Shaquille O’Neal played eight seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers, establishing himself as an all-time great. O’Neal, alongside Kobe Bryant, guided the Lakers to notable championship success. However, his run in Los Angeles didn’t include a stable relationship with fellow Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Shaquille O’Neal dominated during his Lakers’ tenure
When O’Neal elected to sign with the Lakers, it changed the franchise’s landscape.
He quickly became the team’s focal point while Kobe Bryant emerged as one of the game’s best talents. During his eight-year run in Los Angeles, he earned three NBA titles, three NBA Finals MVP awards, a regular-season MVP award, seven All-Star Game nods, and five All-NBA First Team selections.
However, his time with the Lakers didn’t include a stable relationship with an all-time Lakers great.
Shaquille O’Neal admitted he never had a relationship with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: ‘I probably talked to Kareem a total of three minutes’
O’Neal’s arrival to the Lakers immediately placed tremendous expectations on his shoulders.
He took on the mantel as Los Angeles’ latest superstar big man, adding to the long history of star centers gracing a purple and gold uniform. However, his eight-year tenure with the Lakers didn’t include a close or even constant relationship with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
During an interview on The Dan Patrick Show in February 2016, O’Neal revealed that he rarely spoke to the NBA’s all-time leading scorer.
“I played for the Lakers for eight years,” O’Neal said. “I probably talked to Kareem a total of three minutes.”
Patrick further prodded O’Neal by asking if he held any interest in speaking with Abdul-Jabbar, to which he answered that longtime Lakers coach Bill Bertka filled that crucial role.
“The guy that was Kareem and WIlt Chamberlain’s voice for me was a guy by the name of Bill Bertka,” O’Neal said. “A lot of time when you’re out there by yourself and trying to get that next level, it doesn’t take practice to get to the next level it takes conversation. It takes guidance sometimes. He would drop step five or six times a game and it would open back up.
“I was putting up big numbers and Bill would say, ‘You know Kareem had a similar situation where he would go middle [of the paint] all the time and they took away the middle. Bill Bertka had a million stories of what Wilt and Kareem went and that right there took me to the next level.”
O’Neal may not have had Abdul-Jabbar’s guidance, but he had other pivotal voices in his ear pushing him forward.
Hall of Famers fix their fractured relationship
Although O’Neal and Abdul-Jabbar didn’t initially establish a working relationship, the two have strengthened the bond.
Before it reached that point, the two traded verbal barbs through O’Neal’s autobiography in 2010, blasting the lack of a relationship with Abdul-Jabbar. During an interview with then-LA Times writer Mark Medina, the six-time NBA champion voiced that he was unaware that O’Neal wanted to learn from him.
“As a pro, I never approached Shaq because I thought he was pretty successful dunking everything and I assumed he didn’t want my help,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “Additionally, I was never on the coaching staff of any of his teams. I was never unfriendly to him and I would talk to him, but Shaq was enjoying his success, doing it his way. He never asked me of what I thought he should be doing and he never tried to reach out to me for any instruction and I respected that decision.
“If I had any idea that Shaq wanted to learn from me, I would have been happy to have worked with him, but all indications that I had received was that he felt he was doing fine and he didn’t need or want my help.”
However, the two eventually hashed out things as it became apparent that they held a mutual misunderstanding.
“We have a good relationship now,” O’Neal revealed during a segment on TNT’s Inside the NBA a few years ago. “We met each other at the Final Four a couple of years ago and I asked him how come he never talked to me and he said,’ ‘How come you never talked to me?’ I never talked to him or Wilt, the only great big guy I had a good relationship with is Mr. Russell. Kareem is a legend and I tried to be as good as him and wanted to be up in the rafters and we now have a good relationship. We are talking now.”
With the years of miscommunication behind them, the two can move forward to strengthen their friendship.