA Finals, when O’Neal was traded to the Miami Heat for Lamar Odom, Brian Grant, Caron Butler, and a future first-round draft pick.
While it took Kobe and the Lakers years to recover from Shaq’s departure, at least as it pertains to the team’s success, O’Neal won his fourth NBA title in just his second season in South Beach as he and Dwyane Wade led the Heat to the franchise’s first championship by besting the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA Finals.
In the end, Bryant would end up with more championships as he led the Lakers to back-to-back titles in 2009 and 2010.
Jeanie Buss officially confirmed it was money, not Kobe Bryant, that led to Shaquille O’Neal being traded
Ask just about anyone why the Lakers broke up back in the day and you’ll likely hear that it was because Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant couldn’t get along and that was Shaq was upset that the team chose Kobe over him as the future and face of the franchise. And there certainly is some truth to that. But there was a lot more to it.
Ahead of his final season in LA, Shaq was hoping for a contract extension and a pay raise, which makes sense given his dominance in the league at that time. But nothing was done about it and when push came to shove with his salary demands after the season, he was dealt to Miami, as current Lakers owner Jeanie Buss explained on the latest episode of the All the Smoke podcast with Matt Barnes and Stephen Jackson.
“He [Shaquille O’Neal] wanted an amount of money that was legal under the CBA but it wasn’t what my dad [then-Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss] wanted to pay him. And so it came to the point where the decision was made to trade Shaq. A lot of people want to put that blame on Kobe. It wasn’t. It was purely a money situation.”Lakers owner Jeanie Buss
So there you have it. Bryant is officially off the hook, right? It seems pretty clear that if the Lakers had met Shaq’s salary demands that he would have stayed in LA. Now, we’ll never know if Kobe would have stayed under those circumstances given his desire to be the guy but it’s just nice to hear it said out loud, isn’t it?
Thankfully, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant were able to get past their differences as the years went by and became great friends. The two even had a great one-on-interview back in 2018 in which they publicly discussed how ridiculous their feud was and how things could have been different. Kobe even became a mentor of sorts to Shaq’s son, Shareef, and famously texted him the morning he passed away.
Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference