Shaquille O’Neal and the late Kobe Bryant teamed up to win three championships on the court. Off the court, their relationship encountered more than its fair share of rocky moments. Former Lakers teammate Isaiah Rider offered up new details that revealed it got so bad O’Neal offered him money to start a fight with Bryant. Here’s a look at what happened.
Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant win their first title together
Before the 1999-2000 season, the LA Lakers hired head coach Phil Jackson. Jackson arrived in California with high expectations from the management and fans after winning six NBA titles in the previous decade with the Chicago Bulls.
In Jackson’s first season in LA, he quickly learned about the dynamic relationship between O’Neal and Bryant. At one team meeting early in the season, O’Neal accused Bryant of playing too selfishly. Other players agreed. Jackson intervened.
He instituted the triangle offense, which had been so successful in Chicago. Under that structure, O’Neal was more a focal point of the team’s offense. It worked.
After cruising through the first two rounds of the playoffs, the Lakers were down 15 points in the fourth quarter to the Portland Trail Blazers in Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals. Bryant and O’Neal teamed up to lead LA on a 25-4 rally and a comeback victory. The Lakers defeated the Indiana Pacers in six games of the NBA Finals and O’Neal and Bryant had earned their first championship together.
Isaiah Rider details how Shaq offered him money to fight Bryant
The following offseason, the Lakers brought in one of Jackson’s former Chicago players Horace Grant, and Isaiah Rider, who had played with the Atlanta Hawks the previous season. Rider said in a recent interview on the “All the Smoke” podcast hosted by former NBA players Stephen Jackson and Matt Barnes, there was apparent friction between the two star players, and it didn’t take long to figure it out.
“When I first get to the Lakers, Shaq tells me, ‘If you and Kobe get into it, there’s 10 G’s in the locker. This is three days into practice. I’m like, ‘Man, come on.’ He tells me again, ‘There’s 10 G’s in one-dollar bills, if you ever get into it and you handle your business, grab that.'”
Rider said he was in complete disbelief that O’Neal had offered him $10,000 in one-dollar bills to start a fight with Bryant. Rider, who played just that one season in LA, said he never gave O’Neal’s proposal a second thought.
Despite the tension, O’Neal, Bryant, and Rider all teamed together that season, and the Lakers had an unprecedented run through the playoffs sweeping the Portland Trail Blazers, Phoenix Suns, and top-seeded San Antonio Spurs to advance to the NBA Finals. In the Finals against the Philadelphia 76ers, the Lakers lost the opening game before winning four straight and earning back-to-back titles.
A broken relationship healed
After O’Neal retired, and the competitive spirit subsided, the two players repaired their often-contentious relationship. In 2015 O’Neal launched a podcast, and his first guest was Bryant. He introduced Bryant as “the greatest Laker ever.” He repeated that same description a year later when Bryant retired.
In 2018, both players recorded a special for NBA TV, where they spoke about their history together, the mutual respect and appreciation, and explanations and regrets over the tensions and feud.
In February 2020, a month after Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, died in a helicopter crash with seven others, O’Neal spoke at Bryant’s public memorial service.
“Sometimes, like immature kids, we argued, we fought. We bantered or insulted each other with off-handed remarks. But, make no mistake, even when the folks thought we were on bad terms, when the cameras were turned off, he and I would throw a wink at each other and say, ‘Let’s go whoop some ass.'”
And they did. Thankfully, Isaiah Rider didn’t.